Better equipped than many cars twice its size, the FIAT 500 – soon nicknamed ‘Topolino’ (mouse) – brought a degree of refinement hitherto unknown to small cars when launched in 1936. Lockheed hydraulic brakes, independent front suspension and 12-volt electrics were all features while an engine mounted ahead of the front axle helped maximise cabin space for the two occupants. The 569cc, four-cylinder, side-valve motor produced a modest 13bhp but as the Topolino weighed little more than half a ton it could nevertheless manage a respectable 50mph-plus under favourable conditions. For most buyers though, the frugal (up-to-50mpg) fuel consumption would have been the major attraction. Introduced in 1946, the 500B featured a more powerful
(16.5bhp) overhead-valve engine that would be carried over to the Topolino’s final incarnation – the restyled 500C of 1949, which was the first FIAT model to offer a heating/de-misting system as standard.
At the same time as the 500B was introduced, a Giardiniera station wagon (also known as the Belvedere) was added to the range, offering four-seat accommodation as well as increased luggage space. Equipped with the superior overhead-valve engine, these Giardiniera station wagons were genuine 60mph cars.
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