Fiat Panda 30: first in line of a phenomenon

The story of a great little utility car

Evolving and condensing the qualities of the splendid Fiat 126 and 127 models, the Fiat Panda was launched in 1980, but its unstoppable progression means it is still a benchmark in its class today, with more than 7.5 million cars sold.

Around the engines of the fantastic Fiat 126 and 127, Giugiaro designed a compact two-box saloon, with two doors and a tailgate, front engine and front-wheel drive. Simple in its technical layout but styled to be convenient and surprisingly roomy, making optimal use of space: compact on the outside but big on the inside.

The Fiat Panda's looks were functional and unfussy, with big wrap-around bumpers, a broad protective strip on the sides and large windows. The flat windows (including even the windscreen) provided plenty of light in the basic but very practical interior, built with simple but hard-wearing materials, all of them completely washable. The two-cylinder 652 cc 30 HP air-cooled engine, an evolution of the historic unit introduced on the 500 in 1957 and also used on the 126, was fitted on the Panda 30, intended for the Italian market. It was distinguished from the Panda 45, fitted with the 4 cylinder 903 cc engine of the 127, by the different, asymmetrical position of the metal grid on the radiator grille: on the 30, the slots were on the right to supply air to the two cylinder engine's fan, while on the 45 the slots and coolant radiator were both on the left.

In just 3.38 metres, the Panda provided room for five people and immense versatility in the use of the space inside; for example, the rear bench, with seven different position settings, could become a delightful hammock, a cot or a large bed.

Both the two and the four-cylinder engine were combined with a four-speed manual transmission, independent, MacPherson strut suspensions and disc brakes. The beam rear axle was mounted on double leaf springs with hydraulic dampers and had drum brakes. Fuel consumption was impressively low: at 90 km/hour the Panda 30 did 19 km to a litre and the Panda 45 more than 17. The top speeds were over 115 km/hour and about 140 km/hour, respectively.

Within the space of three years the Panda models had acquired richer trim levels with the “Super” versions, and the 45 acquired a 5th gear, but additional great success came with the advent of the 4x4 version, built in association with Austrian firm Steyr-Puch, which transformed the versatile utility car from Turin into an unstoppable small, light off-road vehicle, soon to become an absolute favourite with sports enthusiasts and lovers of the outdoor life. An inseparable companion, and not only for mountain dwellers.

The growing success of the very long-lived first series lasted more than twenty years. 2003 saw the launch of the second, to be followed by today's third series, introduced in 2012. At the eleventh edition of the Triennale Design Museum, entitled "Stories. Italian Design", FCA Heritage exhibits two automotive design icons: a Fiat Panda 30 from 1980 and a Fiat 500 N from 1958.

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