Revamping the Fiat 500 and 124 Spider Has Been a Success
Fiat, one of the leading car manufacturers worldwide, has massively expanded its operation in recent decades. What started as an innovative Italian brand has become one of the largest brands in the automotive world. However, that hasn’t helped Fiat come back to the US markets – a place it defined as a key market some 80 years ago. Instead, they needed something more, something that would rekindle the old flames and give the entire brand a new image is key markets. That “something” was the Fiat 500 and later the 124 Spider.
Fiat 500 – An Integral Part of 1960s Pop Culture
The automotive world and pop culture are heavily intertwined. Every decade has its car, and so does every movement. For the 1970s hippies, it was the VW Minibus the 1950s were all about the Porsche 550 Spider, among others. Modern history is full of such examples.
When it comes to 1960s Europe, that pop culture icon on four wheels was the Fiat 500. The real question is, why did this little car become so popular all of a sudden? To understand why, we have to take a broad look at the European automotive industry at that time.
Even though WWII was still fresh in everyone’s mind, there was no denying that VW’s Beetle was a global success. What was designed to be a vehicle for the working class has grown into a subtle movement. Other car brands quickly realized just how valuable such a car concept could be, and everyone rushed to build something similar.
The idea was to come up with a car that was easy to mass-produce, small but practical enough for an average family, and generally affordable. Different brands came up with different designs. Citroen 2cv was a great example of one such car. Despite achieving a great deal of success on its own, 2cv wasn’t as popular Fiat 500.
The Birth of a Legend
When Fiat 500 first hit the market, it was a game-changer. However, contrary to popular belief, Fiat wasn’t going blind into this project. Long before the 500 became what it is today, there was also the Fiat 500 Topolino that was built before WWII. Quite small by itself, many feel that Topolino was actually the foundation of what 500 will later become.
When the 1957 model 500 came out, it was hard not to see loose similarities. Fiat obviously already had a general idea of what to do with the car. That being said, it’s arguable that no one could anticipate the level of popularity this vehicle would reach. It was economical, practical, and, most importantly, affordable. Add to that’s an attractive design that made most of the competition look outdated, and you got yourself a winner.
The New 500
Fiat 500 has had a good run. No one can deny that. It was produced from 1957 to 1975, with plenty of variations made to improve the car. Fiat had planned to replace the 500 with model 126, which had also achieved success, but only locally, and it was nowhere near an icon that 500 used to be.
Fast forward to the 2000s, and Fiat is stagnating. It’s not that the Fiat group isn’t building good cars at this time, but the vehicles they’re putting together are barely turning heads within the industry. The leadership had recognized that they needed something recognizable but fresh to fill the void in their offer at the time.
The decision to bring back the 500 through a new generation (if we include the Topolino) was the right one. Simply announcing the launch of the revamped model was enough for this brand to create a whole lot of hype a full year before the first car rolled off the production lines.
The Full Spectrum of Fiat 500 Models
When that eventually happened, we were presented with a fantastic little car. The new 500 was much larger than the original, and it had the engine in the front, used a front-wheel drive system, and more. All of these differences were points of friction for hardcore fans of the old 500.
As time went by and more of these cars started appearing on the streets, most of those complaints sank into obscurity. The car might have been different in terms of mechanical concepts, but it was a worthy spiritual successor. Fiat 500’s popularity skyrocketed overnight. More importantly, it became popular in the United States. In fact, Fiat 500 was this company’s ticket back into this massive market.
Like with the original 500, the company went in and developed several different versions of this car. Unlike it was the case with the original, the four-door version of this car wasn’t on the fringes of the product range. Instead, models such as 500L and 500X flooded the markets and became about as popular as the source model in some regions around the world.
Fiat took advantage of the hype and overall attention they were enjoying to usher the age of 4-door 500 models. It’s arguable how popular these were in the United States, looking at the overall figures. In Europe, on the other hand, they’ve been selling like hotcakes.
After over a decade of sales, the company has decided to cease production of the 500 in the US in late 2019. Fiat cited the shrinking market among several other reasons. Once they finally depart for good, the 500s might become the new classic that will be in high demand 10 years down the line. Especially if you have a well maintained Abarth model with an engine that was taken care of.
If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It – Fiat 124 Spider
The 500 wasn’t the only legend getting revamped. Fiat took action on lessons learned and decided to bring back the 124 model, or its coupe version to be more specific. This car is impressive for many reasons. They’ve brought back the image of a hot, compact European coupe you could get at a reasonable price and have loads of fun in. More importantly, they didn’t develop a brand new platform for this car. As we’ve learned since the ’90s, everything that leaves a car factory these days shares a platform with something else.
In the case of 124, its step-sibling is none other than Mazda Miata. Since it’s still considered as one of the favorite fun cars on the planet, sharing a platform with Miata was a good sign that 124 would become a successful model. And it did, to an extent. Most of the criticism was aimed at the engine.
Fiat had insisted on pushing their versatile I4 MultiAir engine across all of its platforms. You could find it in many cars ranging from the Euro specific Punto Evo to 124 Spider. The North American model came in two versions. You could get the 160 hp standard package or a 164 hp Abarth version of the car. Most would agree that these figures weren’t all that impressive. Even though you could squeeze a lot of power from modern turbocharged four-bangers, everyone expected more.
With this 1.4-liter MultiAir engine that is the only option available, the 124 Spider feels slightly underwhelming. That being said, it’s still very much a fun car that you might enjoy throwing around a track if you wish to. No matter what kind of powerhouse Fiat puts in this car, Miata’s blood still runs through its veins. After all, if there’s anything Mazda’s community has taught us, it’s that you can LS swap anything and be on your merry way.
Ending of the Second Saga
Considering that the last real stint Fiat had in the United States was back in the early 20th century, this company’s performance with these two models can only be described as successful. Fiat has proven that they are capable of tapping into the US markets directly, once again. Furthermore, the FCA group now has a good idea of how the US market breathes.
By stopping sales of both the 500 and 500E, it’s apparent that the US market is all about larger vehicles and vehicles that are capable of getting off-road. As a result, the FCA will continue to produce 500X and the 500L.
If you were hoping to get yourself a regular version of this car, you’re in luck! Fiat has announced that its reserves will last well into 2020. Just don’t wait too long!
Will Fiat Boost its Presence in the US Markets?
By merging with Chrysler, Fiat has gained a substantial chunk of the existing infrastructure while also entering the US market again. The real question is whether Fiat is going to boost its presence in this region of the world. This would most likely mean a new car model specific to this particular market. Considering that Fiat tried to enter the pickup truck market with the Fiat Fullback, it’s evident that they are making moves towards that objective.
If you’re interested in finding Genuine Fiat or OEM parts for your 500 or 124 Spider, check out our catalog and discover some of the best deals on the market!