Anima Semplice

Giugiaro’s favourite. Popular too with over 4.5 Million owners, the Panda was as good as it was clever – but was it great?

(c) bestcarmag

The most significant designs carry within them an essential seam of honesty – call it a fitness for purpose, if you will. This was especially apparent at the more humble end of the automotive spectrum; cars like the Citroën 2CV and BMC Mini bear eloquent witness to a single-minded approach to a highly specific brief. And while some of the more notable utilitarian cars appear to have taken an almost anti-styling approach, they were for the most part, sweated over as much as anyone’s carrozzeria-honed exotic.

Fiat’s original Panda is a case in point – appearing to some eyes as being almost wilfully unfinessed upon its Geneva show debut in 1980, it was in fact not only the brainchild of some of the finest creative minds of its era, but probably the final product from a mainstream European carmaker to be conceived according to such a simple, humanistic brief.

Given their reputation in the realm of small cars, by the mid-’70s, Fiat Auto’s product planners had been caught napping. While the landmark 127 model of 1972 would prove to be one of the cornerstones of the European supermini sector, Lingotto’s offering to those with less sophisticated tastes, or budgets that same year was not entirely what the broader market had hoped for.

1972 Fiat 126. (c) autoevolution

The Fiat 126 was to all intents and purposes a refinement of the Nouva 500 in a more modern, slightly more commodious, better protected bodyshell, which despite its neat appearance, not only seemed like yesterday’s concept, but lacked the timeless appeal of the outgoing car – one which in broader socio-cultural terms at least, had become something far more potent than simply a transportation tool.

Like its illustrious forebear, the 126 was ideally suited to Italy’s choked city streets, and medieval town centres, but both outside the urban milieu, and elsewhere across Europe the bambino struggled to make headway. While no sales flop (certainly not in Poland, where it was built in huge numbers by FSO under licence), it was not the pan-European entry level offering the Italian car giant believed it required.

A Giugiaro render dated from 1974 (allegedly) for project Zero. (c) carbodydesign

It’s clear that there was a good deal of soul-searching at Lingotto over what form such a model ought to take during the mid-70s, and most likely, quite a number of conceptual studies – a process which was likely to have been interrupted (as much within Fiat was) by the uncertainty and panic which had taken hold in the confused aftermath of the 1973 oil embargo.

A consensus was reached in 1976 however, with Giorgetto Giugiaro’s Ital Design consultancy tasked to consider an entry level car, to be built at the same price point as that of the smaller 126. But unlike the bambino, which was more of a 2+2 in cabin layout, this was to be a full four-seater of a more practical bent – a latterday take on Renault’s evergreen Quatrelle, if you wish.

It’s clear that for Giugiaro, and his engineering chief Aldo Mantovani, the Panda programme was creative catnip – the designer having already formulated similar ideas around packaging which took shape in Ital Design’s New York taxi concept of 1976 and would reach its apex two years later with the influential Megagamma MPV study.

Hence the Panda was short in length, tall in canopy, employing entirely flat glazing to reduce cost and complexity. Panels too were simple pressings, with seams (and some hinges) exposed. Every aspect of the car was optimised to adhere to the brief of economy – of construction, of style and of usability.

Yet despite its utilitarian intent, and in a manner similar to that of the original Range Rover, Giugiaro imbued the design with a subtle sophistication that meant that while the Panda would be entirely at home in the countryside, it wouldn’t necessarily make its owner appear mortifyingly rustic while double-parked outside La Scala.

The Panda’s cabin design was where Giugiaro’s skills came into their own. Because the car was designed from the outset to offer a spacious and versatile interior, the pared back appearance came not only with an element of Issigonis-inspired austerity, but with a modernist Italian sense of style and function. The dashboard was largely non-existent; the bulkhead simply being trimmed in the same soft-touch hessian-style material as the rest of the cabin. Below it curved a deep pouch pocket shelf for oddment stowage.

A clever feature was the design of the ashtray, which was press-fitted to the lower dash pocket and could slide left or right, as required. The instrument binnacle was simply a pod, which was bulkhead-mounted above the steering column. The Panda’s rear bench, was of a hammock design, which could be folded to become a cradle, laid flat to make a rudimentary bed, or dismantled entirely within 15 seconds. Elegant, simple and above all, inexpensive.

