On 4 July, the New Fiat 500 celebrates its 60th birthday. It has endured for six decades without losing any of its charm, becoming a myth that has touched everyone’s lives in one way or another. Driving a 500 is like embarking on an exhilarating and fascinating journey through time.
It was back in 1954 when Dante Giacosa designed the car that was destined to become the most beloved Fiat icon of all time, during a period preceded by fear and uncertainty and followed by an economic boom full of optimism, vitality and the desire for renewal. The sheer simplicity of the 500 got Italy moving again.
Dante Giacosa didn’t just invent a car, he also spawned a lifestyle, which is why he is widely regarded as a genius. Because, according to American writer Charles Bukowsky, genius is having the ability to say profound things in a simple way. In 1957, the 500 was the perfect answer for the many people who needed an economical and practical means of transport.
Through its name, the Nuova 500 launched in 1957 carried on both the legacy and the drive to evolve and grow of the already revolutionary 500 Topolino.
In 1958,with the addition of two red stripes and increased power, it became the 500 Sport, and immediately won the top four places in its class in the Hockenheim 12 Hour race.
With horizontally mounted engine and longer wheelbase, 1960 saw the birth of the 500Giardiniera: a station wagon with lots more space, which also became a fine, multi-purpose work vehicle, yet another demonstration of the 500's amazing versatility.
A major evolution came in 1965 with the advent of the new 500 F: the biggest change was the abandonment of the rear-hinged doors, together with introduction of a slightly higher windscreen.
Continually improved and renewed, the 500 became a real icon. It responded to changes in society, playing its part in historic transformations such as women's emancipation, and also becoming the family's second car, driven by wives and by offspring who had just passed their tests.
This brings us to 1972, with the new 500 R,which opened the way, exactly 50 years after the first debut in 1957, to the Nuova 500, on 4 July 2007.
In a decade, and we have now reached 2017, a total of two million Fiat 500s have been sold, and with the latest model, the Fiat 500 Anniversario, the car is acclaimed as an unstoppable planetary success, an Italian icon that delights the whole world.
At a time when Italy was oriented towards creating a culture of wellbeing, the 500 was an object of desire for the most diverse groups of people. From business travellers to doctors, mothers and labourers, to young couples who wanted to travel.
Small but perfectly formed, it was a car that allowed people to start dreaming big.
During the Swinging London period, Piccadilly Circus was a global icon, a place where you could meet the most fascinating and influential men and women in the world:
From film stars such as Sir Lawrence Olivier, Vivien Leigh and Sean Connery, to singers including Freddie Mercury, Sting, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. In their midst, the budding young Fiat 500 was itself a Global Icon, in the making, like the people who drove it around London in the Sixties and Seventies.
Writer Banana Yoshimoto claims that we can rebuild the world starting from small things, meaning that little objects, the ones we use every day and are part of our lives, should never be taken for granted. This endorsement of all things tiny also serves as a tribute to the 500, which for three generations has been a big car for men and women alike.
Society changed profoundly over the next 20 years, from the celebrated Sixties to the Eighties. The world was feeling young again and made for young people. The technological challenge was to reduce the size of every object, making everything portable, personal and convenient. It was the era of plastic watches, Walkman personal stereos, laptops and video game consoles. It was an era in which the Fiat 500 was immortalised in a French film that has itself achieved iconic status, The Party. The car is driven by the film's standout character, shrewd grandmother Poupette, a woman whose refusal to be confined by prejudice and narrow-mindedness keeps her forever young. Together they represent a winning combination of freedom and innovation.
The 500 has also featured in many other films, in its various versions. Even today, it is synonymous with youth in all its iterations. Built more for doing rather than showing off, it brings together kids, with their arms waving out of the roof, carefree teenagers, tiger moms and even grandparents. It is a car based on character and enthusiasm, rather than dry consumer data.
The 500 has endured for six decades, during which time six million cars have been sold, and has managed to become a genuine global icon without losing any of its uniqueness.
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