A Photo for Sunday: The Italian Paint Job

Was it not Grahame Greene who said “If I can’t have the bream I’ll have a salad instead”? 

2017 Fiat 500 Anniversario

The Fiat 500 has entered a new phase in life. Having initially been very fashionable, it came to be seen as a rather tired old product (not by the many who bought them). Now, ten years on, it has eased its way into a small pantheon of long-lived steady sellers. The Suzuki Jimny has managed this as well, albeit after 20 years (for Autocar). Another example, at the other end of the scale might be Toyota’s Century

I’d really like to be able to enumerate the dazzling array of options but I don’t think even Fiat knows. That the price range is from 11,000 GBP to 19,000 GBP tells you a lot about what a cash cow this car must be. As far as I can tell, improvements to the technical spec have not been many; this car is totally amortised and, despite the competition, is still in demand. Fiat have very cleverly used the 500 as a means to sell paint schemes and trim options attached to what some might call a rolling fossil.

That would be unfair since the core of the product (engine, body, seating) does what people want it to do. Although a car of a vastly different character to a Panda Mk1, the Nuovo 500 does the job and doesn’t cost too much if you don’t want it to. The car attracts customers on the basis of the ever-changing paint finishes and its harmless personality: a car for customers who only need nice looking transport. If all goes well, Fiat need never replace it. Happy birthday, Fiat Nuova 500. Nice wheels, too.


Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

17 thoughts on “A Photo for Sunday: The Italian Paint Job”

    1. Yes, really. They are alloys that ape wheel covers. I imagine they aren’t cheap. Italian automotive creativity lives on in Fiat’s 500 design office. There’s not much sign of it elsewhere in their vehicles. After Cantarella went Fiat group’s design faded markedly. I am sure there are some good designers there yet there names are not known. That says something about the attitude to design matters. By the same token, Ford of Europe have a no-name designer now Martin Smith has retired.

    2. I bet you wish you’d bought one of those; maybe you can buy the alloys separately. How many people have bought a second or third 500 purely to get a newer colour/trim option? To hell with Bluetooth and USB ports: surely it must be cheaper to design for frequent paint/trim option renewal.

  1. I always thought the subject of wheel trim design would have made a good monthly theme (what happened to those?)

    1. The straight answer is that DTW decided to pause the theme strand. I am glad you liked the concept. It helped to nudge content off the usual grooves.

    2. Ooh yes – with a whole year devoted to 80s and 90s Citroens!

    3. Richard – hope I have managed to post this in the right place.

      Ty has the right idea – look at those BX wheel trims! They could only be Citroen really couldn’t they? And everything from AXs to ZXs sported something fairly wacky if I recall. Now all I have got is obligatory highly polished alloys on my car, with obligatory corrosion breaking through after less than three years. Bring back plastic!!

    4. Adrian and Ty: the BX trim is inspired by 80s architecture. The wheel was a great place to put that reference. The covers sold with the XM are as good as the alloy alternative. The reason plastic covers don’t look as good is probably so as to “guide” customers to the alloys. For Scandinavia and other snowy places that’s not so good as it means in winter the car looks grim with black metal wheels instead of a winter-proof wheel trim.

  2. Nice car. I recall that these sold at the rate of one per minute when they first came out. They also held the unfortunate accolade of being the most frequently vandalised car at one point.

  3. It may be a combination of a few things. Firstly, I think that owners would be younger, and less likely to park off-street, so putting the cars more at risk. Secondly, it may be that they stand out, as they are often in brighter or pastel colours. Lastly, they may be seen as looking ‘cute’ and therefore somehow worthy of derision. Odd and sad, though.

  4. Fiat should be congratulated for the 500. It’s a huge success.

    It’s incredibly bland to drive though. And I don’t understand why there’s no five door version, as they did that for the Lancia Ypsilon.

    1. Yes, my one day at the helm of a 500 CC left me underwhelmed. Understeery, lifeless controls, odd seats. Well done, Fiat, for finding out how little people would happily accept in a car. If I was Fiat I’d sell an inexpensive tuned version with decent steering and controls and marketing it so I know about it (if it exists).

      Simon Kearne tells me that we have a full review of the 500 appearing soon, which will provide a counterpoint to my tiny, intense rage.

  5. By George, I think I’ve got it!

    DTW focuses on the losers of the car world, the ones that don’t quite make it, the Battersea dogs of the automotive universe. From multiple Lancias whose charms incomprehensibly failed to attract the mass attention of buyers, when anyone able to fog a mirror and operate a brain could see at a glance they were the very best, to leviathans of mediocrity that hung around for two decades and managed to sell 5,000 a year on average like the famed Jaguar XJ-S and subsequent XJS without the hyphen, pick an off-beat machine and DTW will write extensively on it in erudite terms over and over again. Let the common publications and websites concentrate on the common cars! That is the charm of DTW.

    I myself tend to look upon the average vehicle without great interest, so the DTW approach often gels with my outlook. And often it does not, when praise is showered on some dog whose existence really need not be commemorated, er, that is in my opinionated opinion. Which is fine, since not everyone’s opinion need match my own.

