The car was named after the famous Disney character, Mickey Mouse, in Italy. “Topolino” is an Italian word that means “little mouse”. The Fiat 500 Topolino was designed by Oreste Lardone and Dante Giacosa, and it was one of the smallest cars in the world at the time of its production. The Topolino was equipped with a 569 cc four-cylinder, side-valve, water-cooled engine mounted in front of the front axle. The radiator was located behind the engine which made possible a lowered aerodynamic nose profile at a time when competitors had a flat, nearly vertical grille. The shape of the car’s front allowed exceptional forward visibility.

With horsepower of about 13 bhp, its top speed was about 85 km/h (53 mph), and it could achieve fuel consumption of about 6 litres per 100 km of petrol (39.2 mpgus). The target price given when the car was planned was 5,000 lire. In the event the price at launch was 9,750 lire, though the decade was one of falling prices in several parts of Europe and later in the 1930s the Topolino was sold for about 8,900 lire. Despite being more expensive than first envisioned, the car was competitively priced. Nearly 520,000 were sold.

Three models were produced. Model A and B shared the same body, but the engine of model B had 16 hp, compared to the 13 hp of Model A. Model A was produced from 1937 to 1948, while B was produced in 1948 and 1949. Model A was offered as a 2-door saloon, 2-door convertible saloon (saloon with folding roof) and a 2-door van, while Model B also introduced a 3-door estate under the name 500 B Giardiniera (“estate car”).

The Giardiniera was at the beginning only available as a so-called woodie, with an outside ash frame being used instead of steel, and was available in seven metallic colors. When it was later renamed Belvedere, the wood was replaced with metal. This model as well as the regular two-seater Convertible-Limousine were also produced in France by Simca as the Simca 5, and in Germany by the German Fiat subsidiary NSU-Fiat.

Model C was introduced in 1949 with a restyled body and the same engine as the Model B, and was offered in 2-door saloon, 2-door convertible saloon, 3-door estate and 2-door van body styles. In 1952, the Giardiniera was renamed Belvedere (“A turret or other raised structure offering a pleasant view of the surrounding area”, referring to its sunroof). Model C was produced until 1955.

In 1955 the larger rear-wheel-drive Fiat 600 was launched by Fiat and that would become the design basis for the new Fiat 500, the Nuova 500. These two models ended up replacing the original 500.

The Topolino has starred in famous movies, such as:

  • Roman Holiday (1953): This romantic comedy stars Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck as a princess and a reporter who fall in love in Rome. The Topolino is seen several times in the streets of the city, and in one scene, Peck’s character drives a Topolino to escape from the police2.
  • The Godfather (1972): The Topolino is seen in a flashback scene set in Sicily, where the young Vito Corleone (played by Robert De Niro) steals a Topolino from a local don and uses it to assassinate him3.
  • The Italian Job (1969): This caper film follows a group of thieves who plan to steal a shipment of gold from Turin, Italy. The Topolino is seen in the opening scene, where the main character, Charlie Croker (played by Michael Caine), drives a red Topolino along the Alps and meets with his boss, who gives him the details of the heist.

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