Home » The Highly-Underrated World Cup-Themed 1990 Fiat Panda Has The Greatest Hubcaps Ever And Also A Bed

The Highly-Underrated World Cup-Themed 1990 Fiat Panda Has The Greatest Hubcaps Ever And Also A Bed

Panda Italia 90 Topshot

If you’ve been alive and breathing for the past few weeks, you may have heard of a little something called the 2022 FIFA World Cup. It’s an event that happens every four years where the best soccer players in the world battle it out on the pitch to see which country is best at soccer. Not only has it given us a fair number of crushing defeats and surprising victories over the years, it’s also occasionally given us a car or two, arguably the most iconic of which is the Fiat Panda Italia ’90.

Panda Italia 90 1

If you were around for the 1990 FIFA World Cup, you might remember that Italy didn’t win it. This special Panda isn’t a car that celebrates victory, it’s a car that celebrates the World Cup being held in Italy, a sorta strange thing to commemorate with a special edition model. Then again, GM Canada sold several Olympic Edition models when the Vancouver Olympics rolled around in 2010, so Fiat isn’t the only automaker to make a special car celebrating the existence of an international sporting event.

Panda Italia 90 7

Anyway, back to the Panda. As a major differentiator from regular models, Fiat fitted the Panda Italia ‘90 in certain markets like Britain with the most on-the-nose set of wheel trims ever fitted to a production car. I guess these soccer ball-shaped hubcaps take tire-kicking to a new extreme. [Ed note: Just wow, Thomas. Wow. -DT].

Panda Italia 90 6

Also on deck is a natty set of stripes, special decals on the quarter panels, and more white paint than a landlord-special apartment. Almost everything from the bumpers to the grille to the side moldings is drenched in bright white, at odds with the lack of tenderness found in Italian city driving but certainly befitting the shiny image of a major sporting event.

Panda Italia 90 4

Circling back to those special decals, if you take a really close look you’ll find that each one depicts “Ciao,” one of the strangest World Cup mascots of all time. While not as cringeworthy as Pique from the 1986 FIFA World Cup, Ciao was a tricolore stick figure with a soccer ball head, a body made of what looks like those base-10 counting sticks you may have used in primary school, and a strange protrusion that could be an erection. I guess you can say Ciao was really excited for soccer. [Ed note: I think Ciao is perfect! Look at that cute little soccer player made of blocks, just having fun on your Fiat’s quarter panel. -DT]. 

interior

While the outside of the Panda Italia ‘90 was very white, the inside was very blue, with everything from the upholstery to the carpet dyed the same strong shade as a dentist’s chair. Oh, and Ciao also made an appearance on the seats, just in case you’ve ever wanted to sit on a mascot. I know I haven’t.

Panda Folding Seats

More importantly, you can also sleep on Ciao, because it, the more astute Fiat fans out there may recall, Panda seats folded flat! Obviously, these pictures above don’t show a Panda Italia ’90, but due to copyright reasons, you can see what a set of bright blue seats look like when folded into a double bed by clicking on this link.

Panda Italia 90 3

These days, the Panda Italia ‘90 is an endangered species. As these were still city cars for the masses, many were driven hard, put away wet, and generally treated as appliances. The Telegraph claimed that only nine remained on U.K. roads in 2021, which is a shame considering the distinctiveness of the package. It’s also a bit of a shame because soccer-themed cars are a bit of a rarity in 2022. Here’s a beater that someone found a few years ago and posted to YouTube. Unfortunately it’s missing the lovely hubcaps, though this is unsurprising given the car’s age:

Despite Hyundai-Kia sponsoring this year’s World Cup, there don’t appear to be any specially-themed i10s or Picantos in the pipeline. Despite the iffy optics of producing such a thing, the decision to play it safe and not prep some special stripes or something is mildly disappointing as strange special edition models are often delightful footnotes in automotive history. So, long live the Fiat Panda Italia ’90, a strange and compelling celebration of when cars and sports collide.

(Photo credits: Fiat, seller)

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29 Responses

  1. The UK is big on special editions of small cheap cars. When Edinburgh hosted the 1986 Commonwealth Games, the local Nissan dealer (Belmont Nissan) sold a range of Commonwealth Games-themed special editions which extended to a stripe and a decal being added to the sides. My mum owned a 1986 Nissan Micra ‘Medallion’. Then there was the Cherry ‘Sprint’, the Sunny ‘Marathon’ and Bluebird ‘Javelin’ (i think that was it).

      1. I remember back when those miniature fans were really popular in my neck of the woods (the woods being “Europe” and the neck “Southwestern”). We had one in our Renault 12 break, and it was even cooler-looking in my opinion, chrome with green-ish blue blades, just a tiny replica of your average electric fan at the time, but with a car lighter plug and – I think – a suction cup at the bottom for windshield mounting.

      1. The Sonett wheels will fit the 95 and 96, so it’s a popular swap, but my understanding is they were never offered that way from the factory. The 99 wheels are a bit different, having the general appearance of sixfold symmetry instead of fivefold and are four-lug instead of five-lug.

        1. For the sake of completeness there’s also the four-lug 96 variant, but the people lucky enough to have those usually aren’t too concerned about swapping wheels.

  2. Best international sporting event themed car is the 88 VW Jetta slalom because the winter Olympics are the best international competition.

    Paging @indicator fetishist and @responsible alcoholic

  3. Whoa!?! Wait a minute! The football is Ciao’s head?!?!!

    Italia 90 and particularly the mascot Ciao, is seared into my memory. Not for the WC itself, football was banned in our house, but for the little red and white footballs with Ciao printed on them that you could get by collecting tokens from cans and bottles of coke. For what feels like years every playtime was spent playing football with one of those balls, each played with until the colour, then the leather beneath, was worn through and the bladder popped through a seam.

    For the past 32 years I’ve thought he was a man entirely of blocks, with an admittedly tiny head, and he’d just flicked the ball into the air, hence his leg being in that position. Have I been wrong all this time?

    1. It’s a sports competition where countries from around the world compete. I realise this is somewhat foreign to US readers as you prefer to have ‘world’ competitions where all the teams are from America.
      😉

  4. “GM Canada sold several Olympic Edition models when the Vancouver Olympics rolled around in 2010”

    Not just for the 2010 Olympics! They’ve been doing it on and off since at least ’76, with special edition Malibus and Sierras (check the amazing hood ornament on the Malibu).
    https://mystarcollectorcar.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/IMGP7304.jpg

    They did it for the ’88 Olympics as well – I’m not sure I remember seeing any of the special editions, but I think they put a little Olympic sticker in the rear window of just about every car they sold here in ’88, at least from my foggy early 90’s memories.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x09jzaoBYUg

    More locally, GM supplied the fleet vehicles used in the PanAm games in 2015, which are now identifiable by a little badge on the B-pillar (I was part of the fleet team, there’s a not unreasonable chance if you see one, I’ve driven it).
    https://www.thestar.com/content/dam/thestar/sports/2015/07/24/fun-and-games-selling-pan-am-chevrolets/pan-am-chevyjpg.jpg

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