I’m not sure exactly how I ended up finding this strange little car that was once for sale back in New York City, circa 2018. That was when the world was still a pre-pandemic Utopia and everyone was obsessed with the, um (googles) royal wedding, but I have now found it and seen it, and there is no going back. There was the world before I’ve seen this strangely modified 1971 Fiat 500, and now I live in the world after I have seen it. And the truth is, I’m not sure how I feel about that. So I need your help. To truly understand how I should feel.
As you can see from that picture, this isn’t an ordinaryFiat 500, though the truth is that in America, there are no ordinary original rear-engined Fiat 500s (they’re super rare; “ordinary” is not the right word. But the classic Fiat 500 is still known and understood despite its rarity thanks to its adorable, friendly little round-lighted face — a face that looks plucky and eager and ready to go on all manner of adventures with you:
And then we look at the Fiat 500 presented to us here:
If you want to do a spit-take, I think that’s fair. Here, get a big mouthful of your beverage. All good? Okay. Now, look:
Aw, you got me all wet! Well, it’s okay, because I get why: Look at that thing! We have six major rectangular lamps going on here, with a 4:2 clear headlamp to yellow foglamp ratio [Ed Note: Jason, that’s just a 2:1 ratio; you gotta reduce! -DT], and then a pair of indicators, just for good measure. Fiat 500s are so slow that I’m pretty sure if you turned them all on at once, all those photons shooting out forward would act like a retrorocket and bring you to a stop, eventually.
More importantly, what is going on with that front end? Aesthetic choices aside, it looks to be too well-made to be some home hack job; was this an aftermarket thing? Unfortunately the copy of the ad itself just brings up more questions:
“Great deal this car is definitely money make not money loss my selling price is very low! Up for sale 1971 Fiat 500 special edition limited production with the 4 headlights very rare in US! Car was import from Milano Italy the 595 engine it runs good the 4 speed transmission it shift good. The interior is red and is in good shape, the body has some minor rust underneath the spar tire and one spat on left side rear floor noting major also as you see the picture she could use new paint job or just fix the fuel problem check the brakes and drive as is! Car was run and drive but since it was sitting for a year the engine not start, she will start and run by spray start fluids in carburetor i put the new fuel filter but no gas come out the fuel filter possible the fuel tank need to be clean. Ask $3,200″
So, according to this strange paragraph from five years ago, the claim is this was a “special edition limited production?” Like, from Fiat itself? If that’s the case, I have yet to find any shred of documentation or evidence, but I guess it’s just barely possible, with the only bit of supporting evidence being that it exists at all? I’m skeptical.
The car was in pretty rough shape overall, but it all seemed to be operable, at least a bit. This picture of what’s needed to get it started I respect a lot, for its honesty:
I guess you can think of the can of starting fluid as like a form of security, an extra thing needed to make the car run?
Surprisingly, the interior isn’t in too bad a shape:
The trunk situation is a bit rough, especially because I think someone replaced the flatter factory tank with that very cylindrical-looking larger tank that eats up more of the scarce cargo room under that stumpy hood:
Around back, we see the Italian tri-color stripe continues its voyage all the way down the car, where it has seemingly pushed the license plate light and mounting down to the bottom of the engine lid:
Still, while the rest is a bit tatty, it’s all still pretty normal Fiat 500 stuff – and you get a box full of more Fiat 500 stuff:
But even that box of fresh, still plastic-wrapped taillights can’t make us forget about That Face:
Why? On one hand, a huge part of the charm of the 500 is its face! But then I look at this a bit more, and it oddly grows on me. The more aggressive look, those determined rectangular lights, the fact that there’s likely more light surface than metal surfaces on that front end, or at least a pretty even split, all of these make me wonder if this bonkers front end is, in fact, cool?
I mean, it kind of is! Especially on this tiny little car, it gives it a nice unhinged, determined quality, like how I imagine the character of a wolverine trapped in your pants might be. I’ve sort of seen similar strange face-swaps on VW Beetles, too, and they rarely work out, if we’re honest:
But this, this somehow feels a bit different? I saw it and first felt digust and dismay, and then it started to warm up to me. Our resident pissy designer, Adrian, disagreed:
I guess those are valid points, too.
So what do you think? Let’s discuss in the comments, get a lively debate going, maybe someone ends up in tears. Just for the drama, you see.