Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3
The Fiat 600 series was part of the postwar Italian 'Economic Miracle' and was produced in relatively large numbers from its debut at the Geneva Motorshow of 1955
. The new Fiat 600 was a two door four seat car with a 633cc (21.5bhp) water cooled four cylinder engine located behind the rear seats and driving the rear wheels.
One year after its introduction, two more versions of the Fiat 600 followed. Keeping with tradition, a version was released with a full length opening canvas roof, and possible the first true MPV, the Multipla (see picture at top). The latter had three rows of seats for a total of six people, the two rear pairs of seats which could be folded into the floor, leaving a large flat loading area. Due to the increased weight the brakes, suspension
were all updated.
the Fiat 600 range got its mid-life update when the 600D was released with an increased engine capacity of 767cc (29bhp) and various changes to the bodywork
(the front windows got openable quarterlights and the boot lid got modified cooling grilles). The Multipla also adopted these changes. In 1964
front hinged doors were introduced and in 1965
another revision of the 600D, with new headlights, larger fuel tank, and replacement of the oil filter
element with a centrifugal unit was released. A total of 2,695,197 automobiles belonging to the Fiat 600 series were built in all versions.
Sturt Griffith's Road Test
A name synonymous with quality automotive journalism in the 1950s was Sturt Griffith. He would take all cars on offer in any particular year, then drive it over a punishing course to determine what was good, and bad, with a particular car. Obviously his yardstick was the best on offer in any particular year - and something we do not have the benefit of today. While we make every endeavour to judge a car on its contemporaries, sometimes it is very difficult. We refer to many of his road tests in compiling our own, but for the record, the Fiat 600 review below remains as told in 1957
The Fiat 600 is in the "baby" class, and it is a good example of the manner in which the modern small car has become a real and useful automobile
. The outstanding features of the Fiat is the power it derives from a small engine, and the good use to which it puts that power. Its road performance is quite satisfactory, due to astute gearing. A car having an engine of only 633cc and which can comfortably climb Lapstone Hill in top gear with two persons aboard is using its power very well indeed.
The fundamentally good design behind this baby car is exemplified by the fact that it is pleasant, and relatively untiring, to drive over substantial distances. Its riding over bad roads is exceptional, even when judged on the standards of large cars. Its suspension
system is independent for all four wheels in Continental fashion, and is capable of handling any of our rough country roads without demur or bottoming. Cornering generally is good, steering
is pleasant, and the car handles well under all circumstances. As might be expected, this small vehicle is very economical of fuel. But 51.5 miles per gallon over the test route, at the very respectable average speed of 40i miles per hour, is economy indeed.
Since last tested, a number of improvements have been made which, I am pleased to say, dispose of several of the points in which the car was found lacking on my last test. The windows are now of wind up type and are exceptionally large and airy. Their winders are, unfortunately, far too slow and stiff for convenience. The light switches are now on a separate and handy. little operating finger, and the interior light operates with the driver's door. It is still believed that some form of front-floor cold-air ventilation would be an advantage. Admittedly, the engine is in the rear, but ventilation does reduce the high temperature engendered by road heat in Australian summer weather. It is also difficult to justify the omission of a glovebox, when ample space for it exists on the generous new fascia. Mechanical changes, including a very pleasing new synchromesh, are detailed under "Engineering" below.
In the case of a small car fitted with an economy engine, one should not expect much in the way of climbing and accelerating ability. And so it is with the "600," although appropriate gearing allows it to climb reasonably well in top. For steep climbs, third gear is necessary, and is generally sufficient with two up. Second gear will be invoked on certain mountain passes. The gears used, and speeds recorded, on the regular test hills were:
- CAPSTONE (average 1 in 16, maximum 1 in 131): Top gear at 40-26-31 mph.
- BODINGTON (average 1 in 111): Top and third gears in about equal proportions, at 50-38-31 mph.
- RIVER LETT (I in 12, maximum 1 in 8i): Third gear in a good climb at 40-23-32 mph.
- SCENIC HILL (1 in 10. maximum 1 in 8): After a start in third, the climb was made mainly in second gear at 45-24-28 mph.
- MOUNT TOMAH (1 in 12, maximum 1 in 9): Third gear at 50-24-31 mph.
- KURRAJONG WEST (1 in 121): Top and third gears at 50-38-35 mph.
The power-to-weight ratio, with a load of 3cwt, is low at 30.9 b.h.p. per laden ton. Top gearing is also low, yielding a road speed of 12.8 mph at 1,000 engine rpm.
This small car bowls along very happily at 55 mph on easy highways, for as long as the driver cares to keep her at it. For instance, it did not call for any hard driving to attain the average speed of 40.4 mph over the test route. Weather was mainly good, punctuated by a rainstorm. When pottering about, one can stay in top gear down to about 32 mph without loss of reasonable response.
Like all small-engined cars, the Fiat is leisurely in acceleration. For safe overtaking, one should use second gear up to 25 mph, and third gear up to 32 mph Over the latter speed, top gear will suffice. Times for acceleration were: Third gear: 20 to 40 mph, 12.2 seconds; 30 to 50 mph. 17.3 seconds. Top gear: 20 to 40 mph. 16.5 seconds; 30 to 50 mph, 22.5 seconds. The maximum pulling power is a torque of 28.9 lbs-ft, developed at the usefully low speed of 36 mph in top gear.
