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.
Delightful, in a way only the Italians can seemingly do. The smartphone / ipod in the interior shot is kind of neat too; that spartan interior and the touchscreen don’t clash in a way you think technology 50+ years apart would.
Except that “ipod” is an ashtray in this case 🙂
I guess I never knew that Fiat built a wagon version of this car. Cool!
JPC…Fiat also made a Jolly version of the 500 sans roof.There were a few wagons I used to see in the 1970s in Northern Tasmania but 500 sedans were much more common.An artist I knew owned a Giardiniera and he had fitted an air cooled VW Beetle engine in the rear.He told me when he took off from the traffic lights the front of the Fiat would lift off the ground due to the more powerful engine.Me and a woman friend,she was six feet tall and weighed twenty stone,one Easter holiday travelled six hundred miles in my Fiat 500.Those Fiats had great roadholding and you didn’t need to slow down for corners/bends.The only problem was that sometimes when going up a steep hill one spark plug lead would jump off and suddenly you were reduced to one cylinder.I would have to stop at the side of the highway and put the lead back on and then continue!
That final shot says so much. The Mini now looks like a Maxi…pad.
Had the same thought. The 500 looks like a Matchbox car by comparison.
The last shot is perfect. Would have been fun to see a further back shot including the Polo. Great find.
This whole time I just assumed that was a Golf since it looked so big at the time. But you are right, it is a Polo!
Sweet; always loved these little wagons.
In Austria, Steyr-Puch built its own version of the 500 with a more powerful and smoother boxer twin. The Kombi 700 had 643cc and a whopping 25 hp! Of course, it was easy to swap in the 650TR engine which made 41hp.
About the boxer twin: do you have any details? Was it Steyr’s own or a BMW?
Actually, the Steyr Puch was all designed and built by SP, except for the body-in-white. That’s why the wheels are different, etc. It was much more ambitious technically, and the engine was a boxer twin with hemi heads. I’m attaching images of it below.
The SP engine was very amenable to performance upgrades, and the 650TR, with 41 hp from the factory, was a terror in its racing class.
Fiat’s goals for the 500 were for it to be as cheap as possible, and the inline twin engine really buzzed and was not designed for power potential. Fiat had the larger four cylinder 600 just above the 500.
But the 500-650 was SP’s only car, so they put a lot of engineering into it.
The engine from the outside:
BTW, SP would not have deigned to use a BMW engine; it was a proud company with roots going way back (Astro Daimler), and had deep experience with designing and building all sorts of vehicles. They also designed and built the air-cooled four cylinder in the S-P Pinzgauer 4×4 and 6×6.
The Steyr-Puch boxer twin was also used in the Haflinger offroad vehicle (in 650cc form) and a 500cc version in the UK made AC Invacar.
My reference book says these cars are 10 ft 5 in.
And yes, these are best as “city” cars as the top speed is all of 59 mph.
BTW, the “new” 500 is all of 15 inches longer.
Interesting find! That Mini Countryman looks not-so-mini behind it. More like Positively Giant!
Looks like a Range Rover in comparison. Same is it would if it was parked next to a “proper” mini.
“It is staggering how large even small cars are compared to previous eras.”
Keep in mind, however, that the 500 was a small car even by 1957 European small car standards. It was (kind of) the Smart of its day.
Autobianchi sold an even rarer variant of the Giardiniera : a panel van called Furgoncino 500. It’s weird that it was offered by Autobianchi, and not by Fiat, as Autobianchi was an upmarket brand, similar to Buick vs Chevrolet.
Also, here’s a period video (in italian) of the introduction of the Giardiniera to the press, where you can see the engine layout compared to a standard 500.
Great video… I believe the reason Autobianchi built the panel van version was simply due to the fact that Autobianchi built all Giardinieras after Fiat moved on to the 500F series. Giardinieras and Furgoncinos were based on the 500D up until the very end.
Of course, Fiat could have just farmed out production to the Autobianchi facility and kept selling them as Fiats (which they did, up until 1969) but the Italians love any reason to create another, slightly different, variant of one of their cars. And to make things even more confusing, they marketed the Giardiniera as the Autobianchi Bianchina Giardiniera – which is a different thing than the Autobianchi Bianchina Panoramica that Wolfgang posted below.
The one I caught at a car show I see often in Napier with ladders and other crap hanging out of it, its rough and dented close up certainly no show piece a true curbside classic and still working for its gas
“Stretch Stretch Stretch”
“Stretch Stretch Stretch
“Stretch That Wheelbase”
“Stretch That Wheelbase”
(sung to the tune of “Shake Your Booty” by KC and the Sunshine Band)
The article, like the car, is no bigger than necessary and thoroughly charming.
All of a sudden I seem to have developed a soft spot for ’73 Imperials! Thank you!
I think it looks great ! .
Imagine how long those Factory guys practiced to make it look so easy to hop into the tiny back seat smooth as silk .
Autobianchi built a wagon on the same chassis:
This is a (get ready for this…) Autobianchi Bianchina Panoramica. A mouthful of a name for an adorable car!
I don’t think the fabric roof would reduce the weight in any meaningful way, but it would probably help ventilation (noting the fact that the no-nonsense dash doesn’t appear anything like vents) and maybe make it easier to get stuff in and out.