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Cinquecento – The original city car
By the time my family moved to Rome in 1962 the Fiat 500 Nuova was celebrating its 5th birthday. It was perfectly designed for the Italian roads and could easily squeeze into the underground parking in our apartment building while our 1963 Opel Caravan station wagon was relegated to the sun-blistered street parking.
The early 500s had a 479 cc two-cylinder air-cooled engine generating 13 horsepower. That pretty much matches my snow blower. As a weight saving measure, these early versions had a fabric roof folding right to the back of the car. Those early models did, however, have one feature later adopted by the early ‘60s Lincoln Continentals – “suicide doors”.
Top speed was 85 km/h. The first model got off to a slow start. To many, it was too stripped down. No back seat and a price very close to the more powerful and faster 600 (95 km/h), which could accommodate 4 passengers, made people think twice. Fiat quickly remedied this with the addition of a back seat, slight power increase, a few added features and a price reduction. The rest, as they say, is history.
One of my earliest recollections of the “Cinquecento” was one attempting to climb a very steep road in Rome. It just didn’t have what it took to get up the hill. But the innovative driver wasn’t going to give up. He turned the car around, put it in reverse and backed up the hill. Problem solved! The Fiat 500 was very practical for the European road conditions and was very popular. It kept its basic shape from 1957 until production stopped in 1975, with over 3,800,000 produced. As Italy came of age during the sixties, the 500 was updated with changing tastes.
My illustration shows the Fiat 500 L (Lusso). This car was designed to meet the growing demands for a more “luxurious” car. Chrome nudge bars were added to the front and rear bumpers. The front and rear light groups were updated and turn indicators and rear lights enlarged. Lots of chrome was added and the interior went upscale with improved seats and storage. As is appropriate for such an upscale version, my backdrop is the resort town of Portofino in the Italian Riviera, made famous by the theatre and movie glitterati of the fifties and sixties.
Fiat 500 Retirement Living
While walking on the back roads between the villages of Lamole and Volpaia in the Chianti region of Tuscany, I discovered a quaint retirement meadow hosting a forlorn Fiat 500 Lusso. Needless to say, I thought it looked sad and missed its days showing up Vespas on the back streets of Florence and Siena. I think I captured its mood at having been “put out to pasture”, so to speak. As they say, all good things…
Prints of this painting are available at www.thedrawingroomgallery.com. [/or_column_text][/or_column][/or_row]