C21 Roman Chariots

Forgive the rash of smartphone holiday snaps, but a recent stay in Rome provided an opportunity to check out the local motor cars.

Urban Panda – far from extinct on the streets of Rome

Sadly, the biggest impression left on me by scanning the roads of Rome from the Borghese Gardens down to the Colosseum was what I did not see: not one of my beloved Cinquecenti. And, I don’t mean bright, Broom Yellow, Sportings, I mean none of any type or colour; not one! I am not sure what that says about that model – I saw examples of both its replacement (the Seicento) and antecedents (the 126 and the Nuova 500), but of the Cinq, ‘niente’!

Maybe they were all culled in a round of Government-sponsored ‘scrappage’?

Missing – presumed ‘scrappaged’ (source-Robinson archive)

Apart from that, the overriding sense was that the small car is definitely king in Rome. More so than London, Paris, Berlin or Amsterdam. They were driven, pretty well universally, with verve and audaciousness, and parked with a kind of studied abandonment.

Curbside parking – Rome style (source: Robinson archive)

I came hoping to see cars which one rarely, if ever, sees in the UK – aka Lancias. I was blessed to find a range of generations of the Y cars, and was reminded of how much poorer UK consumers are to be bereft of the choice of these pleasant and charming oddities. There is, in particular, a certain plushness and warmth to their interior trim which I liked. They are a nice size, distinctive looking, and curiously desirable.

Lancia Ypsilon – not the most flattering colour combo, but lovely none the less. (source: Robinson archive)

Also present and a delight to stumble upon was the Issigonis Mini. Pictured below is a lovely and well-used example in BRG with a vinyl sunroof and pepper-pot alloys (almost miniature versions of those seen on latter day Series 3 XJs). Seeing them alongside a number of that other classic miniature, the Nuova 500, stirred something within me to desire one of these little gems.

BRG Mini
Magical Mini – look how big the iQ behind it looks in comparison (source: Robinson archive)

So, when I had the chance to sit in one of the latter last week whilst our Tychy 500 was visiting a local dealership to have its 3 year service and MOT, I jumped in … thwacking my head on the door-frame in the process.  Goodness me, miracles of packaging they may be, but it’s still a tiny car with tiny controls and shockingly little in terms of protecting incumbents from a crash incident. People are definitely taller and bigger on average than they were 40 years ago …

Smart has found a bountiful audience among the Romans, with a number of electric versions spotted hooked up to charging points. Indeed, environmental concerns seem to abound in Rome, which I took as the explanation for the large number of Yaris Hybrids I saw (I can see no other reason why anyone would choose one, except maybe for Toyota’s reputation for reliability).

As to the previously mentioned Seicento, there were a number of what must have been later models branded as ‘600’, sporting Tychy 500 style bonnet and grille adornments. I guess that FIAT decided the model still had some legs after the retro-styled 500 was launched and trimmed and badged it such that it would make some kind of sense in its range.

Not exactly a Panda-car … but luvvin’ the livery! I always thought this Bravo was unfairly overlooked as it was quite the looker (source: Sputnik International)

Finally, respect to the local rozzers for the array of Puntos, Bravos and Pandas (nice to see a true Panda-car in these troubled times) in the joyously coloured and ritzily labelled livery. The italic (what else?) two tone lettering in particular would look more at home on a fizzy drink can, but that sense of Italian style means they pull off the look with elan.


Author: S.V. Robinson

Life long interest in cars and the industry

11 thoughts on “C21 Roman Chariots”

  1. Ciao, S.V! I’m sorry to hear that the Cinquecento is now a rare sighting in Rome. It was a lovely piece of industrial design, ruthlessly rational, but not lacking in charm, a hard trick to pull off. It’s successor, the Siecento, was nowhere as well resolved to my eyes, with curved shapes uncomfortably imposed on essentially the same silhouette. The upswept rear side window line restricted visibility and just looked a bit awkward. The tailgate looked like someone had taken a crowbar to the bottom edge to force it open and the vertical shut line between the tailgate and rear wing/C-pillar looked wobbly and uncertain from some angles:

    From the same perspective, the Cinquecento is just perfect:

  2. From the front, the Siecento looks slightly unfinished, particularly in the way the indicator lenses do not align with the bottom edge of the headlamps, giving the impression that they come from a different car. I know the designers’ intent was to use the indicators to close the horizontal gap across the front end, but it doesn’t work for me. The bumper is heavy-handed and a bit “Max Power” for my taste, even on a Sporting model:

    The Cinquecento is much tidier:

  3. Daniel, you have a knack of finding the most relevant and appropriate images for making comparisons between cars! The Seicento is a classic example of more is less. The Cinq is the complete opposite. I love it.