Technically, off the shelf componentry was employed where possible. Designed from the outset to accommodate both the 126’s longitudinal 652 cc two-cylinder and the 127’s transverse 903 cc in line four, front suspension aped that of the 127/128, employing McPherson struts, while at the rear, a simple beam axle suspended by leaf springs allowed for large variations in payload, if a somewhat bouncy ride quality.

Known initially within Ital Design as Zero, and internally as progetto 141, Fiat initially it seems chose Rustica – a model name already employed for a home-market, austerity version of the Brazilian-built, 147 model (itself a derivation of the 127). However this nameplate was rejected following customer clinics in 1978, with Panda being eventually chosen.

A masterpiece in minimalism, the Panda’s product design approach dovetailed neatly with that of centro stile’s own concurrent Ritmo model. Accolades swiftly followed; Ital Design being honoured with the 1981 Compasso d’Oro design award while Fiat narrowly missed out on that year’s ECOTY honours.

Sadly however, the Panda was built to customary Fiat standards of material quality, finish and especially rustproofing, so early cars, while mechanically hardwearing, quickly lost the battle against hard use and climate induced entropy. Few early examples have survived.

Fiat too it seems soon lost the appetite to preserve the original Panda’s purity of purpose. Within two years, a Fiat charter facelift come into play with a bland corporate grille replacing the clever, simple and distinctive original. More upmarket models were also introduced, as was a part time four wheel drive version, engineered by Steyr-Puch, who supplied the entire drivetrain, which was mated to a reinforced bodyshell with uprated suspension and additional ground clearance, making for the cheapest off-roader one could buy.

1986 saw the car receive its first major facelift, with sheet metal changes, a revised chassis, in common with the Autobianchi/Lancia Y10, including two versions of Fiat’s FIRE power units in 769 and 999 cc form. Little by little, as the years passed, the Panda ceased to be clever – merely cheap. Its popularity remained unshakable however, especially the home market, where it was sold until 2003. Large numbers of the later cars (whose bodies were galvanised at the factory, remain in daily use across Italy.

(c) favcars

Never a dynamic paragon, the Panda was initially at least, more design statement than engineering masterpiece. In the latter sense, it was a typically pragmatic Fiat product, but its real mastery lay in Giugiaro’s honest and user-focussed design vision, both externally and within. Having largely curated the entire programme, the Panda also proved to be Giorgetto’s calling card with Fiat, one he would later exploit fully. Small wonder maestro Giugiaro still rates it so highly.

Not quite an all time great, the Panda was perhaps the last unfettered exercise in intelligent minimalism – a concept largely alien to today’s carmakers. Because the Panda was in essence, a simple soul. More cars should be like that.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

65 thoughts on “Anima Semplice”

  1. Great article about a really intelligent piece of conceptual and production design. Thanks

  2. Oh how I miss intelligent, rational car design like this. Good design is a universal essential, it’s not a luxury item. This little Panda is far more interesting to me than any number of modern 250mph hypercars.

    Just look at that dashboard! So simple. Functional, yet beautiful. Only marred by the knowledge that it was poorly assembled. Sigh, why can’t we have nice things like this any more?

  3. Good morning Eóin. Your interesting piece encouraged me to look for photos of the Panda and its Seat Marbella cousin, to remind myself of the changes that compromised the purity of the original design. I came across this image of a prototype:

    I notice that it has a defined rear wheel arch, unlike the original production model, but like the facelifted version.

    I also found this intriguing image of a proposed Seat derivative:

    Seat habitually stuck another pair of doors onto Fiat models and that would have made a supremely practical car in the mould of the Renault 4. I wonder why it never made production?

    1. Hi Daniel,

      The Panda prototype in olive green is quite nice. I think I’ve seen a front view of the same prototype but I can’t find it. The 5dr Panda from SEAT would have been an interesting alternative !

    2. That’s the one Daniel thanks. I remembered it was set in a garden or forrest but coulndn’t find it 🙂

  4. The position of the fuel filler forced a rather odd shut-line for the rear door:

    Here’s an alternative (neater?) five-door prototype, without the additional light in the C-pillar:

  5. IMHO Fiat should have developed the Fiat 126 as a FWD 2-cylinder hatchback like the Poles were looking to do with the Polski Fiat 126p NP as a younger brother to the Autobianchi A112, with possible scope the FWD 126’s engine bay having room for the Fiat 100 Series 4-cylinder engine if needed be.

