Not in bella Italia, but in cosmopolitan Switzerland, the Fiat 600 (Seicento) celebrated its international public debut 60 years ago. With the debut at the Geneva Salon, the Turins wanted to send an unmistakable signal: Here comes a little world conqueror like no other. Be the first Fiat with rear engine layout, pioneering independent wheel suspension all around, relatively fast driving performance of the economical 14 kW / 19 PS four-cylinder petrol engine and sufficient space for four adults. However, the Fiat 600 was also good for other surprises: the self-supporting body, which was still new at the time, was so robust that the Fiat 600 also imagined itself as a seductive Luftikus with a folding sunroof.
In any case, the 3,22 meter short two-door car was dressed in a pleasing, almost cute shape that delighted small car buyers for over three decades. The Seicento was also a direct herald for Fiat's smallest hero, the Fiat 500, also known as Cinquecento, which was launched two years later. This tiny Italian supporter adapted the drive and design concept of the Fiat 600, packed it in an even more compact form and made himself immortal. On the other hand, the Fiat 600 succeeded in what its even smaller brother 500 was denied: the "Seicento" became the first automobile Amore for over five million people, especially in Western and Eastern Europe and South America. Heralding a career of fanciful nicknames, such as Fitito (Argentina), Fico (former Yugoslavia), Pelotilla (Spain) or Micro-Miracle (Australia).
The little one was also popular because of the varied body styles in which it was staged by Fiat or Italian bodies. At first there was only the two-door car with doors hinged at the front, followed a year later by the ingenious Fiat Multipla. As an early forerunner of today's microvans, the Multipla presented itself alternatively as a four- to five-seater and as a variable six-seater, which offered up to 1,75 sqm of cargo space with the rear rows of seats folded down. The Multipla found many fans, particularly as a taxi, but the unusually shaped van sometimes drove too far ahead of its time for the taste of traditional limousine and estate buyers.
But that's not all of the wealth of variants, which also included four-door seats and vans. The Fiat 600 demonstrated how wide the bandwidth was on the basis of just two meters of wheelbase, above all with the brand logos of Italian designers and Carrozzeria. Be it through Carlo Abarth, who upgraded the sweet sympathy to the poisonous circuit racer, in which he increased the engine power up to four times or had coupé bodies created by Zagato for his Kraftzwerge (for example Abarth Derivazione 750).
Not to forget the curiosity cabinet by Viotti and Pininfarina, which included small chrome cruiser coupes or limousines with convex-shaped rear windows. There was even an early four-door car without a B-pillar with half-height rear portals. The Barchetta sports cars from the Carrozzeria Allemano and the open Frua two-seaters were again excitingly beautiful. In contrast, Vignale gave the choice between a two-seater Spider and a perfectly shaped coupé. Ghia and Savio later added two sunny lifestyle beach trolleys to this bouquet of colorful flowers. While the Fiat 600 was sold in small series as a Ghia Jolly beach car to the USA, the Savio Carrozzeria was supposed to deliver over the 1970 units of its “Jungla” until the mid-3.000 years.
By contrast, the number of units of the regular 600 sedan was important for Fiat. That's why the Fiat 600 was one of the cheapest mass automobiles on the market right from the start. When it was launched, it was even cheaper than the very first Italian Volkswagen, the Fiat 500 Topolino. However, this cost advantage was also one of the few requirements that Fiat's successful President Vittorio Valletta gave his legendary head of development Dante Giacosa for the future “auto per tutti” (car for everyone). Four places, a top speed of 85 km / h and a price of 450.000 lire were the three decisive criteria according to which the Fiat 600 was designed from 1951. More space at cheaper prices than the Topolino, which was sold as the final 500 C in 1949 for 625.000 lire. Giacosa was also responsible for the shapes of the new tiny one, which had just been equipped with new design offices. In fact, with the Fiat 600, Giacosa managed a stroke of genius that was only possible in the era when designers and developers still had almost free rein.
Just as Alec Issigonis invented a new but typically English concept for the Morris Minor, and Flaminio Bertone made a monument to French automobile construction with the legendary Citroen DS, the Fiat 600 - and soon afterwards the Fiat 500 - embodied the Italian way of life in its purest form. Dante Giacosa's constructions were timelessly beautiful, endearing and yet reasonable down to the last detail. This explains the driving characteristics of the Fiat 600, which are highly praised in contemporary test reports. After all, Giacosa donated an elaborate independent wheel suspension instead of the popular, inexpensive pendulum axle. Also unusual for a rear-engine car was the heating via a fan, which scooped warm air from the engine compartment into the cabin.
Not to mention the formidable performance of the fly weight, which weighed just 585 kilograms at the time. Fiat promised 100 km / h Vmax at 5 to 5,5 liter consumption at the market launch in Germany, making the Fiat 600 barely slower but significantly more economical than the larger VW Beetle. A seductive Italian people's car package that should quickly motorize other markets. While the NSU Fiat Jagst 600 / 770 to 1969 assembled in Heilbronn caused a sensation in Germany, it was the Seat 600 in Spain that made the people mobile. Delivery times for the Seat offered from 1970 under the Fiat logo in Germany could not even slow down delivery times of four to five years. That year, the now elderly Southern European managed a surprise coup in the far north: in Finland, the winter-ready rear-engine gnome won first place in the registration statistics. A position that the small Seat held until the end of production in August 1973. The number one was the Fiat for decades in Southeast Europe, too, because in Kragujevac, then Yugoslavia, up to 1986, Zastava licensed buildings rolled off the assembly line. After all, the small car was one of the automotive heroes in South America until the 900.000 years, bringing Argentina, Colombia or Chile to life.
In Europe, Fiat made its round-shaped bestseller a late memorial to the 1998-launched Seicento, the 2005, on the occasion of the 50. His ancestor's birthday was delivered with the model label 600.
Author: Wolfram Nickel / SP-X