First let me make one thing quite clear: it’s small. And I don’t just mean a bit cosy, it’s properly small. 'Sitting' in the back consists of lying half across the two rear seats like a teddy in a suitcase. In the front it’s not much better. There’s a lot of awkward knee touching.
Only a few cars have made it into the history books as ‘cars of the people’ - cars that single-handedly became icons, institutions for millions. The Fiat 500 is one of these cars. It liberated those in the cities in a post-war Europe which demanded more economic transport. Exactly how such a monumental achievement was gained by such an honest little bundle of fun is a question that’s worth answering.
It’s incredible to think whole families would go out in these things. The fresh air and comforting views of blue sky (on this occasion) are invaluable as a rear passenger. The truth is, this little car has so much desire to please that to criticise it out loud would hurt its feelings. In that vein I decided to curb my mild claustrophobia and pretend to be an excited child in Italy out for a picnic. Brilliante!
The 595 Abarth came after Fiat's collaboration with Carlo Abarth, a creator and developer of sports cars with a history associated with the Cisitalia racing team. Gareth's car is in fact a replica, but it still causes a stir. There are small, beautiful details such the light-up start button, painted sump logo and quality of the seats. The engine is a 650cc Fiat 126 engine (4 speed) rather than a 595cc and makes quite an assertive noise; you’d be forgiven for thinking it was something bigger. With a Weber carb, a sports exhaust and a bit of modern electronic ignition, the engine is determined for its size. Other modifications include front discs, lower sports suspension and an Abarth Steering wheel.
So what's it actually like as a car? I’ll be honest: there’s really nothing to it. It’s a rather spartan shell with a tiny engine; only enough room for four human beings without arms, legs or any kind of nerve endings. Though, it's amazing the sheer power the car has over you. It obliterate those gripes and makes you love it. There’s so much going on in your heart that your head doesn’t have time (let alone space) to think.
“I have owned several classic and sports cars, but this gets much more attention than all the others, driving along, people slow down say hi, give thumbs up, hoot the horn … I think its charm appeals to many.”
We ask a lot from our classic cars and this 500 has delivered in abundance. It’s small appealing nature making driving a pleasure whilst the Abarth bit gives some poke in the bends.
It’s hard to deny this bizarre situation us car folk find ourselves in. Out of principle it's comfort, practicality or performance that makes something desirable, but the Fiat 500? It hits a completely different nerve altogether.