    The Fiat Panda meanwhile despite its intended utilitarian function could have done with significantly more dynamic appeal as expected from small Fiats, have less of a tall / under-wheeled stance, more bodystyles (including 5-door) as well as more potent 1-litre+ FIRE and/or 124 Series engines to at least similar levels as the Lancia Y10 (with an alternate Uno-derived version of the latter in turn featuring more potent -1600cc engines).

    Also feel the later facelifted Panda could have carried over more styling cues and stance from the pre-facelift Series 1 Fiat Uno by building upon the pre-facelift Panda’s styling, particularly the Uno’s tail-lights and rear number-plate placement.

  6. Hi Eoin,

    Thank you for this Panda portrait, this was a nice read. The sliding ashtray is iconic, it’s one of the most vivid automotive memory I have, I would often peer through a parked panda, just to look at the ashtray.
    I didn’t know and I’am glad potential customers rejected en masse the Rustica nameplate, it sounded perhaps too….rustic ?

    1. ‘Bambino’ was the result of a naming competition by Fiat Germany for the improved version of the 126. The name was then used in some countries, whereas in Italy the same car was called ‘Personal-4’.

    2. Dave: I have the original sales brochure (if such a small thing could be named as such) for the facelifted 126. It was offered (not just in Italy, but here in Ireland too) in two versions. The 126 Personal, which simply had (if memory serves) a padded bar across the rear bulkhead instead of a regular seatback (offering very occasional seating) and the Personal-4 which had a regular rear bench seat. By then, the 126 was already almost universally called the ‘Bambino’ here in Ireland. My mother had a first series car and it was called nothing else by us, or anyone else…

    3. On a more lighthearted note, Rustica was probably rejected, as, the first four letters
      of that model name would add a healthy dose of customer dissuasion, which latter proved to be a well founded case…

  7. The Panda was one of the best cars in history – if not the best of all.
    End of discussion!!! 🙂

    I drove a Panda – with soft top, of course – from 1983 to 1985. The minimalist interior was enhanced by the use of a very high quality wool fabric. Easy to do with the home sewing machine. With my girlfriend at the time, I tested the quality of the accommodation several times on a trip through Italy.
    The clever design (outside, but mainly inside) prevented me from feeling really comfortable in other cars for years.

    Interrupted by a year with a 2CV, I owned a revised version of the Panda in 1987 – needless to say, again in red with a soft top.
    This got a “Dino” style with yellow rims and a lowering kit – unbelievable, that was offered as an accessory at the time.
    It holds a still existing record: 2 hours from Munich where I lived these days, to my parents house near Weissach. (Ok, ok, ok, it was a lucky moment of traffic situation, nevertheless…)

    After that there was a Uno Turbo and the rather boring adult phase in my car life began.

    Very nice memories. The perfect car for the city. And even for trips to Italy and souther France.
    Just perfect.
    He had everything you needed. That he didn’t have, you didn’t need anyway.
    I still regret not to kept one of them until these days.

    “Bambino” was also a common name for the 126 in Germany.

    1. Great memories, Fred, and thanks for sharing. Was the original Panda’s ‘hammock’ rear seat actually comfortable to use? I’ve wondered if the reason they changed it for something more conventional was that, although versatile, it didn’t work very well in its primary function. If it was comfortable, then the change was as regressive as the other updates to the design.

    2. Daniel, are we sure the hammock-style rear seats weren’t an urban legend ? I can’t find any pictures of it. But I did find this, the ‘bed’ arrangement on the right-hand picture.

    3. Hi NRJ. Yes, the ‘hammock’ rear seat was real. I’ve found a picture of it in its different configurations from a contemporary Fiat brochure. Imgur is currently playing up, so I’ll post the picture when it starts behaving itself again.

    4. Hi NRJ. The Android app for Imgur is still bu**ered but the web version is working, so here’s the photo of the different seat configurations, including the ‘hammock’:

      there were two strong poles at either end of the hammock that could be dropped into cups in the side panels to give the required configuration. Very clever stuff.

