Buying Guide Fiat Nuova 500 1957-1975

Buying Guide Fiat Nuova 500 1957-1975

Buy a chic and cheeky Fiat 500 without getting a slap. ‘The 500 has long been a cult car, but since Fiat revived the brand in 2008 interest in the originals has gone stratospheric’. 7 steps to buying a Fiat Nuova 500 It’s a charming, usable classic, but there are poor examples trying to ride the wave of renewed interest. Here’s how not to get swept up and caught out. Words Richard Dredge. Photography Bauer Archive.

Buying Guide No longer cheap, but still very cheerful: buy yourself a classic Fiat 500

Designed by Dante Giacosa as a four wheeled equivalent of a Vespa scooter, the Fiat Nuova 500 (the original one was the Thirties front-engined ‘Topolino’) has been a hit with urbanites since it was launched in 1957. Available as either a saloon or an ultra-cute estate (dubbed Giardiniera), there’s little significant difference between one Fiat 500 derivative and another. They’re not just for nipping around town either: Carlo Abarth worked his magic to transform it into the 595 and 695, making an impact in racing and rallying.

Fiat Nuova 500

The 500 has long been a cult car, much-loved as a promotional vehicle by businesses for years, but since Fiat revived the brand in 2008 interest in the originals has gone stratospheric. As a result, some Nuova 500s change hands for far more than they’re worth – but don’t be taken in by a shiny paint job, because if you don’t do your homework you could end up buying a tarted-up parts car. To avoid this scenario, we spoke to Manj Lal of Weenie Fiats, Tony Castle-Miller of Middle Barton Garage, and Cliff Peters of Auto Rossa.

Which one to choose?

Supplementing the new 600, the smaller two-cylinder 479cc Nuova 500 was launched in July 1957, in ‘Normale’ (15bhp) and ‘Economy’ (13bhp) forms. After Carlo Abarth offered tuning parts, Fiat responded with the in-house 500 Sport of 1958, with shorter sunroof for stiffness and 499cc, 21.5bhp engine. ‘Economy’ was treated to a full-length roll-back sunroof from 1959, and renamed ‘Transformabile’.

500D released in 1960, replacing entire range. Based on the 500 Sport bodyshell, it introduced a folding back seat. Giardiniera estate version added at the same time. Standalone Abarth models began production in 1963. The 27bhp 595 was first. Abarth had a blitz in 1964 with the 32bhp 595SS, the 689cc 695 in 30bhp standard and 38bhp wide-arched, disc-braked 695SS form.

500D saloon was replaced by 500F in 1965. Engine up to 18bhp, body restyled with front-hinged doors. Luxury ‘Lusso’ 500L supplemented the 500F in 1968. Also in 1968, 500D Giardiniera production was outsourced to Autobianchi, and continued to 1977. 500L and 500F replaced with 500R in 1972, sharing the 126’s floorpan and 594cc engine. Phased out in 1975.

What to pay

  • Despite a sprawling model range, there’s little difference in prices between basic 500s/Giardinieras.
  • The conventionally doored 500F is the most numerous in the UK. Pay £3750 for an average driver, rising to £8000 for the best private sales and £12k at a dealership or for a concours example.
  • Abarths are a different quantity altogether. There’s no major premium between 595, 695 or SS models. Usable cars start at £25k, rising to £40k for the best and £52.5k for those with competition history.


The 500 can rot badly. If there are visible signs of significant rust, much worse is likely to be hidden, although few panels are double-skinned so spotting damage is easy. Lift the front bootlid and examine the battery tray, which rots once the drain holes block and the tray fills with water. Check the wings and wheelarches, taking the wheels off for a thorough inspection. The whole length of each sill also needs checking closely because bodged repairs are common.

