It is fair to say that the sunroof is especially useful in Italy. Not only is there plenty of sun, but the lady in posizione eretta in our Snapshot can gain an uninterrupted view of the gorgeous Italian countryside.
The Fiat 600 was introduced in 1955. Only 10 ft 7 in (3.22 m) long, it was a symbol of an economic miracle in Italy after World War II, alongside the television and the washing machine. The soft-top “Trasformabile” model was produced only in the very early years of production, in 1956 and 1957, and only in limited numbers in comparison with the standard saloon. There was also the zany Multipla, a precursor of today’s multi-purpose vehicles. With its driving compartment over the front axle, it seated up to 6 people on the same wheelbase as the saloon at the expense of not being totally sure whether the car was coming or going.
The 600 introduced a basic layout that would also be used in the second-generation Nuova 500, launched two years later, and only 9 ft 9 in (2.97 m) long. In 1964, the 600’s platform was also used in the larger 850 saloon, and the two models were sold in parallel until the 600 was cancelled in 1969.
During the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, many 600s were built in many countries. The SEAT 600 was made in Spain from 1957 to 1973 – nearly 800,000 being sold. SEAT also developed and produced their own 800, the only four-door derivative of the saloon and built on a longer wheelbase.
In the former Yugoslavia, the Zastava 750 (later 850) was produced by their factory in Kragujevac, Serbia, from early 1955 until 1985. Its affordability enabled it to play a major role in motorisation of the country.
The 600 was built as the Fiat 600 R by Sevel in Argentina from 1960 to 1982, with assembly operations also starting later in Uruguay by Ayax S.A., and in Chile.
In Colombia, the 600 was assembled in the Mazda motor plant of Colombia, Compañía Colombiana Automotriz from 1979 to 1982 with 60% Colombian parts and 40% Serbian parts (from the Zastava 750).
There were coachbuilt models of the 600 too. In 1956, Fissore designed an open-topped Multipla prototype called the “Marinella” with a wooden-slat wraparound bench in the rear. In 1958 Fiat shipped a number of Fiat 600s to Ghia for conversion into the Jolly. They had wicker seats and the option of a fringed top to shield occupants from the Mediterranean sun. They were marketed to owners of large yachts or just wealthy individuals who wanted to be different, including Aristotle Onassis, Yul Brynner, Grace Kelly, Mary Pickford, Mae West, Gianni Agnelli and Josip Broz Tito.
And finally, the high-performance derivatives. Abarth produced various versions of the Fiat 600 from 1956 to 1970 including the Abarth 210 Aand the Fiat-Abarth 750, 850, and 1000. Giannini Automobili also produced tuned 600s under the name of 750 TV.
This was a successful car. The total number produced from 1955 to 1969 at the Mirafiori plant in Turin was 2,695,197. The millionth 600 was produced in February 1961, less than six years after the car’s launch. At that time, Fiat were producing 1,000 cars a day. Overseas production brought the total to 4,921,626. Remarkable.
Picture courtesy of the Richard Roberts Archive
Being pedantic to the extreme, the Fiat 600 shared the same wheelbase length as its 500 Topolino predecessor. The overall length of the 600 was only slightly greater than the 500A, 500B and 500C Topolino models, the latter giving way to the 600 in 1955. One has to be very careful in saying that the 600 introduced the basic layout used by the ‘second generation 500 Nouva’. The 500 Nouva was introduced in 1957 and was much smaller that the 500 Topolino and the 600, and whilst it had a rear-engine drivetrain, the engine was a vertical twin-cylinder affair, whereas the 600 had a four-cylinder unit.