Most Americans wouldn’t recognize this little shitbox for the brilliant and pioneering car it is. A Yugo? A Lada? Fair enough; we just don’t have a tradition in this country of elemental cars; at least not since the flashier late-twenties Chevy put the kibosh to the Model T. In 1980, as Brougham Fever was reaching epidemic proportions in the US, Fiat introduced the Panda, the latest European “peasant-mobile”, in the tradition of the Citroen 2CV. Its glass was all flat, and its rear seat could be folded into everything from a hammock to carry odd loads, into a bed, or removed altogether. And it had a leaf-spring cart axle in the rear, which opened up the easy possibility of turning it into a 4×4; the first small, transverse-engine 4×4 car. A legend was born, and thanks to splateagle finding this one in Scotland, we can finally give it its due props.
Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, the Panda arrived in 1980 in the quest to redefine basic motoring, once again. This time, Fiat took a rather conventional approach, unlike the 2CV. The Panda recycled bits and pieces of other Fiats, including the engine and transaxle from the 127, as well as the two-cylinder from the 126 for the really elemental version (Panda 30).
Its interior was truly multi-purpose. How many Italians lost their virginity in a Panda? No wonder it became such a cult classic.
But its versatility reached new heights when the Austrian 4×4 specialist firm Steyr-Puch got a hold of it. This was an extension of the long-established relationship between the two firms, which had SP license-building versions of the Fiat 500 with its own engines.
But the lifespan of that hairy little toad was coming to an end in the seventies, and the thrifty Alpine-region drivers on both sides of the Austro-Italian border needed something new with which to climb the snowy slopes, and deliver the mail.
My son Edward’s and my memories of the Panda 4×4 were formed most vividly thanks to a crazed Tirolian mailman whose rally-imitating antics we watched daily from the upper balcony of our rented digs in a mountain hamlet in the Alps in 1999. We could hear him coming, before we saw him, the little Fiat four screaming at redline; then the little yellow box came flying (literally) down the rough farm lane towards the Pension Vogelhutte. The elderly Postal-yellow Panda looked worse for wear, but every day, the same routine. Someone loved their job.
These yellow Pandas could be seen all over the Alpine regions of Austria, Switzerland and Italy, as well as in other colors in the hands of Alpinistas. Their climbing and off-road ability was unparalleled for a cheap economy car. SP engineered a clever and economical solution: the five-speed gearbox ratios were re-jiggered so first was an ultra-low ratio, and the rest were more typical of a fours-speed box. Who needs an overdrive fifth in the mountains anyway?
Steyr-Puch built the whole drive-train, from the clutch back, and shipped it to the Fiat plant where it was installed in reinforced Pandas. The rear axle was a solid affair. I suspect Honda bought one or two before they built their first 4×4 wagon a few years later.
Both the regular Panda and the 4×4 were big hits, and Fiat kept making them longer than anyone might have expected. The last one was built in 2003, when tightening safety and emission regs pretty much forced its retirement.
The gen2 Panda appeared in 2003, and was also available in AWD. It was quite popular, but the era of the simple and crude rolling tin cans was finally over.
