Author Topic: Fiat and their amazing small cars  (Read 9269 times)

GooneyBird

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Fiat and their amazing small cars
« on: March 24, 2011, 04:52:40 PM »
(Yes, I can hear the groaning, but hear me out)

Everybody knows that the original Very Very Small Car is the Mini. This car has a lot of features that modern-day compacts owe their existence to. Latitudinal FWD setup, two-box design, things like that.
However, round about the same time as Austin came up with the Mini, the Italians thought of something quite similar. And unlike the Mini, this car has had many improvements and descendants along its long-running line, consistently being a top runner in the supermini sales numbers. When the original Mini became a niche-product, fit for people who loved the styling, Fiat once again reinvented their own supermini, and kept it current.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

It all started with the Fiat 500 in 1957. It was named the 500 because it was powered by a 479 cc (and in Italian marketing, that really means 500cc) two-cilinder air-cooled engine in the back. It was patterned after the VW Beetle, but significantly smaller and more affordable, yet still capable of seating four (somewhat...) The original 500cc twin-boxer coughs up an impressive 13 (!) hp, but later models managed to up that somewhat to a meager-but-acceptable 23 hp in the '72-'75 500R



Laughable as the power-output was, their extreme light weight meant they didn't need a lot of power. They had a curb weight of 500 kg (1000 pounds), or roughly the 1/5 of that of a modern-day full-size SUV. Of course, Italians being Italians, the car was embraced and loved by all. From the house wife who now had a way of driving the kids to school, to a little-known man immigrant from Austria named Carlo Abarth, who raced cars as a hobby. This man sat down near his 500 and thought to himself "Si, this iss-a all very-a naice. But I want-a go fast-a too!"


(the rear lid is actually supposed to be like that. It served three purposes. First and formost, the engine simply only sort-of fit. Secondly, it helped cooling immensly, and a third, and unexpected side effect was that it actually acted as a rudimentary spoiler, helping the tail-happy Abarth.)

The 595 had a 600 cc engine swiped from the Fiat 600 (I'm telling you, they were original in naming their cars back then!), outfitted with various go-fast stuff, and in its fastest configuration (known as the 695 SS (esse esse) with surprise-surprise, a bored-out 700cc engine) could reach up to 60(ish) hp. Again, this does not sound like much, but realize that every horsepower only had to move 8.3 kilo. It's like having a 1200 kilo car with 147 hp)

However, after '75, the curtain fell on the little one. Tightening safety regulations, combined with other great small cars from other manufacturers forced Fiat to construct a replacement. And that they did, in the shape of the 126.



The 126 was, admittedly, not a very large or luxurious car, but compared to the spartan 500, it felt like a Cadillac. Interestingly enough, despite massive competition, the 126 shared many of its components with the 500, including the twin-boxer air cooled engines, still in the rear, providing RWD. This might not have made the 126 one of the most progressive cars ever, but it did provide an easily repairable car. Fiat quickly realized that the 126 could never match the 500 in terms of success, but where the antiquated underpinnings were a downside to Western customers, the east-bloc loved it. The 126 made the move to Poland in 1980, and remained in production, with ever-growing air-cooled two-cylinder engines until 2000 (!). At this point, things like the base engine and gearbox had been in production, uninterrupted, for 53 years.


This is one of the last Fiat 126p (for Poland) models produced. Note the Fiat Cinquecento Sporting wheels.

In 1980, the unsuccessful 126 needed a replacement somehow, and this came in the shape of the much more modern Panda. The Panda originally came with the very same air-cooled engine of the 126, but this time up front driving the front wheels (and, interestingly enough, rotating in the opposite direction of the 126's engine), but was soon offered with a 'regular' water-cooled 4-cylinder.



This car was quite a lot bigger than the 126, and much more modern too. It remained in production, with a modest facelift in 1986, and a much more complete facelift in 1991, until 2001, a 21-year run. This car brought back the huge success of the 500, and cemented Fiat's reputation in Europe as the premier builder of small cars. The Pandas are rugged, easily repairable by anyone who knows how to handle a hammer and a screwdriver, and have quite forgiving handling. Many young European drivers cut their teeth in one of Fiat's small cars (myself included), taking their first steps on the road in one of them.

However, Fiat wouldn't be Fiat if they never licensed the design to other companies. SEAT was an upcoming Spanish car manufacturer in the early '80s, and bought the licensing and tooling to the pre-facelift (pre '91) Fiat Panda, and produced this as the SEAT Panda. However, when in '89 the licensing ran out, SEAT quickly gave the cars minor facelifts and continued to produce them as the SEAT Marbella. This car never quite became as popular as the Panda, possibly due to SEAT being quite unknown back then, and the inferior build quality of the SEATs.

In 1993, the Panda suddenly faced in-house competition by a new model, the Cinquecento (Italian for 500). Even though this car shared a limited number of components with the Panda, it was targeted at a younger audience, and looked the part too.



This car came with the trusty 900cc OHV engine of the Panda, but with far more advanced suspension, and front disc brakes as standard. It was a little more expensive than the Panda, but offered far more comfort and safety. In 1995 the 900cc variant was accompanied by the Sporting, meant to be a hot hatch version of sorts, with the 1100 cc OHC engine from the Fiat Punto.


(this is mine, an actually-quite-rare '96 pre-facelift Sporting)

The car received a minor facelift in 1996, with a driver side airbag coming standard from now on, along with an interval on the rear wiper. But this couldn't hide the fact that the 900cc engine was getting seriously long in the tooth, being able to trace its roots to the 127 and 128 in the late '70s. The Cinquecento was replaced by the Seicento (Italian for 600) in 1998. The Seicento was mostly based off of the Cinq's underpinings, but came with modern Multi-point injection engines lifted from the Punto.



