The 500 City Car, commonly referred to as the Cinquecento, was launched by Fiat in 1957. Conceived as an economical car for the masses, this compact, rear-engine automobile was highly popular first in Italy and later throughout Europe. Despite its diminutive size—it is more than three feet shorter than a Volkswagen Beetle—Giacosa’s cleverly designed vehicle has a surprisingly spacious interior and can accommodate four passengers. The standard-feature foldable fabric roof imbued the car with a sense of luxury while simultaneously reducing the amount of steel, a precious commodity at the time, necessary for its manufacture. In 1965 Fiat released the 500f Berlina, a version of the car modified to eliminate the original rear-hinged doors—known as “suicide doors” for the safety hazards they presented. The Berlina was by far the best-selling version of the 500, and it remained in production until 1973.
The humble Fiat 500 embodies many of the principles that guided midcentury modern design: its appearance clearly expresses its function, it made a logical and economical use of materials, and it was modestly priced and thus widely accessible. The development of cheap, reliable cars such as this in the postwar period was instrumental in knitting together the formerly disparate nations of Europe and fostering a freedom of movement throughout the continent.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)