The Fiat corners particularly well, and has that nimble and handy feeling that one now associates with small, rear-engined cars of Continental origin. This car has good adhesion, even on wet roads, and one need never hesitate to corner fast. If and when there is a slide, it starts as a gentle drift of the rear wheels, and can be felt and checked quite readily, if so desired. There is no pronounced oversteering
tendency, and as long as some throttle is used through the bends, the car actually understeers with two aboard.
When cornering fast, there is not much body roll, and the tyres
are commendably quiet. Riding on bad roads is exemplary. The little car takes great potholes and rough country going in a way which is a lesson to many large vehicles with conventional suspension
. At no time did the suspension
bottom on roads that bring some cars down on to their stop rubbers. The rear seat is particularly comfortable on heavy going.
Steering and Braking
The worm and sector steering
is good. It has a quick and positive action, with two and three-quarter turns from lock to lock. Very little reaction is felt in the hands over bad roads, and steering
effort is negligible. There is no "weaving" at speed, as is sometimes found in baby cars. The turning circle at 28.5 feet is conveniently small, although one might expect a somewhat tighter circle with such a short wheelbase. The Fiat-Baldwin brakes
were satisfactory, with moderate pedal pressures, for the main part of the test. After having controlled the car normally down the three-and-a-half-mile descent from Kurrajong Heights in neutral, the front brakes
were afflicted with binding, and had to be slackened off very considerably to reach the free condition.
It is not thought that this misdemeanour is characteristic of the breed, as nothing of the sort occurred on two previous tests of this car, with the same braking system. Rather is incorrectly close adjustment suspected as the cause. The handbrake is of the pull-up type, convenient to the driver's left hand. It works on the transmission, and its action was neither effective nor smooth on the move. To -ensure its disfavour, we were subjected to a nauseating smell and smoke, resulting from its operation. which were promptly wafted into the car interior through the demisting ducts. The wheel brakes
have an ample lining area of 67 sq in, and all drums are now cooled by transverse fins.
The seat is comfortable, vision is fai:. and the wheel is comfortably places. The pedals are offset a little, are placed and have large pads. The instruments (speedometer
and fuel gauge) are before the driver, and warning lights are provided for oil, temperature, generator and the winker turn indicators. The central gearshift is a pleasure to use, and the excellent synchromesh allow instantaneous changes either way. It has a fairly long fore-and-aft movement, and a very brief transverse shift. The self-cancelling turn indicators and lamps are operated by fingers projecting from the steering
column. A high-beam indicator has been omitted. The wipers are self-parking, but were not doing so on the test car. Screen washers are a standard fitting. The windows require five and a quarter turns of their winder for full movement. This action is far too slow for the convenience of the driver, and it was quite stiff.
There are many features of technical interest in this modern baby car. A four-cylinder, water-cooled engine is , situated in a tiny rear compartment, with its radiator and cooling fan
unit to one side. The transmission consists of clutch, differential and gearbox (in that order) which lie ahead of the engine, and are mounted to the frame. The driving half shafts extend to the rear wheels, which are mounted on pivoted V-arms supported by coil springs. Bore and stroke are 60 x 56mm (over-square), an alloy head with individual reduction ports is used, and compression is now 7.5 to 1.
The windows require five and a quarter turns of their winder for full movement. This action is far too slow for the convenience of the driver, ,and it was quite stiff. A dry-air filter is fitted to the Weber carburettor, and engine oil is circulated through a bypass filter. Engine cooling water-ways have been improved, as has the thermostatically controlled outlet vent for radiator air. The synchromesh (on top three ratios) has been altered and is now very good. The all-indirect gearbox provides ratios of: top 4.8, third 7.1, and second gear 10 to 1. The only mechanical noise is now a light whine around 35 mph and the engine is delightfully smooth at all speeds. Front suspension
is by transverse leaf spring and wishbones. Telescopic dampers are used for all wheels.
The individual front seats are 17.5 in wide, and are most comfortable, being sprung with sponge rubber over flat rubber straps. The rear seat is 49in wide, and is also comfortable. Synthetic material is used for seat covering and interior trim. The rear squab folds down to convert the rear compartment into carrying space. Leg and head room are good in the front compartment. in rear, headroom is reasonable, but leg room is quite limited. With both seats erected, there is a small luggage space behind the rear seat measuring 3ft 7in long. 9in wide and having a height of 1ft 10in to the roof.
The "boot" is under the bonnet, but is quite small (1 ¾ ft x 1 ½ ft x 10 inches), as the fuel tank and spare wheel are housed in this compartment. The battery
is beneath the floor of this boot. The doors are wide, are rear-hinged, and have large windows, fitted with deflectors to reduce draught to the rear seat. There is no glovebox, and the only stowages for small articles are the flat door pockets. A good heating and demisting system is standard, but this cannot be used for the admission of cool air. The rubber floor coverings are well tailored and neat, and the underside of the body