  4. The Fiat Cinquecento and Seicento (would have to agree on the former being much better looking than the latter) brings to mind the Supersize KA article, especially with the various 1992 Fiat Cinquecento derived concepts including 2-door convertible (e.g. StreetKa rival) and pick-up bodystyles.

    Not sure if Fiat themselves considered a 5-door version though it seems the Poles looked at 5-door and other versions in the form of models from a later part of the Beskid project that explored Cinquecento variants. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:FSM_Beskid_model_cars

    Have to wonder whether the following FSM Beskid 1760 prototype was also connected to the later Cinquecento or simply used Fiat mechanicals on a unique platform, since it sort of resembles a slightly LWB Cinquecento with elements of the mk2 Suzuki Swift, mk2 Honda City and facelifed mk1 Honda Today. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:FSM_Beskid_1760

    The Cinquecento/Seicento really deserved the 59-84 hp 1242cc FIRE unit at minimum, if not the 89-94 hp 1368cc FIRE engine as a Seicento range-topper to challenge the SportKa.

  5. A nice article, reminding me of my several visits to Florence (and some other Italian places). Small cars are always abundant, and I sometimes felt that I got so accustomed to the Panda size that I suddenly realized how big something like a Clio or Polo actually is.

    The Cinquecento might be the last of the rationalist Fiat designs that were so leading during the eighties (think Uno or Tipo). The following transition to more organic shapes could be fortunate, like in the first Punto, but also awkward like in the Seicento. It’s clear therefore which one of the two would rather occupy my driveway. And why not in this nice, bright yellow?

    1. Wow, Eduardo, that is shocking! It’s amazing that a single Lancia model could outsell the whole Alfa Romeo range in Europe. Granted, the MiTo is a fossil and the Giuiletta is not far behind, but the Giulia and Stelvio (whatever the aesthetic shortcomings of the latter may be) are new and expensively developed products with none of the compromises that blighted the company’s models over the past four decades.

      I wonder if the Giulia destined to be a heroic failure, a excellent car that needs no apologies, but just too late arriving to turn around perceptions and draw sufficient buyers away from their German premium saloons to sustain the brand.

    2. Agree with comments about the Giulia – good car but at the wrong time.

    3. As a mere car the Giulia is as good as any competitor – except for the lack of a manual transmission which would be enough for me not to buy it.
      As an ownership proposition it’s a non-starter because Alfa dealers are among the most unpleasant experiences you can have.
      It starts with mostly dilettantish sales people sitting in unattractive showrooms with Jeeps everywhere but no Giulias and it seamlessly continues with workshops with abysmal standards of work and high prices and dismissive service.
      Most cars in the Giulia’s market segment are sold as corporate lease contract and no leasing company or fleet manager will be prepared to deal with such (non-)service partners.

  6. The Cinquecento was quite a common sight, where I live (the Netherlands). I wonder how many of these were made. It’s quite a charming car, but not one that leaves much of an impression. It’s somewhat embarrassing to admit, but without this article I never would have realized that they are rare now. I really can’t recall the last time I saw one.

    I’ve never driven one myself, but was in the passenger seat one time, must have been somewhere in the mid nineties, which resulted in a backache after the driver drove rather enthusiastically over a speed bump, but that’s not the car’s fault. I like the light weight and small dimensions, so it would be great to have a go in one.

    I rather like the Toyota IQ, though that’s behind the Mini.

  7. Great post.
    I went on holiday to Lake Garda last year somewhere I have always wanted to go.
    Theses are the sort of cars I wanted to and expected to see.
    Unless I was having a bad week, all I saw was German cars – just like I see in England every day.

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