Home » This Classic Fiat 500 Just Won The 2023 Detroit Auto Show

This Classic Fiat 500 Just Won The 2023 Detroit Auto Show

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The 2023 Detroit Auto Show is a weird event. On the plus side, we didn’t get locked out of the bathrooms by the secret service this time. On the minus side, the new car reveals were sparser than ever. While Ford showed off a facelifted F-150, Cadillac held it down with a facelifted CT5, GMC showed off a new Acadia, and Jeep flexed an updated Gladiator, there was a distinct lack of anything truly new at the show formerly known as NAIAS. However, that’s not to say that everything old is bad. I reckon the best car at Detroit this year was very old indeed, a 1962 Fiat 500 that felt like a desert oasis. Yes, I realize this is my second year Fiat-posting from the Detroit Auto Show, but dammit, this Fiat needed to be posted.

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Sporting rear-hinged doors and a tiny 499 cc air-cooled two-cylinder engine, this early-’60s model is bathed in the blue of a clear summer sky, embellished with chrome, and present on the floor in all its bright-eyed postwar optimism. Its canvas roof an obvious cost-saving measure turned embrace of spontaneity, its diminutive dimensions imbuing it with a hamster-like non-threatening nature.

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While the Detroit Auto Show certainly isn’t what it used to be, it still has a handful of fantastic vehicles. The Fiat, though? It wasn’t just fantastic, it was absolutely magnetic. Through a storm of same-same crossover SUVs, the Fiat 500 pulled attendees in like true north. It wasn’t the fastest, wildest, most-expensive, or most-buzzworthy vehicle at the show, it just made people stop, linger, and smile.

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Some lowered their jaws, widened their eyes, or pointed a finger, seemingly possessed by childlike infatuation with an entirely new object. Others had seen a Fiat 500 before, but took a moment to contemplate this one’s beauty, poise, and meaning. Whether seeing a fresh new thing or seeing through fresh new eyes, a sense of wonder washed over those who felt the attraction of the little Fiat.

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Weirdly, this wasn’t the only Fiat on the show floor, with a brand new 500e concept making an appearance right behind the original. As you’d likely expect, people didn’t seem to care about the retro rehash, as it’s always tricky to follow up an icon. I’m sure the new 500e will sell well enough when it comes to America, but its inspiration is still the people’s champ.

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As we leap into the electric future, I can’t help but wonder what humble cars will someday make us stop in our tracks? What four-wheeled reminders of the past will make us smile? Sure, the esoteric, the heroic, and the headlining cars of today are great, but sometimes it’s just about feeling good.

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Black Peter
Black Peter
9 months ago

“Others had seen a Fiat 500 before, but took a moment to contemplate this one’s beauty, poise, and meaning.”

There is “seeing” one, and actually seeing one. I saw one on the highway, yes the highway, and it’s mindbogglingly small. I think if I were up close to one, I would have to stop and admire it.. Videos, old movies or photographs don’t do it justice

Masa
Masa
9 months ago

This is a 500D model. Not for nothing, there’s a few pieces of this car that are not original and it’s a mix of parts from different eras. The full-length folding cloth roof shown here is called a “trasformabile” and FIAT ceased its production after the 500D was introduced, making the car just a bit odd looking. The last car to have this roof was the FIAT 500 Economica.

Last edited 9 months ago by Masa
George Millwood
George Millwood
9 months ago

One of the most gorgeous cards ever made

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
9 months ago

Little known fact: money that isn’t backed by anything with intrinsic value is called fiat money after the car manufacturer.

Nlpnt
Nlpnt
9 months ago

Isn’t this just about the last thing they want to do at NAIAS, remind people just how little car they actually need?

Speedway Sammy
Speedway Sammy
9 months ago
Reply to  Nlpnt

If everybody else is swinging a 5000 lb or hammer, I don’t want to be a 1500 lb anvil.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
9 months ago

Once again we are faced with rule by fiat.

ScottyB
ScottyB
9 months ago

I always think classics at new car shows are a strategic error. I love them, but they sure make the new stuff look like caca-do-do.

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
9 months ago
Reply to  ScottyB

True. They always get more attention than the new stuff.

Opa Carriker
Opa Carriker
9 months ago

I truly believe that the world is ready for another Triumph TR-3, probably with some generic Japanese or Korean 4 cylinder and 5 speed box. Just don’t mess with the separate soft top and bows!