    5. Thanks Daniel, that’s exactly how I imagined it. Still, such a strange concept this hammock business….

  8. Great little car. As far as I know Giugiaro looked at military vehicles for inspiration.

    I’ve only driven a Panda once, a later car with a CVT and I actually quite liked it. Driving a paired down vehicle is a bit of an event, especially compared to all the modern cars with all the added driver aids, gimmicks and tech. The Panda belonged to my brother’s girlfriend who had inherited the car from her mother. The car was already quite old, so they thought to use it until the APK (annual or biannual Dutch roadworthiness test equivalent to the British MOT) expired and then get rid of it. Much to their surprise they kept it for five years without spending a lot on maintenance.

    Fiat got the marketing right too. I remember the TV commercials of the Panda on the Dutch TV. By now these commercials are very dated, but at the time it put a smile on many faces. Also the name Panda is quite likable I think.

  9. Regarding marketing, I remember the German campaign with the claim “die tolle Kiste” (something like “the amazing box”). It certainly contributed to the car’s success.
    The term ‘Bambino’ was also used for the 126 in Switzerland, though I don’t know if it was ever an official name.

    1. The upper-right photo of the four seating arrangements, that Daniel posted above, was intended as a baby cradle and/or a feature enabling a child to sleep in the back seat during longer night hauls.

  10. Some ads would be questionable today. Here in this french promotion it says “the Chinese have (insert bicycle image), we have the (insert Panda image). It isn’t even a French car so technically it’s wrong.

    With regards to special editions I think the ‘FM’ was one of the most famous ones with the butterfly in the C-pillar. Why the name ‘FM’ ? and why the butterfly ?

    1. The name FM is due to the fact that it came with a radiocassette and two loudspeakers, one for each rear side.
      Interestingly, there is no FM logo anywhere on the car.
      The “papillon blagueur” is a joking butterfly, I imagine just to maintain a pleasant, funny atmosphere. So, apparently, no special meaning.

      http://www.auto-pub.net/ASL/Fiat/page_Fiat_Panda_FM.htm

      What I find interesting is that the normal German version, the “Frascati” one, has radio and rear wiper as standard equipment; this confirms the notorious Fiat philosophy of selling in Germany only cars with many standard accessories, not present in Italy. As I understand, moreover, cars intended for Germany were particularly well refined: the run-of-the-mill product was improved before shipping.

    2. Hi Anastasio,

      Thank you for those precisions, at least it all makes sense now 😉

  11. I have never driven a Panda, but always admired from afar. I did spend a couple of years in the company of a Citroen Visa (pre-facelift, with the PRN dashboard) and always thought it came out of the same conceptual mould as the Panda. Also much later had a couple of Renault 4s as interesting extra cars.

    What even comes close today? Suzuki’s Ignis and Jimny are the only two examples I can think of that try to deliver to a tight brief with some success.

    1. Anastasio, that is true – and it was valid for other Fiat models, too. There is a vast difference in quality for Fiats for German/Swiss markets, and for other markets.
      I can confirm, from many experiences, that those Fiats were something else altogether, truly competently built and amazingly specced mechanically.

    2. It would be good to add that, based on my experience, the Panda 141 is one of the few cars with a most surprising drive experience (totally disproportionate with expectations). Its engineering/mechanical greatness, although largely cast
      in its lightness (delivering that elusive ‘big engine in a small car’ feel…),
      adds up beautifully to its genius cabin design / carchitecture, with the
      end result being substantially more than the sum of its parts.

      How it manages, though, to be such a good highway cruiser / mile muncher
      (in its higher-powered FIRE versions), whilst being basically an archetypal
      city car, remains a true mystery.

      The only other car that manages that trick is the R4 GTL 1108cc.

      The original Twingo is not really up there, in that exercise, as its significant aerodynamic drag slightly blemishes its highway gate, making ~140 kph a slightly strained affair. Besides, the Twingo’s basic layout is such that you do expect a certain highway prowess from it, whereas, with the Panda 141 and with the R4 GTL,
      you end up shockingly surprised with how effortlessly they can cover huge,
      grand-touring distances.

      That alone makes the 141 the most versatile/multi-faceted mass-priced
      motorcar ever made (in the sense that, eg., you cannot drive a R4 in a conventionally sporty manner, whereas the 141 manages to cover even that ‘remote’ discipline rather nicely, as well, when asked to…).

