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2 October 2023
Heritage celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Fiat Punto
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The history of four world-leading Italian motoring brands
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Mirella Rovatti:
the face of the historic 500

The 1960s model

In front of us is a 1957 Fiat 500 and, over there, the studio of Dante Giacosa. We are at the Centro Storico Fiat, the museum that houses the heritage collection and archives of the Turin-based carmaker. A few weeks ago, an elegant lady came here, asking for advertising posters that she herself had once appeared in. That was how we met Mirella Rovatti, the model from the first 500 advertising campaigns. We asked her to tell her story, the story of a country in the midst of change.


"I was born in Calabria,my mother was from Apulia and my father was from Emilia. Like so many Italians around that time, in 1953 my family came to Turin in search of fortune. In those days, it was a tough city for people from southern Italy, like us. I was 15 years old and looking for a job to help make ends meet at home, and I came across a stationers that was looking for sales assistants. As soon as the lady saw me she was mesmerised — I really was pretty in those days. When I gave her my documents to sign the contract, she was taken back. She had never hired a southerner before. In the end, she decided to hire me on a trial basis, but in those days it was a risk. 

Despite the widespread scepticism towards southerners, a company in Turin was changing the social dynamics: Fiat. They deserve recognition for taking on a work force would do anything for their family, even move from one end of Italy to the other. One worker who stayed with us for a while, a newlywed with a pregnant wife, had no home, no money and didn’t know how he was going to raise his son. A month later he had a job at Fiat and he went on to work there his whole life. 

Fiat took on a lot of people  and gave opportunities to many young families. It was a bit like a mother to everyone. 


At the age of 20 I was often called on to work as a hostess at the Valentino Motor Show. They must have noticed me there. Working for Fiat was a great opportunity: I started with household appliances before moving onto cars. 

That’s Porto Venere and here’s me, laughing. It's a spontaneous smile. In this one, though, it looks like I’ve got a huge behind. Don’t you think? But I was slim. Well, I was 20 after all. Not even that old — 18. 

The photo sets weren’t complicated, we went to the lakes of Avigliana, Lake Sirio, Sestriere, all nearby places, and just did our job. I never expected these images to become iconic. 

One of my favourites is a photo of me getting out of a Fiat 1200 — or was it a Fiat 1100? It ended up on the cover of Epoca magazine and, for a while it was in all the newsstands.

Ten or 15 of us were frequently called on for photo shoots, but people didn’t recognise us on the street. That’s me, this girl is the wife of Peppino Di Capri, this one is the wife of the architect Maina, and this gorgeous girl here is Brunella Tocci, Miss Italy 1955. They looked for people who were more or less unknown, to present a popular, common image. Even the clothes were casual. They were our own. The photos were supposed to portray the Italian family, everyday life, children, football, because the 500 was a family car. 

Around the mid-60s, they changed style and the photos only featured the cars.

I never expected such a little car to become so successful. It was also my first car. A grey, second-hand 500 that I eventually gave to my uncle. After five years the price shot up: they offered us a million for it, and it only cost 500,000 lire. That was the 1960s, the boom years.  
You know, I think that the 500 has been socially and economically important to our country. Take us women, for example: families only used to have one car, and the husband used it. The 500 was small, comfortable and inexpensive. It enabled some of us to have real freedom, by letting us choose jobs further afield and travel to places that would have been inconceivable not long before.  

The 500 put us women in the position of being able to drive every day, a small thing that caused a big revolution. Small but big, just like the 500." 

The Fiat 500 turns 60 on 4th July 2017, read its exciting story.

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