When my brothers and I were growing up (there were four Wright brothers), we had a suite of little plastic cars of all makes to play with. They were quite small, perhaps 1.5 inches long, and had the names imprinted on the roof, just above the back window. We referred to one of the cars as the FLAT, because the name was quite small, and perhaps even mistakenly embossed. Little boys in rural Nebraska would never have heard of a Fiat, to be sure, and it was years later when I, and perhaps they, became aware of the venerable Italian brand of cars.
The little model car was a 500, nicknamed Topolino (Italian for little mouse), and was produced from 1936 until 1955. The Fiat 500, in fact, has been produced and sold in America for most of the last 77 years, and this last week I received one for testing. It was provided by Chrysler Corporation, the company that Fiat and the U.S. government saved from bankruptcy in 2009.
In this column I have in the past mentioned that I once owned a Fiat, a 1968 850 roadster. At that time the brand had a reputation for unreliability, but as I understand it, the Fiat line of cars hold together pretty well today. Long term testing of the 500, available since 2007, has produced good results for the car. My 850 was for the purpose of running up and down the Space Coast of Florida when I was assigned to the Apollo program.
The 500T that I tested had the 135 horsepower (150 lb. ft. of torque), turbocharged, 1.4 liter four cylinder engine and five speed manual transmission. It was painted Rame (copper) metallic and the interior was Nero (black) cloth. I’m pretty sure these are Italian words. Base price of the turbo model was $19,500, and options included the Beats audio package ($1,500), comfort/convenience group ($650), and $700 for destination charges. Total M.S.R.P., therefore, was $22,350. Beats Audio is the stereo company started by Dr. Dre, and in the car it featured 6 speakers, including a trunk mounted subwoofer. Satellite radio, Bluetooth phone, USB connection, cruise, tilt, power windows (2), power remote locks, and leather wrapped steering wheel/shift knob were all on hand in the 500T.
According to the Fiat brochure, “Zippy happens” with the turbocharged 500, and I will attest to that. It also rides well on the Interstate, despite the 90.6” wheelbase. Weight of the 500T is 2,333 lbs., and the fuel tank holds 10.5 gallons – EPA mileage ratings are 28/34 city-highway. Overall, driving the Fiat 500T is a lot of fun.
Styling is a hallmark of the Fiat, and the Sport has some extra fascia trim as well as a chrome exhaust finisher, chrome door handles, spoiler, and polished 16” alloy wheels. The car is fitted with 195/45R-16 radials.
I like this Fiat more than the one I owned 42 years ago – in fact at that point in time I would have been surprised to hear of the future existence of such a nice Fiat.