  12. @ Daniel O’Callaghan
    Q: Was the original Panda’s ‘hammock’ rear seat actually comfortable to use?
    A: A definitive and absolute Yes.

    The luggage was packed in the footwell in front of the seats, after folding back the front seats the hammock was laid out. The headrests could be used as pillows.
    It was much more comfortable than any sleeping bag in a tent. (And enough space if you not only wanted to sleep in a rigid posture, but also wanted to have some “activity” before, if you know what I mean…)
    It also was good to check where the wind came from, before parking the car, then you opened the rear windows and you had a little breeze of fresh air all night – not possible in a tent at all.

    1. Hi Fred G. Eger,

      So the ‘hammock-style’ is in fact the one pictured on the right-hand side above ?
      I don’t know why I assumed it was just the rear bench that folded ‘hammock-style’. I imagined the ‘hammock’ hanging in between the back of the front seats and the luggage compartment and I thought that must’ve been uncomfortable.
      Thank you for those details.

  13. The advertising campaign here in Germany was very humorous and self-ironic.

    This ad, nicely framed and behind glass, has been hanging ever since in our apartment:

    The ad says: “Since he saw the famous racing driver Alberto Frascati (deliberately misspelled) winning, the desire for one of these bright red “race cars” had never been extinguished.”

  14. @ NRJ

    The back seat in “hammock”-style could be used to carry shopping bags and all sorts of small big things – or you could use it to transport your sleeping child, which has never happened to me…

    The standard factory FM was sitting on top of the plastic cap covering the upper hinge on the driver’s door.

    1. Thanks Fred. I guessed ‘FM’ related to the radio but I can’t find the link with the butterfly on the C-pillar.

    2. Here’s the comprehensive (and rather charming) launch film, showing the hammock, and other features, in action. It’s great that the Panda gave you so many happy memories – it’s a sign of a well-designed product.

    3. What a great film, thanks Charles!
      The clothes, the music, the haircuts, the animated drawings… it all reminds me of more innocent times. I could have been one of the kids after minute 11 – I was six at the time of the Panda’s launch.

      What strikes me most is the fact that besides all the pictures of happiness and emotions, there is a large part of the film dedicated to the facts and figures about the car. Unthinkable today, where we just get marketing phrases.

      The wedding scene at about 8:30 has to be seen. The calf is hilarious!

  15. The Panda suffered the indignity of many ‘special editions’ over the course of its life. Does anyone else remember this particularly egregious example, the Italia ’90?

    1. I do remember it. It was really nice I think. It was really ‘rich’ as a special edition, not just a sticker, it had white bumpers, lots of stickers, the white grille, the wheel covers. Note the tiny rear view mirrors compared to today’s ones.

  16. Love the Panda so much – I agree about the way the restrictive brief was like catnip to the design process. I learnt to drive in my mum’s mk2 75o FIRE engined model and it was so much fun. Point and squirt fun for a 17 year old in 1990.

    Pictured here next to my dad’s Cavalier Mk2 ‘Corps Diplomatique’
    https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/s/ixppjk0ksrgb76v/atcieo_panda-2.jpg?dl=0

    Interesting to see the 5 door proposals. I had a play in Photoshop a while back making a ‘Weekend’ estate version like you see of more modern Unos and Puntos. I would love something like this now – Twin Air engine, Puch 4×4. Sort of a mini Forester

    https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/s/8zrp6eck0yqcdp2/panda-4×4-abarth-weekend.png?dl=0

    Actually – I feel a mint example would make such a good candidate for a retrofitted EV. So simple and such a great day-to-day car for ferrying, shopping, blasting down a back lane 🙂

    1. Hi Huw. Your Panda Weekend 4×4 is brilliant! I’d buy one tomorrow if it was real and on sale:

      Imagine for a moment an alternate reality where all cars were like the Panda, electrically powered and engineered to be simple, light and utilitarian. There was no reality-denying arms race between manufacturers as to who could produce the biggest, baddest SUV.