The Seicento too, had a facelift in 2005, where it now came with 16V engines, and other minor enhancements (like standard ABS and ESP). And of course, a quite-hot Sporting version was made. Unlike the Cinq, the Sei's Sporting actually looked rather wild from the factory, with a mild body kit and several cool color accents inside and out. To maintain a performance difference with teh standard 1100 and 1200s, the Seicento came with a hot version of the 1.2 16V engine, pushing out around 70 hp. (Again, on a weight of almost 800 kg/1700 pounds, this is quite impressive)



The sales figures were gradually falling, though, and the curtain finally fell for Fiat's supermini line in 2010 when the Seicento ceased to be. Currently, there are no sub 900kg cars on the market that provide all the driving fun and mileage of the Cinqs and Seis, and I am amazed that Fiat themselves haven't made anything to fill this gap.

...

Or have they?

In 2003, a new Fiat Panda was introduced to the world. Even though this car has absolutely nothing to do with the previous Panda, it has proven to be tough and rugged, and hugely popular, just like the original Panda. It shares many of its components with the Punto, giving reliable engineering, and the interior is surprisingly comfy and roomy. The car itself is huge compared to the original panda, but still very much a 4-door compact when compared to cars like the (Slightly bigger) Golf or (Slightly smaller) Opel Corsa.
The main selling point for this Panda is that it's insanely cheap, and thus, has found widespread acceptance in every layer of the population. A base-model Panda will set you back about 8000 euro delivered, with a full-spec Panda doing close to 16.000 euro. 16.000 euro will barely buy you a base-model Golf.



Fiat too has produced several fast versions of the Panda, most notably the Panda-100. This car has a 1.4 16V engine, producing a very decent 100 hp. again, its main feature is the fact that you get a compact and durable car, that handles like a sports car, for second-hand Focus money. The Panda Sport will set you back about 12.000 euro, or the same as a 5-year old mid size Ford Focus. Yet the Panda will provide far more smiles-per-miles. I've driven it, and it's really great fun. You don't go very fast, but it feels like you are.



But then Mini ditched their old design, and made a bloated retro version of their Mini. Overnight, this car became hugely popular, and Fiat was left without an answer to that.
However, what Mini lacked is exactly what Fiat had, decent underpinnings. They pulled out the old 500-name tag, and built a new 500 based off of the rugged Panda's drivetrain.



Now, taste is something quite personal, but I don't like it. It's heavy compared to the Panda (along the lines of 1000 kg, or 2200 pounds), and has none of the qualities that made the old 500 so great. It's expensive, both to buy and maintain, and it lacks the fun handling provided by the low weight of the 500/Cinquecento/Panda (old and new).

And then Abarth came along, and fixed most of that by adding more power, and fidgeting with the suspension.

« Last Edit: March 24, 2011, 05:09:21 PM by GooneyBird »
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[ChaosweaveR]

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Re: Fiat and their amazing small cars
« Reply #1 on: March 24, 2011, 04:59:18 PM »
Nice write up!

The models posted...



I'd rock these two.  :yup:
-Chris-

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JD

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Re: Fiat and their amazing small cars
« Reply #2 on: March 24, 2011, 05:02:56 PM »
This car has a 100 hp 1.4 16V engine, producing a very decent 100 hp.

:lol: You don't say.  I'd expect a 100hp engine to make more than that :lol:

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GooneyBird

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Re: Fiat and their amazing small cars
« Reply #3 on: March 24, 2011, 05:04:05 PM »
:lol: You don't say.  I'd expect a 100hp engine to make more than that :lol:

I'm tired, ok? Long day at Uni+long writeup = fuckups like that.  :lol:
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Mick

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Re: Fiat and their amazing small cars
« Reply #4 on: March 24, 2011, 05:06:36 PM »
Nice write up!

The models posted...



I'd rock these two.  :yup:

You just like the first one because of the wheels. That being said I want the second one.  ;)

[ChaosweaveR]

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Re: Fiat and their amazing small cars
« Reply #5 on: March 24, 2011, 05:08:14 PM »
You just like the first one because of the wheels. That being said I want the second one.  ;)

I like it more than just for the black wheels. :lol:
-Chris-

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JD

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Re: Fiat and their amazing small cars
« Reply #6 on: March 24, 2011, 05:09:19 PM »
I like it more than just for the black wheels. :lol:

Because it's white with black wheels? :lol:

Not a Panda fan, but I dig it.

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Scotty

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Re: Fiat and their amazing small cars
« Reply #7 on: March 24, 2011, 07:23:40 PM »
Fiat 500 coming to U.S. soon.  :)
Please, please, please, let me get what I want. Lord knows it would be the first time.
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Mick

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Re: Fiat and their amazing small cars
« Reply #8 on: March 24, 2011, 08:15:10 PM »
Fiat 500 coming to U.S. soon.  :)

As a dodge so i doubt we will get the abarth model.

jeepidude

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Re: Fiat and their amazing small cars
« Reply #9 on: March 24, 2011, 08:39:20 PM »
It's already in the US at a couple dealers, not as a Dodge though it will be sold at Chrysler dealers as a Fiat. The Abarth is scheduled to go on sale next year.

87Warrior

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Re: Fiat and their amazing small cars
« Reply #10 on: March 25, 2011, 10:33:46 AM »
Nice write up/history lesson Gooney. I always find it fascinating how cars evolve and become what they are today. Not necessarily how they changed over time, but why.

GooneyBird

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Re: Fiat and their amazing small cars
« Reply #11 on: April 07, 2011, 07:12:36 AM »
Nice write up/history lesson Gooney. I always find it fascinating how cars evolve and become what they are today. Not necessarily how they changed over time, but why.

Same here, that's why I made the thread. (Plus, I used to have one. The Black Cinq Sporting above is mine)
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