I saw this charming little wagon while strolling through Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood. Today’s subject is a Fiat 500 Topolino Belvedere made some time between 1951 and 1955. This is the original, original Fiat 500. The car my brand new 500 Abarth was styled after was called the “Nuova 500”, or “New 500”. This car was the first mass market Fiat sold to every Italian, starting in 1936.
The Fiat 500 Topolino first appeared in 1937 and was just called “Fiat 500”. The nickname “Topolino” was given to it when people noticed how small and cute the car is. The word “topolino” is Italian for “little mouse”; Mickey Mouse is know in Italy as “Topolino”, with a capital “t”. The Topolino first appeared as a teensy coupe or cabriolet. As far as my research can tell me, the “Belevedere” station wagon bodystyle seen here appeared in 1951 and lasted until the Topolino’s end in 1955.
Being a small car, the Topolino has a small engine offering very good fuel economy. All Topolinos came with a 596cc engine (that’s 34.7 cubic inches!) the pushes about 16 horsepower to the rear wheels. Since the Topolino will only go about 55 miles per hour, I can’t provide a zero to 60 time. However, it will cover the quarter mile in less than 30 seconds. Weighing almost 1500 lbs, these aren’t super light cars. Yes, I too think an engine swap would be fun. Mine would need to be powered by a big Moto Guzzi twin.
Later Italian station wagons are sometimes given the model name “Giardinera”, which means “gardener”. Googling “Topolino Giardinera” will even bring up a picture of this very car, taken and uploaded by someone familiar with that term, but not the model designation “Belvedere”, which means “viewpoint”. There is also a sail on square rigged sailing ships called “Blevedere”, but I highly doubt Fiat in the 1950s named their little station wagon after the mizzen top gallant sail of old time sailing ships.
Also not related to sailing ships are fenders and hub caps. Look at the fender and wheel on this car, I think the scale looks great. On more normal sized old cars, the wheels can often look tiny within the giant fenders. I think that gives a car an unstable, giant guy on roller skates look. This car looks almost svelte with its wheels filling the fender gaps. Don’t look too closely though or you’ll notice the mountain bike width tires.
This car is clearly an ornament to draw attention to the restaurant behind it. That’s okay, it looks to be in decent shape, and I noticed many people smiling at it as they strolled by. On a future visit, I’ll stop at the restaurant and see if I can learn more of the car’s story. Does it run? Did the owner have one as a young guy? Is it their errand car, a classier alternative to a Piaggio Ape?
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