Torque
Torque
9 months ago

Ever since the movie Gatica I’ve thought the Citroën DS is the perfect classic car to be converted to be electric. So many unique features, from the unique suspension to the brake “mushroom/button”, fiberglass roof, rotating headlights, etc…
& the engines they came with were nothing to write home about
Plus they’re big enough for a family of 4-5

Nic Periton
Nic Periton
9 months ago
Reply to  Torque

A company called “Electrogenic” would agree with you. Their factory finished ones are very nice indeed but not cheap. They also sell DIY kits if you are very electromechanically minded. It was quite funny to discover how agricultural the engine was, and how little wind and road noise they generate. The kit comes with a specially commissioned hydraulic pump, the original was really noisy but the even clattererer engine drowned it out.The whole EV conversion is theoretically reversible as well.
(Full disclosure; I was an early backer of the company, I no longer have any commercial or financial connection

)https://www.electrogenic.co.uk/

Ecsta C3PO
Ecsta C3PO
9 months ago

While not necessarily as “humble”, I stand by that a clean, manual FRS/BRZ/86 will be a future classic.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
9 months ago
Reply to  Ecsta C3PO

I’m with you. I think of it ethos-wise as the Triumph to the Miata/MX-5’s MG.

A. Barth
A. Barth
9 months ago

*does happy dance*

Dar Khorse
Dar Khorse
9 months ago

As the owner of a 2017 Fiat 500e in the same color – I approve this message.

Some lowered their jaws, widened their eyes, or pointed a finger, seemingly possessed by childlike infatuation with an entirely new object.

I see the same kinds of reactions from people just about anywhere I drive little Blueberry. She just seems to engender feelings of joy in people.

Doug Kretzmann
Doug Kretzmann
9 months ago
Reply to  Dar Khorse

Got passed by a Fiat 500 on I-80 doing 80mph, it made me smile.. actually I smile every time I see a Fiat 500.

Andrea Petersen
Andrea Petersen
9 months ago

All I needed to read was “Fiat Won.” No more is needed, leave me to my joy…

MiniDave
MiniDave
9 months ago

Another iconic car? The original Mini?

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
9 months ago
Reply to  MiniDave

My homie from around the way just imported one. Can’t wait to get my hands on it…

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
9 months ago

When you say is won the auto show, did it win some type of prize for restoration or something?

Drew
Drew
9 months ago

It won our hearts.

World24
World24
9 months ago

I’ve always wondered what a TwinAir powered original 500 would perform, especially if it used the TwinAir turbo….
I swear it’s a goal to own a TwinAir for no reason other than it’s a modern twin built for road cars, and I think that’s pretty cool.

Thomas The Tank Engine
Thomas The Tank Engine
9 months ago
Reply to  World24

I think the brakes and suspension would need a bit of an upgrade…

World24
World24
9 months ago

Maybe just a bit…

Masa
Masa
9 months ago

The brakes for sure! Even with the original 499cc engine, this car can get difficult to stop under certain conditions. This car has 12″ rims and drum brakes the size of a small dog dish.

To steer this car, it has an old steering box with a giant 400mm steering wheel…not even rack-and-pinion. It probably shouldn’t go faster than 55 or 60mph. I’ve seen old FIAT 500s with powerful engines, but they’ve been updated with disc brakes (I think from a Panda?) and rack-and-pinon steering from a 126P welded on. Pretty clever upgrades.

Glutton for Piëch
Glutton for Piëch
9 months ago

It’s sad we can’t seem to come up with something new and iconic. All these retro-rehash cars prove is nobody has imagination anymore. Or, more likely, anything new is being killed at the corporate level. I feel like we’ve moved beyond having another true automotive icon again. Doesn’t mean there aren’t good cars, and amazing supercars or whatever, but there probably won’t ever be another Beetle/Golf/500. Probably the closest thing on the road today is the Model 3 (gasp), but those things surely aren’t built for longevity, and I can’t imagine anyone lovingly restoring their cyber lozenge in 50 years.

I think were on the cusp of a new malaise-era, just in a different context. what a time to be alive.

LarsVargas
LarsVargas
9 months ago

I think part of the problem is that cars have to be designed to regulations which impose far more constraints on what can be done, especially in the front end. I don’t think we’ll ever see wedges or pop-up headlights again. Certainly no low-sloping hood lines.

