Launched in 1957 as the Nuova 500, the Fiat 500 was designed to be a cheap and practical town car to combat the high levels of congestion in Italian cities. Measuring only 2.97 m (9 ft 9 in) long and originally powered by a tiny 479 cc two-cylinder, air cooled engine, the 500 redefined the term "small car" and is considered one of the earliest city cars.
To meet the needs of the post-war market that wanted cars of low cost, the 500 was designed with a rear-engine based on the Volkswagen Beetle. Its success led to other car makers in Europe, such as Neckar of Germany and Steyr-Puch in Austria, to produce their own licensed versions of the Fiat 500.
Despite its small size, the 500 proved to be hugely popular and practical all over Europe. It was also sold as the "Giardiniera", or station wagon; this featured the standard engine laid on its side, the wheelbase extended by 10 cm (4 in) which made the rear seat usable, as well as a full-length sunroof and larger brakes sourced from the Fiat 600.
Production of the 500 ended in 1975, to be replaced by the Fiat 126 two years later. Although not as popular as the 500, the 126 has been very successful in the former Eastern Block countries, and is well known for its mechanical toughness and fuel efficiency.
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