The 34th edition of the Festival Automobile International, France’s biggest automotive design and concept car event, is held in Paris from 31 January to 4 February. The Fiat brands and FCA Heritage – the Group department dedicated to safeguarding and promoting the historic legacy of the Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lancia and Abarth brands – are at this prestige event, hosted at the Hôtel des Invalides, to give the general public the chance of first-person contact with an undisputed world design icon: the Fiat 500. What’s more, at the Paris event the coveted “prix d’honneur” was awarded to Roberto Giolito, world-famous designer and “father” of the 2007 Fiat 500, who has led FCA Heritage since 2015.
The spotlights are clearly on the Fiat icon, the star of a striking exhibit which alternates historic cars, recent prototypes built on the base of the 500 and new special series. Naturally, the common denominator is the legendary car designed by Dante Giacosa, who, over his 43-year career, created so many of the automotive manufacturer’s most important projects, including the original 500 “Topolino”, followed by the 1957 Nuova 500.
Specifically, the stand displays the 500 D (1963) and Giardiniera Jolly (1972) historic cars, both belonging to private collections, together with the recent Trepiùno (2004) and 500 Coupé Zagato (2011) concept cars and the very first 2007 new 500 ever built, all from the FCA Heritage collection.
The display is completed by the new 500 by Repetto special series, created exclusively for the French market.
The history of the mythical Fiat 500, a car which has won a permanent place in the collective imagination, with a status reaching beyond the automotive world as such, is a truly fascinating one. It was on 4 July 1957 that the Nuova 500, the “great little car”, soon to become a symbol of mass car ownership, was launched in Turin. In spite of its small size, Dante Giacosa’s design maximised the space inside, creating a surprisingly roomy interior able to accommodate four passengers. The folding fabric sunroof as standard gave this budget car a touch of luxury while also reducing the use of steel, a material very expensive at that time but essential for the vehicle’s production.
50 years after its birth, again in Turin, the new generation of the Fiat 500 was presented. It was destined to become a global success, sold in 100 countries worldwide and winning many awards, including “Car of the Year” and the “Compasso d’oro”. Without a doubt, the secrets of its longevity include its ability to evolve without ever sacrificing its identity, proven by the more than 30 special series – based on Fiat 500 and Abarth 595- which have appeared over the last 11 years. Overall, from 2007 to the present, more than 2 million 110 thousand Fiat 500 cars have been built, rising to more than 6 million when added to those of the model’s predecessor, produced from 1957 to 1977, making it one of the best-selling Fiat models of all time.
Fiat Trepiuno concept car (2004)
Created by the Fiat Design Centre, the “Trepiuno” concept car made its debut appearance at the Geneva International Motor Show in 2004. Given an enthusiastic reception by the public, the prototype turned out to be the forerunner of the new Fiat 500, launched in Turin on 4 July 2007, successfully reinterpreting the car which was the precursor of mass car ownership in Italy and bringing it firmly up to date. The Trepiuno had a completely unique stylistic and construction approach, based on the concept of “simplified use”: the very roomy cockpit was especially safe and comfortable, thanks in part to the protective ring which surrounded and defined it. Characteristic by rounded modern lines and the use of new materials technologies, the concept car abandoned the conventional 2+2 seat layout to embrace the 3+1 principle, to maximise the interior’s reconfiguration options.
Fiat 500 (2007)
Launched on 4 July 2007, the Fiat 500 very soon became the manifesto of the “new Fiat”, embodying an original approach and a new car design philosophy, exactly 50 years after the debut of the first Fiat 500. Its silhouette is firmly imprinted in the collective imagination in Italy and beyond, since its history is indissolubly linked with that of a whole generation of passionate, enthusiastic owners, who have firmly established its image as a successful, reliable, inexpensive car and elevated it to the rank of symbol of the best years of their lives, enveloped in a mood of carefree, joyful fun.
The 500 is linked to their memories of their youth, and evokes a happy past to which may of them would like, to some extent, to return. During the creation of the new Fiat 500, Fiat’s aim was not to copy the existing car but rather to re-create it: the new 500 marked the start of an innovation process that clearly revealed the brand’s positioning ambitions. While keeping faith with its predecessor’s philosophy, the Fiat 500 still had a strong focus on the innovations which it brought to its category for the very first time. The car on display is number 001 of the car’s Opening Edition of 500.
Fiat 500 Coupé Zagato concept car (2011)
The 2011 Geneva International Motor Show saw the presentation of the 500 Zagato concept car, a 2+2 coupé built by one of the world’s most famous automotive design firms in partnership with the Fiat Design Centre. The prototype possessed stunning lines, which gave it a truly sporty, contemporary style without breaking faith with the car’s design tradition. Its design was inspired by the prototype built by Zagato in the 1950s on the basis of the Fiat 500. Although at that time the famous Italian designer completely reinterpreted the 500’s style, the current model’s designers conserved its general lines, similar to those of a coupé, while still making them more aggressive: for example, the two humps in the roof (a real Zagato trademark) allowed interior comfort levels to be kept high, hand-in-hand with a reduction in the vehicle’s ground clearance.
Fiat 500 by Repetto (2018)
Elegance and personality, luxury and tradition: Fiat 500 and Maison Repetto join forces to create the exquisite Fiat 500 by Repetto, the special series exclusively for the French market which, launched last year, takes an undisputed symbol of Italian creativity and projects it into the future. Key features include the spectacular exterior in a customised Opéra Bordeaux colour, the elegant trims with ballerina-like lines, the luxury interior that references he timeless appeal of the original 500, and the tobacco coloured seats in Poltrona Frau leather. The ivory interior makes a perfect match with the dashboard, also in Opéra Bordeaux colour. The Fiat 500 by Repetto is a perfect example of the 500’s ability to evolve over time, while always remaining very much its own unique self. In fact, the car has successfully transformed itself to move into a series of new territories, including technology, fashion, design, luxury yachting and now ballet, encountering new targets, continually renewing itself, yet never losing its timeless, iconic status.
After graduating in industrial design in Rome in 1985, he began work as a freelance designer, employed by furnishing and interior design firms. He joined the Fiat Design Centre in 1989, working on innovative electric prototypes. His first project, for which he designed both the interior and the exterior, was the Fiat Downtown, presented in a fully operational, running version at the 1993 Geneva International Motor Show. The following year he designed another emission-free electric concept car, the Fiat Zic, which made its debut at the Swiss show in 1994. In the same year, he began to work on a compact hatchback concept, which was to lead FIAT to present and produce the popular 6-seater Fiat Multipla (barely 4 metres long), with the innovative concept of two rows of three seats each. In 2002, Giolito became the first head of the Fiat Group’s Advanced Design Centre, which was to develop the first concept car inspired by the iconic old Fiat 500, (Fiat Trepiùno, Geneva 2004) and many other vehicles destined to go into production, including the Fiat Grande Punto and the Fiat Qubo.
In 2007 Giolito launched the new production Fiat 500, which also won the Car of the Year of the year award, and in the same year he was appointed head of Fiat and Abarth Design at the Design Centre in Turin. In 2008 he was named Eurostar 2008 by Automotive News magazine, and received the Design section innovation award from the President of Italy. In 2011 the Fiat 500 was assigned the “Compasso d’Oro” by the ADI (Italian Industrial Design Association) commission. In 2012 Giolito became Fiat Chrysler Design Vice President for the EMEA region, to oversee the entire range of new products of the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles European brands. In 2015 he as was appointed head of the Heritage division of FCA Italy, to work with a dedicated team to direct and coordinate activities to safeguard the legacy of all the Group’s historic cars.