Unlimited number of Limited Edition Pandas:
Panda 45 Stéréo – 1982
Panda 30 Van – 1982
Panda 34 – 1982
Panda 30 S Moretti – 1983
Panda 45 S Moretti – 1983
Panda 4×4 – 1983
Panda 4×4 Moretti – 1983
Panda 45 CL FM – 1984
Panda 30 CL College – 1984
Panda 30 L GT Giannini – 1984
Panda 30 L Sport Giannini – 1984
Panda 34 Bianca – 1984
Panda 34 Nera – 1984
Panda 34 Pink – 1984
Panda 45 Bianca – 1984
Panda 45 Nera – 1984
Panda 45 Pink – 1984
Panda 45 Sole – 1984
Panda 45 S Pink – 1984
Panda 45 FM – 1984
Panda 4×4 Pink – 1983
Panda 45 CL V.I.P. – 1985
Panda Nuova 4×4 – 1985
Panda 4×4 Steyr Puch – 1985
Panda 750 FIRE L 34 – 1986
Panda 750 FIRE L Fun – 1986
Panda 750 FIRE L Dance – 1986
Panda 750 FIRE L Adria – 1986
Panda 750 FIRE Van – 1986
Panda 1000 FIRE L Dance – 1986
Panda 1000 FIRE L i.e. – 1986
Panda 1000 FIRE CL i.e. – 1986
Panda 1000 FIRE S i.e. – 1986
Panda 1.3 Diesel L – 1986
Panda 1.3 Diesel Van – 1986
Panda 1000 FIRE i.e. 4×4 S – 1987
Panda 750 Young – 1987
Panda 1000 FIRE 4×4 Sisley – 1987
Panda 1000 FIRE 4×4 Brava – 1987
Panda 1000 FIRE 4×4 Piste Noire – 1988
Panda 750 Young 2 – 1989
Panda 750 FIRE CL Shopping – 1989
Panda 750 FIRE CL Italia 90 – 1989
Panda 750 FIRE S Italia 90 – 1989
Panda 750 FIRE S Giannini – 1989
Panda 750 FIRE Sergio Tacchini – 1989
Panda 900 Dance – 1989
Panda 900 Bella – 1989
Panda 1000 FIRE Sergio Tacchini – 1989
Panda 1000 FIRE CL Ponte – 1989
Panda 1000 FIRE Shopping – 1989
Panda 1000 FIRE i.e. Shopping FM – 1989
Panda 1000 FIRE i.e. CL Fantasia – 1989
Panda 1.3 Diesel CL – 1989
Panda 1000 FIRE 4×4 Trekking – 1989
Panda 750 Young 2 – 1990
Panda 750 Bianca – 1990
Panda 750 Nera – 1990
Panda 900 New Dance – 1990
Panda 750 FIRE CLX – 1991
Panda 750 FIRE Crazy – 1991
Panda 900 i.e. Dance – 1991
Panda 900 i.e. Racing – 1991
Panda 1000 FIRE Selecta – 1991
Panda 1000 FIRE i.e. CLX – 1991
Panda 1000 FIRE i.e. Van – 1991
Panda 1000 FIRE i.e. 4×4 Trekking – 1991
Panda 1000 FIRE i.e. 4×4 Giannini – 1991
Panda 1000 FIRE i.e. 4×4 CLX – 1991
Panda 1.1 FIRE i.e. Selecta – 1991
Panda 750 FIRE Cafè – 1992
Panda 750 FIRE Perfect – 1992
Panda 750 FIRE Estivale – 1992
Panda 750 FIRE Top Ten – 1992
Panda 750 FIRE Pink – 1992
Panda 750 FIRE Green – 1992
Panda 900 i.e. L – 1992
Panda 900 i.e. Regimental – 1992
Panda 900 i.e. Cafè – 1992
Panda 900 i.e. Van – 1992
Panda 1000 FIRE i.e. Pop – 1992
Panda 1000 FIRE i.e. Navy BlueBay – 1992
Panda 1000 FIRE i.e. Brio – 1992
Panda 1.1 FIRE i.e. (50 HP, Speedometer up to 180 km\h) – 1992
Panda 1.1 FIRE i.e. S (50 HP, Speedometer up to 180 km\h) – 1992
Panda 1.1 FIRE i.e. 4×4 – 1992
Panda 1.1 FIRE i.e. 4×4 Trekking – 1992
Panda 1.1 FIRE i.e. 4×4 Country Club – 1992
Panda 1.1 FIRE i.e. 4×4 Val D’Isere – 1992
Panda 1000 FIRE i.e. Cafè – 1993
Panda 1000 FIRE i.e. Eleganza – 1993
Panda 1000 FIRE i.e. Così – 1993
Panda 1000 FIRE i.e. Regime Valley – 1993
Panda 1000 FIRE i.e. Malicia – 1993
Panda 1000 FIRE i.e. Estivale – 1993
Panda 1000 FIRE i.e. Green – 1993
Panda 1000 FIRE i.e. Pink – 1993
Panda 900 i.e. CLX – 1994
Panda 900 i.e. Giannini – 1994
Panda 900 i.e. CityVan – 1994
Panda 1.1 FIRE i.e. 4×4 Runway Noire – 1995
Panda 1.1 FIRE i.e. 4×4 Zermatt – 1995
Panda 1.1 FIRE i.e. 4×4 Van – 1995
Panda 1000 Fire i.e. Dance – 1996
Panda 900 i.e. Young Ciaoweb – 1998
Panda 1.1 Fire i.e. College – 2001
Panda 1.1 Fire i.e. Van – 2001
Panda 1.1 Fire i.e. CityVan – 2001
Panda 1.1 Fire i.e. 4×4 Trekking – 2001
Panda 1.1 FIRE i.e. 4×4 Van – 2001
Panda 1.1 FIRE i.e. 4×4 CityVan – 2001
Panda 1.1 Fire i.e. 4×4 Climbing – 2002
These were everywhere when I was in Italy five years ago. Cars don’t get much more crude than this.
