A day out in a Fiat 500D

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It is really hard for some not to become utterly besotted with Italian cars, from the most expensive Prancing Horse or Raging Bull, to the humblest small city run around. These cars possess one of the most important features you could look for in an automobile, they make you giggle. One particular Italian classic does the giggly bit rather well. The original Fiat 500 is a proper giggle factory.

The old 500 was a product of the economic boom Italy managed to achieve in the 1950’s. Launched in 1957 it was excessively simple and so easy to maintain. As an added bonus one could walk into their local supermarket and purchases a wide variety of up to 500 spares. Powered rear-mounted by a 500cc engine, rear wheel drive and a four-speed manual box, filling it up will set you back a whole 25 dollars, which might even last you a fortnight. It’s pretty easy to realize the 500 was the car which brought affordable transport to the masses. Just look through any old European movie and you will see a mama, papa and their seven bambinos crammed into the small cockpit. It’s funny the car was eventually dubbed the Bambina.

Fiat released several variants of the 500 during its long and successful career. The car I had on test was the 500D. This was identifiable by the rear hinged doors which opened backwards. These of course have been given the tag name “suicide doors”. Other cosmetic features include a winged Fiat badge on the nose and a little sunroof so any suave Italian chap could scan the horizon for any potential bella donnas

Getting into the 500 you are immediately aware of the complete no-frills interior. No stereo, no air conditioning, no temperature gauges and no heater. Mind you it did get pretty warm in a matter of a few minutes of driving. All you get is a speedometer, fuel light, indicator lights, gear lever, starter and choke and that pretty much it. You could say the interior of the old 500 is sort of essence of car, just the bits you need and no unnecessary additives.

Starting the 500 involves turning the key and pulling a lever next to the driver’s seat until the tiny engine rattles into life. On the road it was such a joy to drive. Sure, there is almost no power and the gearbox took a bit of getting used to, especially after this writer made the accidental mistake of changing from fourth to first in quick succession. Fortunately, the owner was sitting beside me and was very understanding.

The Fiat 500D is very much a Marmite car. People who love it won’t have anything else, but those who don’t, will run a mile. Like any Italian classic, one does need to ensure your 500 does not fall victim to the dreaded rust debacle. So, if you have been seduced by this love-able Latin, a thorough check over, preferably with a specialist or owner in tow, is essential. The Fiat 500 is probably one of the most characterful cars ever to go into production. Just don’t expect to break any records on your morning commute.

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