A few years back, I looked into the origins of the little arrow on fuel gauges that tells you what side of the car the fuel filler is on. I actually did this in conjunction with the Every Little Thing podcast and while the inventor of the modern iteration of the little arrow was found (he worked for Ford, spoiler alert) I actually felt that Mercedes-Benz had an earlier claim, though their filler-location arrow was combined with a low fuel warning light. The low fuel warning light is actually much older than the little printed arrow on the fuel gauge, and while I don’t yet know the first car to incorporate this, I did find an especially charming and appealing one on the fuel gauge of the original Fiat 500, the front-engined one that was also known as the Topolino, the Italian name for Mickey Mouse.
Oh, and if you want to hear that podcast, perhaps as you take your morning hang-glide, here you go:
Okay, so if you’re wondering where the low-fuel light is in that fuel gauge, it’s right here:
Isn’t that lovely? Right in the middle of the 0, and it comes on when there’s just a half-gallon left. This is also one of those rare fuel gauges that uses actual numbers, which I think are liters, going from full at 20 liters (about 5.3 gallons) to 10, then to 0. I didn’t even include this type on my list! Crap.
Topolinos were neat little people’s cars, and coming out in 1936, one of the first of the European people’s cars. The VW Beetle wasn’t finalized until 1938 (and really wasn’t sold until after WWII), and I might peg the 1923 Austin 7 as the earliest really mass-produced people’s car to arrive in Europe. It wasn’t really the most efficient design, space-wise, especially because it was really a two-seater, but people would routinely cram in double that number, or more. It was very appealing and stylish, though, and they made and sold over a half million of these between 1936 and 1955.
Anyway, now if you drive one and the 0 lights up, you know what to do.
What’s on the bottom of that gauge that goes 0-50?
Oil pressure? What units? psi? But Italy mostly switched to metric in the 1800s (at least according to Wikipedia).
I think there’s an article here. What units have different cars/manufacturers used over time? I bet there are some interesting cases of historical changes and switches between model years or other unexpected answers. Of course we’ve all seen dual mph/kph gauges, but are there any unusual cases?
If I had to guess, the “25” indicates 2.5 kg/cm2, which is what 500C’s typically ran at. I could be wrong as I know FIAT made export variants of this car.
It’s Italian, so I’d say that it’s a percentage of the oil pressure that the engine actually needs.
There is some serious elegance to it. It’s just so simple and perfect. I deign to call it one of my favorite things.
This brings up some questions.
If the oil pressure drops to zero, does that number light up as well? Seems like that would be a handy feature, but the center of the oil pressure zero looks like it might be the same color as the gauge face, i.e. not a light. If so, that’s a missed opportunity in my mind.
What is the purpose of the small white vertical hash marks near the edge of the gauge face at the 1:00 and 7:00 positions? (The 7:00 is partially obscured by schmutz.) I thought they might be there to help the installer: if the hash marks are vertical, the gauge is properly aligned. But the gauge already has the 10-liter mark at 12:00 and oil pressure 25 at 6:00 for that purpose, and if we’re brutally honest that may not have been much of a priority at the Fiat factory anyway.
If I recall correctly, this type of gauge appeared in the 50’s in the 500Cs. It did not have a low oil pressure indicator light – although I do agree that would be a clever design!
I see the white marks as well in the photo and not sure what that could indicate?
On a side note, between 1957 to about 1967, no FIAT 500 had a fuel gauge, only a low fuel warning light. When I started driving the 500D, I was told to clean the wheel spanner that came in the tool kit, dip it into the fuel tank, and if it came out wet, I had a “good amount” of fuel in it. The 500L variant came with a fuel gauge, but it was horrible. The 500L was my first car and the needle on the gauge would bounce around as the car shook, I never knew exactly how much fuel I had. Eventually, the gauge stopped working and either read full or empty.
Most (N-1) of my older motorcycles do not have fuel gauges, but they do have a useful feature: a ‘reserve’ setting. The ‘on’ setting on the petcock draws in fuel from a small-diameter metal pipe, vertical and usually 2.5″-3″ long: when the fuel level drops to the top of the pipe, the engine starves for fuel and dies. Unless…
you’re quick enough to change the petcock setting from ‘on’ to ‘reserve’, which causes fuel to be drawn by a shorter pipe, i.e. one that is still submerged in the petrol. The engine can now use the remaining fuel in the tank, and most riders learn how to engage reserve on the fly and without looking so the engine doesn’t die. Once reserve is engaged, the rider needs to start looking for a place to fill up.
Also – and I can’t stress this enough – the rider also needs to set the @#$%^ petcock back to ‘on’ after refueling. Otherwise, he will continue to ride happily until the bike sputters again, and when he tries to switch to reserve he will find the petcock is STILL ON RESERVE and his tank is genuinely empty and he’s hosed. Ahem. 😐
The wrench process you mentioned makes sense, though if I had a car like that I would travel with a full jerry can, just in case. 🙂
Finding the reserve petcock was also something that one had to practice finding blind while riding as it is usually hidden somewhere under your left leg. Having to look for it while negotiating a busy roundabout could be quite exciting. My Dear Pillion also knew that an urgent double-tap on her knee meant that she had to shift her leg out of the way so that I could get to the thing on time before we ground to a halt.
The Topolino always reminds me of Lush even though it’s a 50s and I know, I know, but just go along with it.
Are we to take this as today’s “Cold Start”? It’s not presented as such and I just wanted to be sure.
I need to know as well. My morning routine revolves around reading Cold Start. That may sound like a sad existence but alas …
Yes! Sorry, I forgot to add that in the hed. It’s fixed!
This is what sweating the details looks like…
Is there any car that’s gone through more drivetrain layout permutations than the 500? FR, RR, FF, and, now electric, which I think is still technically FF. But, it’s been everything except mid engine and AWD
They still have another year to cram a Hellcat engine behind the front seats of one.
Current Ford Transit is available in FR, FA, and FF (as ICE-powered), along with RR (for the electric) in a single generation, so that’s in the running. They had MR too, if you count prior Supervans (and why shouldn’t a one-off car built for promotional purposes count?)
The previous generation 500 was built on the same platform as the Panda, which has an AWD version, so technically it could have been made AWD without much difficulty.
If not for the Topolino, there would never have been a Cooper 500!
What would Stirling Moss have done?