Inside, check the floorpans and inner sills for rot, especially behind the rear seats where the supporting metal can rust unseen; lift the mats or carpets to do it properly. Expect corrosion in the door bottoms – the window seals rot away and the drain holes become blocked. The front-hinged doors of post-1964 cars can be sourced easily, but earlier cars’ rear-hinged doors have all but disappeared. The shallower windscreen of these earlier cars is also hard to get. The outer panels are as susceptible to rust as the inner ones, especially anything aft of the B-post; the metal at the base of the rear screen dissolves and the engine cover can too, especially around air vents. Wings rust at both ends but decent replacements can be bought. Thankfully, parts supply is better than it’s ever been, with most panels that you’re likely to need readily available.

Prices aren’t high; a front panel costs £95, a front wing is £47 and a complete door (skins aren’t available) is £342. An inner sill panel is £35, outers are £37 apiece and a complete rear wing is just £150. However, only pattern parts are available and none fit as well as the originals, so they need some fettling and this is reflected in the labour costs required to fit them. Simpler panels like doors or the nose panel might cost around £80 to fit; a sill or wing will be three times that.


If the engine is really raucous the timing chain has probably worn; a DIY fix costs £42 or it’s a £250 garage job. Oil leaks from the rocker cover or sump gaskets are common and easily fixed, but if the dipstick is being ejected from the engine a £1400 rebuild may be needed – or it could just be a failed valve in the £10 oil filler cap. Blue smoke from the exhaust on the over-run points to worn valves and guides; budget £600 for a reconditioned exchange cylinder head. A thermostatically controlled air vent should open once the engine is warm; it can fail, but usually in the open position, so there’s no damage. If the engine overheats, the head gasket will probably fail, making the engine run badly. The outlet pipes either side of the engine will also be pressurised (put your hand over them to discover if they are). The fix is a new gasket – £400 if you go to a specialist. A correctly adjusted fan belt cuts the risk of overheating, so check its tension.


Gearboxes last well, but with no synchromesh they can get damaged by ham-fisted drivers; trying to engage first on the move will probably break it, so see if the car jumps out of first and reverse. If the gearchange is really nasty, the linkage probably needs adjusting. A Metalastik bush in there perishes over the years and the only solution is to renew it at £25 plus £40 to fit. Oil leaks can be caused by weeping joints, or by overfilling the gearbox; there aren’t any gaskets, which doesn’t help. A major gearbox leak takes five or six hours to fix, which can run to £500. Driveshaft gaiters can leak, too. Two types of driveshaft were used, with those on pre-500L cars being slimmer; many earlier cars have now had the thicker driveshaft fitted.

Steering and suspension

The simple worm-and-sector steering box is durable but the idler bushes can perish, leading to play in the steering. Uneven tyre wear suggests fresh track rods are needed at around £20 apiece. New idler bushes are about £11, while an exchange idler costs around £160. An exchange steering box will set you back £354, or you could convert to a rack for about £500. Fitting a new box is a simple £80 job, but conversion to a rack is much more involved as it involves adapting a 126 assembly and welding on bespoke brackets.

The suspension is simple, but even if the front kingpins are greased the metal can still wear, because the design is poor and the lubricant doesn’t get to where it should. The result is a worn or seized bottom bearing, a £180 fix. The front suspension’s single transverse leaf spring can also suffer wear, so see if the car sits level from head on; if it leans to one side a new spring is needed at £72 for a standard part or £132 for one that lowers the car. The telescopic dampers can also wear; replacements cost £80 per pair.

The biggest potential suspension issue is corrosion in the swing arm. If this has cracked or rusted the arm may break away and you could lose control of the car. A specialist will charge £300 to put it right.


The all-drum braking system works fine if it’s maintained, but wheel cylinders seize on cars that have been left standing, so see if the car pulls to one side under braking. Replacement cylinder seals don’t last long, so check for leaks from perished rubbers. New cylinders are £40 each plus £20 each to fit.

Trim and electrics

Apart from a few early cars, all 500s have a sunroof. As it ages the material loses its weatherproofing, but an entire new roof (covering and frame) is just £120. The retaining catches should be metal but sometimes cheap plastic replacements are fitted instead, and they break. Metal catches are available for £14 apiece. High-quality trim is available in red, tan or black. You can buy a complete set of seat covers for £390, while a carpet set is £144. You can even buy a repro rubber mat set for the 500F for a hefty £340.

