5 July 2018
More than an old car #75: Fiat 500 Topolino
I have received a few queries on where to spot classic cars in my car-unfriendly country. This is an interesting question since most of them are found in workshops, which they inevitably belong. In addition, some of the petrol stations here have a car repair workshop, though they are not necessarily owned by the petrol company. I was quite lucky to spot this 1952 Fiat Topolino 500C 'floating' in a corner, since it was gone a few days later!
In 1930, the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini desired a car for the people which did not exceed 5,000 lire, and tasked Senator Giovanni Agnelli to carry out his instructions. The designers at Fiat experimented with a prototype by Oreste Lardorne, who had previously thought of a small economy car for Itala, another auto maker. When it was put to the test, the prototype caught fire when going up a hill. Embarrassed by the failure, Agnelli fired Lardorne and was under pressure to fulfil his master's wishes. The job fell onto Dante Giacosa, a young engineer at the company. Giacosa proceeded to design a car that could save weight and costs, such as having the radiator above the engine to save the water pump. Fiat management was convinced and the Fiat 500 Topolino was commissioned in 1936.
Its name is derived from "Mickey Mouse" in Italian due to the wave of success Walt Disney's character had experienced in Europe, although "topolino" literally means "small mouse" as well. This was fitting as it was one of the smallest cars in the world at the time of production, with a length of 3245 mm and a mass of 610 kg.
The 3rd generation of the Topolino [or the 500C] was first produced in 1949, a few years after the war ended. The entire bodywork was rebuilt to make it more modern: this involved a facelift of the grille and re-positioning of the headlights. The 2-door convertible sedan style was made standard, although a van and station wagon variant were made as well. As you can see, it has "suicide doors" due to the different positioning of the hinges. It was powered by a 569 cc i4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 95 km/h with an acceleration of 46 seconds [0-80km/h].
Production ended in 1955 with 376,371 500Cs made. I believe this is the only unit in Singapore, though there is an older 500A here as well. The number plate registration is also original: the owner must really love his vehicle to keep it throughout the years! It seems to be going through some sort of tyre restoration and I do not know where it is now. I had seen it back in 2016 and it looks really small in comparison with a standard sized car on the road. Perhaps, you will be able to see the "Mickey Mouse" some day!