Street-parked original Fiat 500s weren’t uncommon, either. The new 500 had just debuted while I was over there and the first one I saw literally stopped traffic in Sorrento.
The Panda, along with the Uno, really was the last stand for a brand that had something like the 60% of the market share in its home country. It was simple, cheap, funny and you could do almost everything with it, especially with the 4×4. Everybody in Italy loves the Panda, it really is honesty on wheels ! The first version (built until 1984) was even more spartan, with a body coloured steel grille that looked like it was borrowed from an air conditioner. There’s still plenty of original pandas, but lots went to the crusher in the last years, mostly for state incentives for more ecologic cars and because right now people wants convenience and safety even on small city cars. The first ones I told before were plentiful when I was a kid, right now they’ve basically disappeared. This was a lovely tin mule, hail to the Panda !
There are several tiny Fiats roaming free around here they have a certain following but are close to impossible to sell if TM is anything to go by.
Are you a Yugo in disguise?!?!?!?
I recommend we dump the feds who outlawed this thing (and others) and adopt the simpler cars we can’t get now. I could live with this thing for the type driving I do. Probably could be made as dependable as my cube which is pretty dependable. Nah… what am I thinking of? Panda, yugo. I don’t know.
reminds me of a subaru justy.
Yeah but it must be tougher. I had two Justys, one had constant CV axle problems, the other had the CV stub axle sheer off and set the whole wheel free!
That specific model of Fiat Panda is also very common in Andorra (where I lived for a while).
Remarkably, the 1st gen Panda was also made by SEAT as.. Seat Panda – with also a plethora of series such as Yellow, Black and Red and Sprint. I was carpooled to school in one of those and, man, the backseat was awfully uncomfortable.
When Fiat left Seat, the Spanish marque did some changes to make the model different and become the Seat Marbella – which were, basically, disposable cars. They even created a van version (with the 903cc engine and later a diesel)
The Marbella always fascinated me since it’s essentially a fossilised pre-’86 Panda with some styling tweaks – SEAT then didn’t have the resources to re-engineer the car so these soldiered on with the old bodyshell (quarter lights in the front windows etc.) and the 127’s hand-me-down engines… from memory they kept the original’s funky (but uncomfortable) canvas back seat too.
here’s the van version!
it was used mostly by telephone and mail companies and it was one of the most common sights in the morning until some years ago
Brilliant write up Paul – thanks!
I was so excited to stumble on this little fella while I was on holiday up in Stromness – it’s the exact same age and colour as my first car (pictured below doing its 4×4 impersonation in Glen Coe in ’98, about three years before I finally parted with it) so from a distance I thought it might be its twin.
Discovering it was a 4×4 made my grin even wider: mechanically these were quite different from their 2WD Panda stablemates (like my much loved ’89 1000CL) but this was the car I often imagined mine to be while tooling round the highlands in it in my youth… Given how capable the 2WD Panda was on rough roads, tracks and fields, I can see why the 4×4 is a diminutive off-roading legend.
Pandas have featured pretty large in my family’s Automotive history. Except for the rust-prone and somewhat flakey ’83 Mk1 “Super” that my Dad bought new (FIAT apparently didn’t galvanise the pre-’86 Mk1s very well) they’ve all been little stalwarts.
Adding a little to Paul’s write up, Mk1s built after ’86 (like this 4×4) all benefitted from some significant improvements over the original – for one thing they were fully galvanised, which is why this daily driver in Orkney is still rust-free. On some – mine included – the very thin seams at the bottom of the doors would occasionally corrode but otherwise Pandas built after ’86 are very resistant to tin worm.
The 4×4 got the improved and strengthened body-shell (full length rolling front windows in place of the original’s quarter-light type etc.), and improved interior (losing the original’s simple but uncomfortable seats in favour of slightly less spartan ones) but not the new suspension, engines and transmissions the rest of the range were treated to, since it would have involved redesigning the all-wheel-drive.
