Is this the biggest version of one of the smallest cars? Or is it the smallest form of one of the largest formats? No matter what, it was worth crossing the road for in Paris last summer for a closer look. For once my family didn’t start groaning at the thought of me taking pictures of another old car, they liked it as well…
While I’ve seen these before (albeit rarely) and my aunt’s first car was a standard Fiat 500, I was surprised to learn that this wagon version was in production for sixteen years with well over 300,000 produced, a bit less than 10% of production of all variants combined. The last one rolled off the line in 1975, albeit with Autobianchi rather than Fiat badging by that point, although our example is a “real” Fiat.
All of the Giardiniera’s, or “500 K”, were produced with the suicide doors. As far as size, this version is 10 inches longer than the regular version. However, it’s still no stretch limo by any means. It’s also not exactly overpowered, with the standard 479cc engine laid on its side in the rear to create a low and flat load floor.
That engine produces all of 17 or 18hp, depending on the year, which obviously is not much, however most of these cars were/are used either in town or around the country, nobody is getting on the Autobahn with one of these. However, since they are so small, they also don’t weigh much so they are perfectly capable of keeping up with traffic.
Each one also had the full length cabrio roof. The cover comes off for al fresco motoring, which is another one of those delightful touches that older cars often display. I mean, this the wagon version, the workhorse of the line. A top like that is quite whimsical. Perhaps it helps to keep weight down a bit? I guess every little bit helps if you have four people and a couple of sacks of potatoes in the car.
I’m actually quite surprised that the owner parks this thing in the middle of Paris but we saw it repeatedly over the time we were there. It was one of the few cars that other drivers seemed to respect, any other car would have heavily damaged bumpers, this one seemed to be given lots of space. The side opening rear door is a nice touch, obviously with the car being so low (short?) a top-hinged affair would have everyone constantly hitting their head.
The interior is comprised of just the basics. Everything you need to get from point A to point B and nothing else. No modern button-fest on the dash, I think there are a total of four that I can see.
I was delighted to see what was parked behind it for contrast, the current biggest version of the current smallest car (well, maybe actually not the smallest, but certainly the one that plays up its “mini” car roots the most). It is staggering how large even small cars are compared to previous eras. However as cute as the Mini tries to be, it does not hold even half a candle to this most charismatic little wagon.