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Cute but astute: Fiat's bargain Nuova

2015-03-20 09:34

FLOWER POWER: Dave Fall (pictured here) and his classic Fiat Nuova. All motoring scribblers have to start somewhere, don’t they! Image: SUE FALL


My column earlier in March 2015 on the Citroen 2CV elicited quite a response from knowledgeable pals at my local watering hole because I'd overlooked Fiat (with its more successful Nuova 500D), a car that out-sold the bargain-priced Citroen by a fair margin – and in less time.

In Europe and Britain the original Fiat 500 was extremely popular in the 1950s and 60s – I have a photograph of my very own Nuova with yours truly alongside to prove it!

Back then, being paid measly printing-apprentice wages, I still managed to run a Triumph 500 Speed Twin motorcycle. A grumpy but soon-to-be father-in-law said: "...but if you want to continue taking out my daughter buy a conventional car and lose the bike."


The 895 WMB was a 1964 500D Fiat bought from a shy and sensitive car salesman who worked in one of the biggest motorcycle/car dealers in London, nicknamed Pride & Shark. Being a bit cash-strapped I talked Sue, my girlfriend and eventual wife, to trade up her BSA250 SS80 – well, I wasn’t going to part with my nifty Speed Twin, was I?

Anyway, we got a good deal but soon felt it was a bit underpowered* (Nothing a pair of Hepolite racing pistons and a valve job couldn’t fix). The Nuova 500, even more than the 600 (1955), spelled the end of post-war austerity for motorisation in Europe and the start of the striving for comfort – albeit minimal – but more importantly, economical and safe motoring.

Suffice to say 895 WMB could top 112km/h four-up, but the point was it cost next to nothing in petrol, never drank oil (air-cooled, twin-cylinder, four-stroke motor) and ran as sweet as the proverbial sewing machine.


Compact in the extreme, it was 1.325m high, 2.97m long, 1.32m wide and had a wheelbase of 1.84m. Empty, it tipped the scales at 470kg and fully laden 680kg.

Its rounded, well-proportioned, lines reminded one of an egg; another distinctive feature was the canvas roof that opened towards he rear of the vehicle. Incidentally, so successful was the Nuova 500D that it won for its designer, Dante Giacosa, the prestige Golden Compass award for Industrial Design in 1959.

From 1957-75 more than four-million units were assembled. The latest version, available from 35 Fiat dealers in South Africa, is expected to reach that milestone in a quarter of the time.


Developed by the Fiat Style Centre and manufactured in Fiat’s Tychy (Poland) plant, the new version of the 500 is a three-door with real compact measurements: 3.5m long, 1.6m wide, 1.4m high with a wheelbase of 2.3m.

Produced with three engine options: 57kW 1.3 16v MultiJet turbodiesel and two petrol engines, a 53kW 1.2 8v and a 76kW 1.4 16v, with five or six-speed manual, the new Fiat 500 is designed to be really entertaining to drive.

*The engine of the original 500D was petrol-fuelled, with two in-line cylinders and air-cooled (it was Fiat’s first air-cooled engine) with a capacity of 479cc, delivering all of 11kW. The gearbox had four speeds with synchromesh on second, third and fourth.

Braking was hydraulically assisted on all wheels. The transmission was of the oscillating axle shaft type and drive was to the rear wheels, with the engine positioned at the rear of the car, the second time in Fiat history, after the 600 launched in 1955.

Top speed was a heady 85km/h and average fuel consumption 4.5 litres/100km.

Read more on:    fiat  |  dave fall  |  classic cars

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