    The current Fiat 500 arrived hot off the four-year-old presses in 2011 in my country, courtesy of one Sergio Marchionne, educated here though his school and university years before authentic Italian pasta reclaimed his soul. Oh Canada. We only managed to invent the Hawiian pizza with its golden chunks of pineapple. Having managed to pull off a smoke and mirrors gambit with the US and Canadian governments to gain control of Chrysler in 2009 or so, BlackSweaterMan felt sure the downtrodden masses in North America would flock to buy the 500 and blow kisses at each other as they tootled about in a light and lively machine full of brio.

    Step one was to pull off a campaign with Chrysler dealers to put in special boutiques, sometimes even separate dealerships to present the all-conquering 500 to the public. Untold riches were promised as swarms of people theretofore denied a 500 of their very own would swamp dealerships, requiring rationing, high prices and vast contributions to dealership principals’ retirement funds. So each owner spent many hundreds of thousands on Studios for their chance to sell a boutique gem of a car, seduced by Marchionne’s undoubted charm and propensity for smoking four cigarettes at once, for which the ghost of Archie Vicar gives two Thumbs Up, seconded by used car salesmen of all ilks.

    An assembly line was cobbled together in Toluca, Mexico within an existing Chrysler facility to churn out 500s, and back in Dundee Michigan an engine manufacturing facility to churn out the 1.4 MultiAir FIRE engine in both atmospheric and turbo variants was added. Probably no other engine in serial production is based on such old bones. Why, even GM managed to make the Chevy V8 an all aluminum affair for light duty pick up and Corvette use quite some time ago. while retaining an iron block for heavy-duty applications.

    In 2011, a breathless Canuck public flocked to the new Fiat “Studios” to view the new 500, drive it, sign on the dotted line and scramble home to unwrap their automotive iphone, while their neighbours stood around in abject envy, their Honda Civics and Toyota Corollas reduced to the status of uncool junk unworthy of further affection. Ranks of 500s, with lines of triangular multicoloured flags fluttering in sylvan breezes stretched from cars to poles, and helium-filled balloons straining for the sky tethered to rearview mirrors turned the staid Chrysler lots into a carnival atmosphere. The 500 is here! Spread the word!

    In 2011, 5392 500s sped away from dealers. In 2012, 8474 of the little sprogs were set free to roam the roads. 2013 saw 6811 unleashed as stories about seat adjustment levers made from unset toffee sticks that broke began to seep across the land, followed by rear licence plate lamps whose LED circuit boards were unable to withstand repeated slamming of the hatch. Or the vagaries of MultiAir when engines just refused to start, but then ten minutes later forgot they were dead and ran normally. Yes, just part of the fun! The Abarth 500 sold a few to those unwilling to investigate why its price was the same as a lower spec VW GTI or Subaru WRX for about half the car.

    In 2014, 5566 people who didn’t have an acquaintance with an existing 500 owner bought the little darling, finding the canvas roof option a thrilling throwback to days of yore. 2015 saw 2955 people with an inability to read internet reviews take a baby Fiat home, while 2016 saw 1028 daring risk-takers assume the burden of monthly payments. Up through October this year, fully 765 500s have been sold, most discovered in the sweepings behind Chrysler dealerships among discarded cardboard boxes next to skips and then sold for next to nothing.

    The overall car market here is about two million a year, so 500s take a solid 0.05% of the market. No small potatoes! Gaining on the outside at a steady clip is the 124 Spider, selling 581 examples so far in 2017 at three times the price of a Pop.

    All of which to me goes to show that you can fool some of the people some of the time, but not many people all the time. I have managed to drive a 500 some distance perched on its barstool driver’s seat, glancing now and then at its incomprehensible instrumentation, and chortled in glee twice in a 500 Abarth, the noisiest little bucket on the road and the most overpriced for what you get, discounting the raspberry exhaust note but not the ridiculously wide turning circle.

    I look forward to the DTW expose of the 500 as one of the classics of our time, a car unjustly spurned by the motoring public. Hey, wait a minute … I see Richard has posted a comment apparently agreeing with me as I composed this magnum opus. Well! Harumph. Perhaps great minds do think alike after all.

    The huge sales success of the 500 in Canada helps to explain why there are only five Alfa Romeo dealerships in the entire country. Marchionne’s blandishments have so far fallen on deaf dealers’ ears, unwilling to spend another fifty cents for the chance to sell yet another modern Italian classic to a public who really couldn’t care less.


    1. Bill: Fiat sold 151,000 of them in the EU this year. It is not a car for N America, evidently.

      To defend our interests, the less succesful and odd cars are simply more interesting than the outright successes. The Camry is a big-seller and so is the Porsche 9-whatever but that doesn’t make them interesting. I know you’re only being humorous though. I think a fair amount of classic car-ism is about looking past the “what does she drive like” churnalism (thanks, RP) which dominates the daily car news cycle.

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