My 2WD Panda had more modern independent coil-sprung rear suspension (making it a hoot to drive) and had ditched the carry-over pushrod engine from the old FIAT 127 in favour of a (then) all new overhead cam “FIRE” 999cc engine, putting out all of 45bhp which sounds like lawnmower territory but given the tiny weight of the car, gave it plenty of puff.
The thing that always amazed folk though was how much space there was inside one of these – they’re genuinely tiny compared to modern cars but so well packaged that they felt very roomy, and swallowed much larger loads than you’d credit (I moved house in mine three times, complete with sofa and bed in the back!)
I think there’s always a certain irrational fondness around your first car, whatever it was, but everyone I know who’s owned one of these seems to have a soft spot for them. A real shame nobody makes simple, rugged fun little cars like this any more.
I miss the crude tin can era…
I’ve occasionally wondered what Malcolm Bricklin and/or Yugo America could have done for a second act; the Panda is what came to mind.
The FWD Panda would have been rustic (read cheap) in the same mold as the original Yugo (Koral), a 4WD version would have really put them on the map, at least in some parts of the US & Canada. Similar to early Subarus, I could see an economical 4WD car doing well in parts of the Northeast, Mountain West and West Virgina, and Ontario and the Maritimes in Canada.
Since the Yugo was a Fiat design initially, there would have been lots of opportunity to share technologies and processes. Of course, history has changed the course of both companies, but fun to imagine.
Not sure the Panda would have lasted long in US/Canada….rust,rust,rust. I’ve become curiously fond of these wee shoeboxes recently, in time they may occupy the same place in my affections as the R8 and Simca 1000.
As above – the ones built after ’86 were well galvanised – rust wasn’t a big issue. Before the ’86 update is a different story, but the majority of Pandas built would have been post-update.
As an example the featured car is an ’89 and in use as a daily driver in Orkney (a small group of islands off the north coast of Scotland) where it’s impossible to be far from the coast, and the climate isn’t known for its dryness – in spite of 23 years of salt and rain there’s barely a spot of rust on it.
Fiat Pandas always make me think of my high school Spanish teacher, who would often regale us with stories from her many trips abroad (nevertheless ones that she would take us on). One day, she was talking about a trip to France in which she rented a Fiat Panda. I don’t know how it got to that, but she told us about her Fiat Panda. Something about being trapped in a snowstorm or something, I think. Maybe it wasn’t France…I don’t remember anymore.
When some of us went to France with her that year, and I saw one in person, all I could think of was that day in class she went on a tangent about Fiat Pandas.
Thanks for that one Mr. Niedermeyer. I sat in the rear seat of one and despite being tiny, it wasn’t the penalty box you would expect.
The latter ones had coil sprung rear suspension, and I remember seeing a guy with immobiliser in its keys. It was his DD and the nice car was a Lancia.
The Daily Automotive History Lesson, Brought To You By Alfasaab99:
The Panda’s rear seat which could be converted into a bed was hardly original, knowing Nash used it in the Bathtub Nashes 30+ years earlier.
I bet that Nash didn’t have a fitted boot-tent on the options list though? 😉
Holy Mother of Aztek!
I drove one of these as a rental car in Greece in ca. 1995. Surprisingly fun to drive and roomy enough for four people.
The rear seat/bed conversion also featured on the much maligned but very spacious Austin Maxi. Also a great favourite of mine, the Renault 16 (a great and innovative European car)I think I’m right in saying some ’40s US salesmans coupes could do this too- so their vacuum selling occupants could snatch a few hours sleep in a degree of comfort.
You can find pictures of both AMC Hornet and Chevy Nova on Flickr. Unfortunately all rights were reserved and the pictures wouldn’t save.
One still lives near me, I’ll get a picture to prove it, a B reg, non-Sisley.
My brother owns the later (Panda 2) 4 by 4; he says the UK Fiat dealers simply cannot understand why the model was not promoted more – try to buy a good one in the UK and you’ll see you’re not the only one looking. If memory serves my bro had to get one from several hundred miles away. They also hold their value out of all proportion to your expectations of small Fiats. BUT why I’m writing is – – years ago, The Daily Telegraph and Top Gear ran pieces on unexpectedly high-mileage cars – – forgive me, I’ve probably conflated the two sources – but I remember two >350,000 Panda 4x4s (the other incroyable high-milers being Renault 21s….)
I own panda 100 in Ghana west Africa,I really love this car,lots of people want to buy it,but am not ready to sell it,I will be very pleased if I get the diesel ingine type