Curbside Classic: Fiat 600 – The 500’s Older, Bigger And More Influential Brother

Fiat 600 Arg

(first posted 5/4/2015)    The Fiat 500 has become iconic, and its name and some of its design themes are of course in production again. But in reality the Fiat 600, which preceded the 500 by two years and was a totally different car, was a much bigger seller and had vastly greater legacy. Yet it gets very little love, so let’s give it a wee bit here. And I just remembered that I actually shot one here several years ago, so this will be the impetus to finally use them, even if the setting is not as picturesque. Diego Torres Silvestre caught this survivor example in the La Boca district of Buenos Aires, Argentina and posted it at the Cohort, and it captures the 600 in proper context, as it was a very popular city car in Europe in the 50s and early 60s.

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Me nephew Eric was out on a visit back in 2009 when we took a ride up to Corvallis and I spotted this one in a storage yard. Yes, the 600 is bigger than the 500, but obviously not by much.

fiat 600-1956

Fiat’s brilliant designer-engineer Dante Giacosa designed the 600 in the early postwar years as Fiat’s answer to the VW. Given that Italy was poorer, and by quite a long shot back then, the 600 was quite a bit smaller than the Beetle. And unlike the air-cooled boxer four in the VW, Fiat went the same route as Renault did with their post-war 4CV, using a small (633 cc) water-cooled inline four. In fact, there’s no doubt that the 600 shows considerable influence of the Renault, except for being smaller yet.

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Unlike the 500, which was a development dead end, the 600 spawned a very long line of Fiats, most of them variations of the 850 series, including the very attractive 850 Spider (below, behind Abarth 1000).

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And of course Fiat’s tuning house turned these into absolute track terrors, with ever bigger and more powerful engines, like this Abarth 1000, which packs over 110 DIN hp from its pushrod four.

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But one variant of the 600 that has achieved cult status is the Multipla, which packed three rows of seats in its diminutive size. My homage to it is here.

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The engine size eventually grew to 770cc, which let it keep up with increasing traffic speeds of the time. The 600 was made in a number of other countries, including Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Spain, Yugoslavia, and Australia. In Germany, it was built by NSU, but called the Neckar. It was imported to the US, and was pretty much one of the cheapest cars ($1298) available here in its time that was sold in somewhat significant numbers. A kid in my neighborhood in Towson was still driving one in the late 60s.

The 600 deserves a more thorough write-up than this little write-up, but that’s all the time I have for it today. It is a little car, after all.