Fortune 500

4 12 2009

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__As compact, effective and Italian as an espresso, the Fiat Nuova 500 was launched in July 1957 into a booming marketplace. Helping to mobilise an entire country with its simple yet robust twin cylinder engine and accessible purchase price, it both captured and contributed to the spirit of Italy during the 1950’s and 1960’s.

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__Beating the slightly larger Austin Mini to market by two years the 500 was conceived by Fiat’s development chief Dante Giacosa to be cheaper and smaller than Fiat’s own 600, already considered a masterpiece of rationality and effective packaging. A simple and effective low-cost car for the masses that, aided by competition success and rapid evolutions in society, became an automotive Icon. It was embraced by a vast spectrum of the population, joining the Mini as one of the few truly classless cars. A valid, although indirect, competitor was the Vespa, a scooter that had dominated the compact utility market since its launch in 1946 proving to be sufficient transport for small families over short distances.

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__Dante Giacosa was also behind the original 500 or ‘Topolino’ of 1936, a scaled down, two seat version of a ‘traditionally’ constructed car. The philosophy of the new car with its moncoque construction defied the laws of packaging, squeezing as much useful space as possible into its modest external dimensions. Accommodating two adults and two children, Italian families somehow managed to cram themselves and all their necessary luggage into (and on top of) the car for their customary, annual coastal holiday.

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__Offering lively handling and DIY maintenance as well as a permanent smile, the 500 is arguably the most effective city car ever made, being a very real alternative to more modern pretenders to the city car crown. A significant part of Italy’s social history, the 500 is still a highly regarded member of many Italian families.

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