History of the Fiat Panda - Part 1: The Origins
First part in a new series about the history of one of Fiat's most famous and successful cars, focusing on how it came to the world and why. Enjoy!
The Fiat Panda is one of Fiat’s most succesfull cars, and is considered by many to be one of the best citycars of all time. In this new series i’ll be writing down the story of this small Italian box on wheels, starting from the very origins.
The French Revolution
The Citroën Dyane was one of the Panda's main competitors
During the mid 70s Fiat suddenly found itself facing the unexpected and significant sales success of French car makers Renault and Citroën, whose cars (respectively the 4 and the Dyane), despite beign spartan and old-fashioned, were selling like hot pancakes, thanks to them beign spacious enough for 4 people and having 5 doors, all at a price only slightly higher than Fiat’s own 126 supermini. So, Fiat realized a similar vehicle was needed to oppose the French, placing it in an intermediate commercial segment between the 126 and the 127.
Design by Giugiaro
Its design was quite modern for the era, while also beign simple and sensible
In the summer of 1976 Fiat gave the then newborn Italdesign, founded by Giorgetto Giugiaro and Aldo Mantoani, the ideation of the car’s design, which was completed in a few weeks with the initial name of “Zero”. Shortly after, the two designers began to collaborate with the FIAT technical office, where the design of the front-wheel drive chassis, signed “Progetto 141”, was launched, which was expected to be particularly complex, given the initial requests to be able to mount the different engines from the 126 and the 127, on 3-door and 5-door car bodies. The 5-door solution was later abandoned.
The Panda’s design was very simple and basic, but also modern for the era, and is considered by Giugiaro himself to be his best work. It was a brave idea. It had to be for everyone, with a 3-door body with two volumes 338 cm long, but above all 146 cm wide and 145 cm high, with proportions built on the essentiality of the overall dimensions, with strictly flat crystals to reduce costs and then futuristic solutions , like the classic handles replaced by a recess in the doors, which was later adopted in 1983 by Fiat’s own 3-door Uno.
A rough start
In February 1978, when the prototypes had reached a satisfactory level of development, they were secretly presented to a select group of loyal customers and dealers, excluding the presence of the press. The presentation, held in the park of Novegro and protected by a rigid safety cordon, to avoid indiscreet glances, was intended to assess the appreciation of the car by users and sector operators. For this purpose, the FIAT sales department had distributed a multiple-response card on which the participants were invited to express a judgment about the exterior and interior appearance, the spaciousness and finish of the passenger compartment, the layout of the controls and other features, including the adequacy of the provisional name “Rustica”. The 650 cm³ capacity was also announced and the hypothetical sales price, equal to 2.800.000 lire, about as much as the French competitors.
Howewer, the production of the “Rustica” suffered a long delay due to a hard union confrontation, started in January 1979, through which the FLM intended to impose the displacement of new production in the plants of Central and Southern Italy, particularly Cassino, Sulmona and Termini Imerese, in place of Turin and Desio. The dispute lasted several months and was harsh, but finally, between December 1979 and January 1980, an agreement was finally reached which involved the production of the then officially named “Panda” in the Termini Imerese plant and in the Autobianchi di Desio plant.
With prices strongly increased compared to the 1978 hypothesis, due to the galloping devaluation of those years, in February 1980 the Panda was placed in a reservation, with the “30” model at 3,970,000 lire and the “45” at 4,702,000 lire. In the following two months more than 70,000 orders were collected, paving the way for the little 3-door hatchback’s huge success.
End of Part 1. The History of the Fiat Panda will continue tomorrow with Part 2: First Series.