Curbside Capsule: Vintage FIAT 500 – A Little Italian

I’m back, CC Readers.  Following the catastrophic failure of my old computer, I have since purchased and set up a new one.  Thankfully, most of my files (including my vast library of photographs) were backed up, and thus saved.  I have also recently traveled overseas for the first time in over thirty years.  I may now add Italy to the list of European countries I’ve visited, which also includes England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.  Italy as a whole, and Rome and Venice in particular, have stolen my heart completely.

My partner is of mostly Italian descent, so this was very much a significant trip for him to his fatherland, much like my childhood trips to Liberia and Germany.  His enthusiasm was infectious and only added to my enjoyment of my week-long stay in this beautiful country.  Though I was expecting many Italians to speak English to some extent (and many did), I had also tried to learn and memorize several key words, sentences, and phrases.  “Dov’è il bagno?” (Where is the bathroom?), “Non capisco…” (I don’t understand…), “Buon giorno” (Good morning), “Buona sera” (Good evening), “Grazie” and “Prego” all got tons of use.  I listened to the language being spoken (Italian sounds so beautiful and mellifluous) and did my best to adopt the proper inflections when attempting to speak it, myself.

I spotted our classic FIAT 500 near the Piazza Navona, while walking to the Trevi Fountain.  This generation of 500 was in production from 1957 through ’75, and sold over 3.8 million units throughout its run.  I had always thought these were the only 500s produced prior to the current model’s introduction in ’07, but was surprised to learn there had been a “500 Topolino” that preceded it (built from 1936 though ’55), and also a Poland-built “Cinquecento” produced from 1991 through ’98.

This example was one of a bunch (maybe five or six) I had spotted during four days spent in Rome (with the rest spent in Venice, which was devoid of any car spottings for obvious reasons).  This made me reflect that it was quite incredible that these examples of such a tiny car (it’s as wide as it is tall, at 52″, with an overall length of 116.9″ on a 72.4″ wheelbase) that were at least forty years old still appeared to be used as regular drivers.

It was at that moment that the charm of our featured car became as obvious and apparent to me as its bright yellow paint scheme.  I started to perceive the 500 as a beloved automobile – something of a national treasure.  It also saddened me to think of how this car’s iconic status in Italy simply has not translated to here in the United States with the current car, and how many in the U.S. could probably never fully understand the love bestowed on it by people in its country of origin.  Many side streets in Rome, throughout many of the areas we visited, were narrow – and parking was tight.  A little car like this 500 made so much sense within the context of where we were.

I’ve written many times about my love of vintage things, and combined with the old (ancient) buildings surrounding us, the beautiful, cobblestone streets, the sounds of passersby speaking this gorgeous, expressive language, and the really cool storefront signage, Rome provided me with one consecutive, cinematic moment after another.  The sight of the Trevi Fountain literally took my breath away, as we rounded the corner and I saw it all lit up in the darkness of night.  I was transported to that scene in Federico Fellini’s classic 1960 film “La Dolce Vita”, when the characters portrayed by Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni actually wade into the fountain.

This yellow 500 seemed to be one of many extras and cast members in the vintage drama unfolding in my mind as we walked around this historic city.  My first trip to Roma had me feeling like I was a little bit Italian, myself (a recent DNA test taken by my brother confirmed we have exactly 0% roots from Italy), and I felt flattered and wonderful every time a stranger would start speaking to me in that language, or respond to my (very) limited Italian vocabulary without missing a beat, like I must have been nailing my pronunciation.  This is already a much longer post than I had intended to write, but I just wanted to let my CC friends know that I look forward to getting back to sharing more of my automotive finds – both from Italy and here in the U.S.  So, Ciao… for now.

Near Piazza Navona, Rome, Italy.
Saturday, November 11, 2017.