Fiat 500: The Design Book (Book Review)

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The Fiat 500 is one of the most easily recognized vehicles on the road. It is petite, stylish, and colorful, hallmarks of basic transportation with a distinct design flair.

Launched in 1957, the Fiat 500 was dubbed a “city car,” yielding coupe, semi-convertible, hatchback, and panel van variants. The original model remained in production for 19 years, then was succeeded by a series of small cars.

In 2007, an all-new Fiat 500 was launched, a model coming in larger, wider, and heavier than the original. Despite the size differences, Fiat’s designers managed to provide a modern interpretation of the original 500’s composition. In the process, the Italian automaker has won over a new breed of buyers.

Distributed by Rizzoli New York

Fiat 500 the Design Book smallTo celebrate all things 500, automaker FIAT commissioned a book to share with readers a compelling story about the car. Indeed, “Fiat 500: The Design Book” delves into the history of the Cinquecento, rightly identifying it as an automotive icon.

Rizzoli New York sent this writer a review copy, a colorful 144-page tribute to Fiat’s smallest model. Released this spring, the book originally retailed for about $35 and was available through major booksellers.

The Design Book makes for an easy read from cover to cover. Through his introduction, famed architect Enrico Leonardo Fagone sets the table for what readers will soon discover: Fiat’s designers have managed to pull off an unusual feat by creating a masterful original as well as a modern interpretation of that theme.

Instead of examining the original model first, the Design Book looks at what the current version and its multiple permutations — 500, 500L, and 500X — represent today.

Indeed, not only were Fiat’s designers tasked with developing an all-new model, but followed by wagon (500L) and crossover SUV (500X) variants. Each model is built on the last in an effort to balance design synergy with practicality.

Design Elements and Technologies

Tasked with providing a consistent and straightforward design, each element of the new Fiat 500 was carefully considered, crafted, and tested. All the while, those same elements needed to reflect a metamorphosis from old to new, not an easy task as modern tastes and innovative technologies were incorporated.

The Design Book outlines those changes by showing sketches of the old and new, side by side. The earlier look was in a car that appeared to be floating on the ground, with curved lines above and below the body. The contemporary look advances mirrored curved lines for the greenhouse and the hood along with a flat, horizontal underbody.

Beyond the general themes, the book outlines such design cues as the location of the headlight (below the hood cut line), the air intake masked within the bumper, and an assortment of curves, lines, and notches.

As a new car reviewer, I like to take note of these design elements. Little did I know the original 500 featured a rear, descending belt line compared with the front descending belt line found in the current model. The new look is at once elegant as it is sporty, adding panache to the small frame.

Approaching 4 Million Sold

More than 3.9 million Fiat 500s have been sold since this model originally launched, including 1.6 million since 2007. The US market might never have seen the current version had not the Chrysler Group sunk into financial distress and been rescued by Fiat in 2009.

The two companies were formally joined and renamed Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in 2014, with the 2012 Fiat 500 marking the brand’s American relaunch.

The shared relationship between Italian and American is already evident as Milan design meets Detroit technology. One of my favorite infotainment systems, UConnect, has transitioned nicely from Chrysler to Fiat. In the current 500, 500L, and 500X, top-end versions of the touch screen system simply get the job done.

Contemporary Fashion Meets Automotive Design

Although the original 500 may be relatively unknown to American consumers, the new model provides a lesson in all things Fiat with a contemporary twist. The Design Book breaks down the common trim levels — Pop, Easy, and Lounge — carefully explaining what elements of Italian design (purses, dresses, and even zippers) had in forming the look.

And for people who enjoy making the connection between theater, music, food, lighting, technology and even politics — seemingly disparate topics — the last chapter makes the connection, even for the many years the 500 was not in production.

The Design Book is for automotive enthusiasts and fashion designers alike, although it is definitely skewed toward the latter. It might serve as a Mother’s Day or Father’s Day gift or added to your personal collection of automotive titles.

Cover photo copyright Rizzoli New York.

See Also – On the Road With a 2017 Fiat 124 Spider

Matthew Keegan
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