That said, there is a lot of amazing design out there given these limitations. Some very attractive cars on the market, but they do fall short of “iconic”.

Taco Shackleford
Taco Shackleford
9 months ago

I think part of the problem is no one knows what is truly Iconic when it is still new, it takes a few years for the design to marinate in the social conscience. Consider the Mk4 Supra, at the time it was thought of as an adequate sports car, but lacked the panache of competitors. But today they are all worth more than the competition. I don’t entirely disagree with your premise, but sometime it takes a few more years and more designs to make something Iconic.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
9 months ago

Great cite with that gen Supra. I remember that they were praised, but also considered expensive for what you got and lacking in soul.

Dudeoutwest
Dudeoutwest
9 months ago

As a parallel, BMW could hardly sell an i3 when they were new, but now look at them. Here in Wine Country, CA, they’re everywhere.

Drew
Drew
9 months ago

Something iconic and common that’s modern…I’d say the Kia Soul fits the bill. You don’t have to love it, but it’s close to those in terms of recognizability. The Ford Maverick might count. It certainly incorporates Ford design cues, but is recognizably different. My girlfriend can’t tell vehicles apart, but she can spot a Maverick (and she thinks it looks like a Hot Wheels car, which she says is a bad thing). The 4Runner could also qualify, I think.

I also think that the constant refreshes and redesigns means we are less likely to have those long-term iconic designs. If you only get a design for 4-8 years, it’s hard to see it as impactful, much less an icon. When we look back at the Escape, for example, will it be the Gen 2 or the Gen 4?

Doug Kretzmann
Doug Kretzmann
9 months ago
Reply to  Drew

the Maverick is much too dull to be a Hot Wheels car.. to me the giant lifted bro-dozers are Hot Wheels cars, aka toy trucks.. vroom vroom.
agree on the design tho, do like it and am anxiously awaiting my 2024 Velocity Blue order. Now the strike will probably push it into 2025..

Drew
Drew
9 months ago
Reply to  Doug Kretzmann

I also have an order for Velocity Blue (I wanted Cyber “Orange,” but they decided not to offer that particular yellow this year). But I think her Hot Wheels comment probably comes from the lack of visual separation between cab and bed (since that makes it look a bit more like one big casting). Which I think works for a small pickup, but I also think Hot Wheels are cool.

Last edited 9 months ago by Drew
Jack Trade
Jack Trade
9 months ago

LarsVargas covers it nicely, but I’ll add that many people aren’t exactly optimistic about the future right now. Car design is only one place where we see the effects.

Here in the States for one, motoring is now seen by many as less a joyful experience in itself than an exercise in defensive preparation – giant utilitarian vehicles to get places, haul stuff and protect against other giant utilitarian vehicles. For those who don’t like this, there’s attractiveness in something that reminds them it wasn’t always like this. So there’s not too much of a market left for pure innovative design perhaps.

James Kohler
James Kohler
9 months ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

This is a really valid take, as everywhere you look people are driving in big boxy tanks to protect themselves from….other big boxy tanks. If you dare to be different, insurance companies (who you are mandated to court via certain state laws) make you pay a premium for it. Not quite the dystopian “outlawing of personal transit”, but not terribly far from it.

Glutton for Piëch
Glutton for Piëch
9 months ago
Reply to  James Kohler

this is a much more succinct way to say what I waxed on about. the average consumer has spoken and a combination of compounding factors is destroying the joy in cars.

Bassracerx
Bassracerx
9 months ago

the average consumer can’t afford a “fun” car. a single car is a very significant purchase and consumes much of your income. So now you have to maximize that investment by making it as practical as possible (or as practical as you can afford.) and drive it until the wheels fall off. The economy is sucking joy from cars

Glutton for Piëch
Glutton for Piëch
9 months ago

All responses here are valid, and I considered a lot of it even when typing the original comment. of course there’s legislation and other factors at play. I guess I meant more there’s nothing *truly new* and special being made for the everyman. I can’t recall the last time I was blown away by a new vehicle reveal. nothing new, nothing terribly interesting. it’s all so samey. The last car that shocked me was the Stinger.. not that it was even a new concept or anything crazy, just that KIA of all brands would build it in 2018. I bought one almost solely because I wanted it to succeed and not be one of those “I wish they still made that thing I wouldn’t buy till it was 10 years old” people. (that obviously didn’t help, and it flopped, so maybe I’m answering my own problem here ugh)