      A couple of nights ago my partner remarked that the moon was the brightest and sharpest he’d ever seen it. He was right and we can only put it down to a much cleaner atmosphere resulting from the current restrictions. Food for thought…

    2. Nice photoshop, could easily see a Panda Weekend 4×4 being a very useful car equipped with a 72 hp 1.4 Uno Turbodiesel engine (or even a hypothetical 1585cc version with stroke increased from 78mm to 84mm) despite potential overlap with the Fiat Elba.

      Am assuming the larger 1.7-1.9-litre diesels used in the Uno and Punto were derived from the Twin Cam engine before the Pratola Serra Modular units, whereas the 1.3-1.4 diesels used in the Panda and Uno were based on the Fiat 124 Series engine.

    3. Fiat Elba? Ah, yes, it’s a Mk1 Uno estate made in both three and five-door forms for the South American market. I rather like it. On the five-door, they even added a groove along the side to integrate the clamshell bonnet better visually:

    4. Surprising the Uno and related models never featured 4×4 variants unlike the Panda (or Y10).

      Based on what SEAT achieved with the Panda/Marbella-based Trans/Terra vans maybe a 3-door estate would have been more feasible for the Panda, guess it depends on if the Panda platform can be further enlarged to about 148-152-inches for a 5-door estate (or a similar extent as the larger Uno with the Elba).

    5. In this version of the Fiat Elba it looks like the front wing and bonnet came from the Tipo but Iam not sure:

    6. Thanks for the positive comments – here’s an Uno ‘Sportback’ I did around the same time – somewhere between the supermini and estate form factor.

      [img]https://www.dropbox.com/s/4c6x7asjz194zs5/uno_sportback.png?dl=0[/img]

    7. I feel like I’ll never figure out the correct way to embed an image!

  17. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but the Panda’s original grille always reminded me of Italdesign’s original logo (an effect that was obviously lost after the facelift).

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    1. Christopher, your point about the ID logo resembling the grille is food for thought. It probably isn’t a coincidence. The 19 slots of the original 141 grille, in a way, do visually remind us of the modern digital fuel gauges (eg. using vertical bars on a LCD display).

      And, just as the vertical bars signify quantity, eg., fuel level, engine temp. etc., the nineteen slots on the grille are a very literate, very well founded, ‘mathematically pure’ method of denoting the ‘carefully dosed asymmetry’
      that defines the front end of the original Mk1 141 . This is their primary visual function, as it is well known that a slight does of asymetry can make the overall
      shape much stronger in contrast. When you add this to the anyway strong effect of the 141’s sharp, angular lines, the 19 slots probably rendered the visual impression so strong subliminally (to the avg.observer/buyer), that they probably played a crucial part in the early sales successes, but also to the adoption of the car as a culturally relevant design – which, obviously, accompanies the Panda even today.

      Fascinating.

  18. This was my second one, a 1000 FIRE. I labeled it “250 Berlinetta” as a joke, since the earlier Ferrari nomenclature indicated the displacement of one cylinder.

    You can see the standard antenna (FM was a misnomer of mine) on top of the plastic cover for the door hinge.

  19. What a splendid article. Though my fondness for the mk3 Panda in souped-up Twinair turbo form has been recorded in these virtual pages, I have never driven a mk1 Panda. I do have a (very) strong memory of being driven in the Seat Marbella derivative together with some other students at speed on the motorway. The car felt and sounded as if it might have exploded at any second. Happy times.

  20. Probably not the best vehicle in which to have a head-on with a big shrub, same as kei cars. And sideways into a light standard, er please no. You can get all sorts of interior room if you decide to ignore safety structure. That’s the premise behind a cardboard box. The Honda Jazz/Fit shows how to do this max space in a modern context, and with the 130 hp engine and six speed manual we get here, it doesn’t hang around either. Of course, it looks awful. Forget it, not DTW fare.

    1. Go write an article on the Jazz, Bill. I’ll eat my own gentleman’s vegetables if Eoin doesn’t run it. Promised.

    2. Dear Bill: may I discreetly guide you by the elbow to what might have been the Panda’s closest Honda equivalent, the somewhat pricier AA-series Honda City/Jazz, first introduced in 1981. Probably a little more dynamically accomplished – I recall several highly entertaining drives in a first-gen Jazz in New Zealand’s South Island in the late ’90s, but crashworthiness? Safety structure?