The electrical system is simple but can give problems. The fusebox that sits in the nose is usually reliable, but the wire connecting the ignition coil and the distributor becomes brittle and breaks, so the engine cuts out or won’t start. But it’s a very cheap fix because a new wire should sort it.

Engines can have as little as 13bhp as standard, so you should manage your performance expectations. Find a good example and a 500 should prove to be a straightforward, inexpensive running proposition. A minimalist interior and affordable trim part prices means an overhaul needn’t be a daunting prospect.

‘All spares are cheap, partly because they’re small’

500s do have a tendency to rot, so it’s important to not take what could be a ‘resale respray’ on face value – you should probe hidden areas diligently…

Owning a Fiat 500

Geoffrey Alton, Derbyshire

Geoffrey Alton bought his 1972 500L five years ago from a student who had restored it with his grandfather. He says, ‘They did a fantastic job; it’s like new. It took me six years to find the right car but I’m so glad I did. I also have an Aston V8 Volante and a Bentley Continental GTC, but the 500 gives just as much pleasure.’ ‘They’re very easy to restore as well as cheap to get work carried out on, so home-restored cars can be very good buys if they were done properly like mine was. You can get everything you need for a complete mechanical rebuild and interior trim is also available off the shelf. The only significant parts that aren’t available are right-hand drive wiper motors along with steering boxes and idlers.’

Colin Smith, Oxfordshire

Colin Smith is the long-term owner of two 500s – a 1975 500R and a 1968 car fitted with a Suzuki Hayabusa engine. ‘I’ve been as far afield as Hungary in the 500R and have fitted four dogs in it! ‘They’re not great on motorways – you’re doing well to get 60mph downhill – so as you can imagine the tuning scene for 500s is massive. However, it’s ultimately a crude two-cylinder engine that you might increase in power from 18bhp to 35-40 – very expensive horsepower.

‘They’re easy to work on and cheap to run as a result, especially if you’re handy with spanners. Points and condensers are a problem – aftermarket reproductions are unreliable – but I converted mine to electronic ignition for just £50. All spares are cheap, partly because they’re small. Tyres, for example, only cost £35 each.’

Christine Anderson, Berkshire

Christine Anderson says of her 500F, ‘It’s been in my family since 1969 when my Mum bought it, and I learnt to drive in it in 1972. I took it on in 1979, using it for the 40-mile commute until rust took it off the road and two children got in the way of its restoration. ‘I got it restored at Ravenscroft Coachworks in London in 1997. It cost £12k over two years, driven by sentimental value because it wasn’t worth that at the time. It was partly because parts supply for 500s was so bad back then and a lot needed to be remade from scratch. It would cost comparatively less now and be a lot easier because the parts supply situation is very different nowadays. ‘Since then it’s been taken as far afield as Italy, Holland and Sweden – all on its original-spec 499cc 18bhp engine!’

Sponsored by Carole Nash insurance

Peter McIlvenny of specialist car insurer Carole Nash says, ‘This little Italian classic has soared in popularity in the last ten years with its cheeky looks and quirkiness you just don’t find with modern cars. But don’t be fooled into thinking these little cars are a quick and cheap fix up that you can do on a bank holiday weekend. Although the increase in values in the last few years has made some potential scrappers into viable propositions, take time to check the body for rust. Values are unlikely to rise above the market in the next five years but the 500L built from 1967 probably represents the best value and one you will be able to get the most out of and enjoy.’

Classic car insurance quotes: 0333 005 7541 or

1963 Fiat 500 Transformabile

Lovely lhd example finished in Chiaro Verde and Aquamarine. Imported from Italy, the car had undergone a full restoration in 2016 by the previous owner. The car starts beautifully, runs well and is a joy to drive. The brakes are particularly good for a car of this age, the steering is tight and ride very comfortable. Bought as a gift for my wife, the car just isn’t being used enough and deserves to be driven more. £16,950

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