History of the Fiat Panda - Part 2: First Series

    2nd part of my History of the Fiat Panda series, focusing on the 1st generation of this cute little car

    The first generation of the Fiat Panda debuted in February 1980. It was built to compete with French cars such as the Renault 4 and the Citroën Dyane and it was designed to be robust, spartan, fast (by citycar standards), suitable for the most varied situations and conditions of use, as well as economic in the purchase and maintenance costs.

    Practicality and rationality at their finest

    The lower part of the dashboard was turned into a single storage space, for maximum practicality

    The lower part of the dashboard was turned into a single storage space, for maximum practicality

    Despite beign more expensive at launch than its French rivals, the Panda had a winning weapon: the special care dedicated to interior design. The interiors were surprising for modernity, breaking with any previous scheme: the lower part of the dashboard becomes a single storage space, but one of the Panda’s greatest strenghts consisted of the front seats and the rear sofa that, thanks to a series of ingenious joints , could be cut down horizontally, forming a single coplanar surface from the steering wheel to the boot lid; it basically meant it was possible to turn the car into a makeshift bed. Rationalism and genius without frills, everywhere. The instrumentation collection, the many storage compartments, the absence of pretentious finishes made it an excellent car for young people.

    The Panda was however also appreciated by the traditional clientele, with particular regard to the peasant users, in this regard Giorgietto Giugiaro declared that the specification for the loading capacity had been set to be able to transport 2 bottles of 50 liters of wine in the trunk. Another characteristic that distinguished the Panda from the other cars were the flat crystals, which made for a significant reduction in mass and costs with regard to side and rear windows.

    Thanks to these characteristics, the Panda quickly became one of the best selling cars in Italy, as well as one of the most appreciated ones, even to this day. But the best was yet to come.

    The little Panda goes 4x4

    Who needs a Land Rover when you can buy a Panda 4x4 for a lot less money?

    Who needs a Land Rover when you can buy a Panda 4x4 for a lot less money?

    1983 is a very important year in the Panda’s history. That year, Fiat collaborated with Steyr-Puch, an Austrian company, who developed a four-wheel drive system for the Panda 4x4 (Tipo 153). Launched in June 1983, it was equipped with a 965 cm³ of 48 hp derived from the one in the Autobianchi A112. Known simply as the Panda 4x4, this model was the first small cross-engine car to feature a 4WD system. The system was selectable manually, with a shorter first gear. Under normal conditions the start was from the second gear and the fifth gear had the same ratio of the fourth in the normal Panda. The Steyr-Puch produced the entire four-wheel drive system and everything was assembled on the reinforced body in the Sicilian plant of Termini Imerese. With a weight of 740 kg the car completed the kilometer from standstill in 38.8 sec, and had a top speed of 135 km/h. Still to this day, this car is taken for example for its climbing qualities, with an impressive grip on any type of terrain even without specific tires.

    Appreciated and very successful, the millionth Panda was produced in July 1984.

    Change of face

    The Panda's new front was similar to the one already found on the 4x4

    The Panda's new front was similar to the one already found on the 4x4

    The Panda underwent a major facelift in 1986, from which it emerged with a new front end similar to the one already found on the 4x4 model and a generally more modern look. It was officially called Panda Supernova, and it also had some new stuff on the mechanical side: the 652 cm³ engine was replaced with a 769 cm³ (34 hp), and 903 cm³ with a 999 cm³ (45 hp or 50 hp of the 4x4), both new engines coming from the new FIRE family with 4 cylinders and liquid-cooled with an overhead camshaft. A 37 hp 1301 cm³ diesel engine waas also added to the lineup.

    Another important change concerned the rear suspensions that were replaced by moving from a leaf spring system to one with wheels interconnected by a curved axle (known as Omega Axis) with a central upright and coil spring suspensions (the 4x4 continued to use the crossbows at the rear). Improvements were also made to the interiors and structures, which were strengthened.

    The van version of the Panda, basically a normal Panda with a black plastic expansion at the rear

    The van version of the Panda, basically a normal Panda with a black plastic expansion at the rear

    A Van version was introduced in April, with both petrol and diesel engines and with a load capacity of 750/810 dm³. The latter in some cases did not have the rear windows and had a small extension in black plate positioned in the rear area that can be opened from the outside to be able to access the load more easily, at the height of the windows on the inside there was a removable wooden shelf.

    The following year, in 1987, the Panda Young was put on the market with a 769 cm³ that used the same block (with rods and barbells) of the old 903 cm³, used in the first series, which however produced the same 34 hp of the new FIRE version.

    In 1989 the Panda Dance debuted with a similar layout to the Young but equipped with a 903 cm³ engine with 45 HP, while the diesel went out of production.

    The 1991 facelift

    The 1991 facelift

    In 1991 the Panda underwent a minor facelift, which affected the interior and grille, made similar to that of the Tipo and then aligned with the Fiat family-feeling of the period. The range also changed: the entry level 750 Young was modified in the decals and had different fabrics, there was a new version of the Dance with 903 cm³, while the 750 and 1000 Fire were made available in two trim levels, base and CLX, the latter with more luxurious connotation and that had a 4-spoke steering wheel, hubcaps, better cured saddlery and white indicators.

    Between 1992 and 1993 the Panda 750s were removed from the lineup due to the new Euro 1 legislation, and the Panda 900 was updated with a new 899 cm³ electronic injection replacing the 903 cm³ carburettor.

    In 1997 the Panda presents itself with new fabrics for the interiors, new body colors, more accessories as standard, but above all with a considerable reduction in prices thanks to which it still rides the 2nd place on a permanent basis among the best sellers in Italy. Thanks also to the government incentives for the scrapping and to these necessary updates, the sales of the Panda return to a comforting rise. The inertial switch that blocks the fuel flow in the event of an accident and the coded key electronic immobilizer are introduced into the range. The production in March 1997 was over 3 million and 900 units produced.

    The Panda kept living with minor upgrades until September 5, 2003, when the last samples came out of the Mirafiori Fiat plant, shortly after the debut of the second generation of the Panda. Some of the last units produced by the old model were sold at a reduced price between the last months of 2003 and until the end of August 2004. In its last months of presence in the lists was still at the top of the sales of city cars, still remaining today a very appreciated and used car.

    End of Part 2. The History of the Fiat Panda will continue tomorrow with Part 3: Special Versions.

    Stay tuned!


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