Italy’s pre-war autostrada initiative encouraged manufacturers to develop short-stroke engines as a matter of necessity; things that would happily cruise over long distances at high speed. This naturally led to a great interest in aerodynamics, which informed the style of Italian car design from the 1930s onwards: swooping, sculpted forms that scythed effortlessly though the air.
A typical result of this new-wave thinking was Fiat’s 1936 Topolino, the original 500. It had the world’s smallest production four-cylinder engine – just 569cc – and was gloriously curvaceous. It was also extremely cheap, and represented an affordable route into motoring for countless rural Italians. It’s from this root of broad appeal that the Nuova 500 of 1957 grew, a riotously popular city car that remained in production (gently evolving) right up to 1975.
The model we have here, a 1971 car, is a 500F – a version sold from 1965-73 – and it’s a particularly special one. In 2005 it was fitted with a 650cc engine from a Fiat 126, and with a lightened flywheel and sports exhaust it’s a real pocket rocket with the soundtrack to match. In 2006, the body was treated to an extensive restoration with many panels replaced, and the car was painted in a delectable shade of sparkling Cherry Red. With a tastefully trimmed interior and character in spades, this really is a wonderfully fun little car. Proper back-to-basics thrills for 2022.
The History and Paperwork
Detailed invoice for engine conversion and associated upgrades
Detailed invoice for replacement body panels
Sheaf of old MOTs
Original instruction book
Tidy trim throughout
Soft-top works correctly
Period radio fitted under dash
The cabin of a Fiat 500 is a pleasingly utilitarian thing. There’s just one gauge on the dash, sitting behind a large thin-rimmed steering wheel, and this car has the luxury of a period stereo retro-fitted beneath the dash. A key part of the 500’s character is the pull-back roof, opening you up to the elements and making for an altogether more visceral driving experience. The trim is in very good order throughout, with quilted stitching to the doorcards, rear roof section and driver’s seat. A wood Abarth gearknob is fitted, and the windows all open and close correctly (both wind-ups and quarterlights). Inside the boot it’s all dry and tidy, with the spare wheel and jack present.
Extensive body resto and repaint
Lovely chrome trim
The Fiat was subject to extensive restoration works in 2006, with the following panels being replaced: both front wings, both rear wings, front panel and inner front panel, both sills, all four inner wings, and the offside door. As such, this 500 is a whole lot more solid than most others you’ll find on the market. There’s a very small amount of surface corrosion beneath the paint on the bottom rear edge of the rear wings, and around the driver’s door handle, but on the whole it’s a well presented and attractive example.
The red paint is an unusual and alluring shade, neatly finished off by the race roundels. The light lenses and window glass are all good, and the chrome bumpers are in lovely condition. The roof fabric is a little perished, but it pulls open and closed freely as it should.
The car wears 12” Borrani steel wheels in cream, which suit the 500 very well; the tyres are cracked and perished with age, but these would be very inexpensive to replace. It's a pretty car to behold, and one that spreads a lot of joy: during our photoshoot, every single person who passed by stopped to tell us how much they liked it, and that speaks volumes. This is a happy car for making happy memories.
650cc Fiat 126 engine
Sports exhaust and tuned carb
The mechanical makeover has been extensive, with the 500 being fitted with the more powerful 650cc engine from a later 126. In addition to this, it also received a sports exhaust system, tuned carburettor, unleaded head, alloy sump, synchro gearbox, alternator conversion, and a new starter motor.
All of this means that it’s a properly entertaining car; the engines fires readily and has a lot of get-up-and-go, the acceleration accentuated by a superb rasp from the exhaust. The gearbox is slick, the brakes are appropriately strong, and it handles just as a 500 should as it darts between the traffic in the metropolis. Souped-up and reliable, it’s a very entertaining thing to drive.
This is, quite simply, an extremely fun car. The spirit of la dolce vita is strong with this one, and this is keenly in evidence in the smiles of every passer-by. Having been extensively restored, the body is solid and attractive, and the running gear upgrades have made for something quick, vibrant and frankly hilarious. Peppy and characterful, it’s impossible not to have a good time in this Fiat.
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1971 Fiat 500F
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