      There is no question in my mind that one would not wish to have a serious impact with any solid object in a Panda – or indeed any similarly sized vehicle from this era. I wouldn’t want to do so in a 2CV either. Does that alter my view about the tin snail? Not one jot. Frankly, sneering at the Panda because it isn’t up to 2020 impact standards is, if you forgive me, somewhat beneath you.

      Not DTW fare? We covered the latest 2020 edition of the Jazz on April 1st. You’ll find it in the archive, if so moved.

    3. Giving Bill’s earlier comments further consideration led to further reflections. The problem as it appears is of a binary nature. On one hand, we have the open plan, versatile, modular, but horribly unsafe Panda solution. On the other, modern day legislation around impact regulations and customer expectations around crash safety and survivability. As stated above, these imperatives appear incompatible. But are they really?

      I contend that it is possible to make a modern car – one which meets current impact, passenger and pedestrian accident regulations, while being conceived along similar entirely practical, versatile, minimalist lines to that of the Panda – which doesn’t have the dreaded CUV acronym affixed. It’s a matter of will, in my view. There is no engineering, or stylistic barrier for that matter that I can envisage to doing so. Marketing? That would probably be a matter for the ecumenical committee.

  21. Perhaps nearest in modern(ish) concept to the original Panda is the first (2005) variant of the Citroen C1/Peugeot 107/Toyota Aygo? About as small as 4-seater cars of the time could be, few frills but seemingly well enough engineered and quite a cheerful design. At my workplace last summer, we had five staff members using those on certain days. Safety of these might leave something to be desired though, at least in the back seat if rear-ended.

    Other than the price, perhaps, the first Jazz/Fit isn’t a bad take on the theme as well. Honda adopted a similar idea for their rear seat as well, including (some markets) the ability to transform it into a bed of sorts.

    1. Thank you Tom S – I was about to say the same. I have fond memories of the Renault 4 and our series-1 107 brought them back. Clever design; all you need and nothing superfluous; cheap but honest and strong mechanically and a body with not a squeak or rattle after 65,000+ miles and 13 years. Some cheap materials disappoint – carpet worn through; rear door glass hinge becoming unstuck; early weak clutch and water pump but after the first three-four years all settled down…

      Until last summer when our son used it to move house and the interior got flooded with petrol! Turns out that the fuel pump sits in the top middle of the tank under the back seat. As there are only two rear seats, there’s not usually much weight placed on that spot. However with the seats down and some furniture bouncing, the top of the pump snapped. 9 months later the smell of petrol is still there… In my books that is actually quite a serious design flaw. The garage’s first question was, “were you moving something heavy?”

      Still love it though – the instruments moving up-and-down with the steering column; comfortable for four; lovely engine; economical enough; great modern shape (the series 1) – no nostalgia (Fiat 500 / MINI) nor excessive lines and crosses (Aygo) – still a shape that is a pleasure to look at from every angle.

    2. Speaking as one who can’t abide the C1/107/Aygo, what about the nearest modern concept to the original Panda being actually…….. the modern Panda?

  22. I agree – though I have a soft spot for the C1 design out of the three. That fuel pump issue does seem like quite a flaw, especially given that some people might travel with one rear seat semi-permanently down for luggage space, and something could rest toward the middle. Sounds like you were quite lucky.

    The amount of rear seat space surprised me – obviously at the expense of luggage space, but still impressive for the size of the car. I’ve just remembered I had a 107 as a hire car for work, and have nothing bad to say about it. The latest versions of these cars are still pleasant enough, but without the charm of the originals. The Suzuki Ignis is perhaps a little pricey to qualify, and the Ford Ka+ was maybe a contender but has been binned.

  23. I had a red 903cc Panda for a while as a 19 year old. Good and bad memories including the famous rear hammock seat breaking when I went over a speed bump and spilling the rear two passengers into the boot. One was a girl I used to call Big Bird and the the other person I can’t recall. Second thing being it had the sharpest steering feel I have ever known.
    Downsides include permanently seized brake calipers severely limiting top speed and the lower outer door panels being so rusted you could pull them out, put in your hand and unlock the car. I cannot for the life of me remember what I did with that car in the end.

  24. I wish they’d put the Centoventi in to production. Very clever, configurable design, and you can put varying sizes of batteries in, as you need them. One thing I wasn’t aware of – the presenter said Sergio Marchionne hated electric cars.

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