Seems like anything fun or interesting coming out is almost always being sold on heritage more than actual merit. The Stinger was the last time I can recall where a brand said “fuck it” and made something different because they could. That’s what we aren’t going to get anymore. I just had the thought because of the comment in the article about the 500e. I’m sure it will be popular, but it’s just a regular hatchback being sold on its name and image. just like the mini is still trying to do, the Supra is back. it’s not retro, but, well, we all know what Toyota is doing. Bronco, Mach E, Alpine, there’s a lot of examples, but they’re basically all marketing, even if they are still good cars underneath. They’re being sold under the premise/promise of what they were, not “we have this new thing and it’s good enough to stand on its own”. A great example is the new Land Cruiser, it should have been a 4Runner, but Toyota knows if they give it a retro design and the right name, they’ll print money. We have to be told it’s special like good little dumb dumbs. I just wish an OEM would have the balls to make something awesome and trust the consumer to know it is without drenching it in nostalgia (and diluting the heritage in the process).

Last edited 9 months ago by Glutton for Piëch
Jack Trade
Jack Trade
9 months ago

Colin above had what I think is a possible good contender – the FRS/BRZ/GR86.

Fairly wild that the 21st century would give us a reasonably priced, daily driver rwd sport coupe that trades engine power bragging rights for an all around engaging in the real world driving experience. Not that different than the freedom and fun British roadsters promised to a generation in the post war era.

Last edited 9 months ago by Jack Trade
Lew Schiller
Lew Schiller
9 months ago

“I can’t recall the last time I was blown away by a new vehicle reveal.”
Two stand out for me…the “New MINI” and the Ford Flex..but that was a long time ago

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
9 months ago

> we can’t seem to come up with something new and iconic

Eeehhh. The vast majority of cars in any period aren’t “new and iconic,” they’re just cars, and there’s always one or two here and there that have something new and special. The BMW i8, or David’s new ride, or the Z8? China is cranking out interesting new cars. They spark joy in an ocean of VW Atlas/Taos/Tiguan uniformity.

And iconicity only reveals itself after time has passed. So we don’t know which of the early 21st century cars will reach the cinquecento’s iconic status in 60 years. The Honda Element, maybe? The Aztek? The Sky/Solstice roadsters?

Last edited 9 months ago by Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Glutton for Piëch
Glutton for Piëch
9 months ago

I’m clearly not doing a good job at getting my point across, I’m not saying a car is released and all the sudden it’s an icon just right off the bat, I’m saying anything “special” or enthusiast oriented is generally being sold under some sort of brand cache. Of course the cars you mentioned are not like that, but they’re also 10-20 year old cars. Which kinda helps my point. If tomorrow, Ford released a small sports car, you know it’d pull some name out of the back catalog of history and drench it in Americana because we can’t be trusted to buy a good car because it’s good. Hell, even the maverick has the entire Ford/F trucks brand and a decade of consumers asking for a small truck and they still had to go give it a name that makes no sense.

I guess, more accurately, I’m tired of everything being marketed to the nth degree to squeeze every penny out of us, resulting in less money going around to be spent on actual fun/second cars that CAN just exist for the joy of.. existing. That’s what I meant by malaise more or less. The everycar is being force-fed to us as fun car because most people can only afford one car, meaning there isn’t a place for actual fun car anymore. And because. as many have said, it has to fit every aspect of your life, it also can’t be quirky or interesting, because that might scare off a percentage point of the customer base. On the flip side, a lot of the “quirky” or fun cars are marketed on brand cache to tell the consumer “it’s ok, remember, people like this.” Of course there are a TON of factors at play, but it seems like people are afraid of using an ounce of emotion when purchasing and OEMs are afraid to take an ounce of risk anymore.

Last edited 9 months ago by Glutton for Piëch
Chronometric
Chronometric
9 months ago

I was literally working on my Fiat 500 restoration today. Thanks for the inspiration.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/uxCmpmTu1V2SCqTK9

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
9 months ago
Reply to  Chronometric

Is that a metric clamp?

Chronometric
Chronometric
9 months ago

It says C-clamp. I assume C is Celsius.

Masa
Masa
9 months ago
Reply to  Chronometric

Looks great! Good luck with the retore

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