Few people have heard of it, yet many consider John Blankenbaker's KENBAK-1 to be the first commercial personal computer.

Koss introduced these headphones over 40 years ago, and they remain affordable favorites to this day.

Is the Fiat 500 Coming to North America?

New fiat 500

[This is an update to a post that first ran in early 2007.]

Autonet recently reported that Fiat is looking for a manufacturing partner to bring their diminutive and successful reissue of the Fiat 500 to North America. "I'd like to bring it out as fast as I can. We are examining ways and means to manufacture the cars in the United States," Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne remarked last Friday. "I don't want to bring it over made. I want to manufacture in [North America]."

Given the relative weakness of the US dollar against the Euro it makes a great deal of sense to build a new plant here to avoid higher European labor costs and the expense of intercontinental shipping. So far, the cleverly redesigned 500 has sold more than 250,000 units, proving that its success is more than simple nostalgia.

Fiat introduced the new Fiat 500 (the "Cinquecento") on July 4th, 2007, exactly 50 years since they debuted the original Nuova Fiat 500 in 1957. The old 500 had more than its share of quirks: It was powered by a minuscule rear-mounted 479 cc 2-cylinder engine that whipped up an equally minuscule 13 BHP. It featured a pair of reverse-opening "Suicide Doors" and offered a canvas top that rolled back the full length of the roof. A total of six models were produced until 1975, and at only about 3 meters in length the 500 was perhaps the prototypical City Car.

Vintage fiat The new 500's resemblance to the original is only skin-deep. For one thing, it's based on the second-generation Fiat Panda platform and comes equipped with a range of 4-cylinder engines (how often does one get to tout that as a feature?) including a 75hp 1.3L turbo diesel and a pair of gasoline motors that offer either 69hp or 100hp of fun. You can select either a 5 or 6 speed manual gearbox... there is no automatic option [update: there is an optional Dualogic semi automatic clutchless transmission]. Like the original, the modern version is tiny: only about 3.5 meters long.

Fiat is by no means the first European company to introduce an updated version of a popular classic: VW did it with the New Beetle, BMW is enjoying success with their slot-car inspired Mini sports car, and nearly everything introduced by Porsche these days seems to hearken back to their original designs.

I suspect Fiat will do well with the new 500, partly because of its reasonable price (starting around €10,000 - approximately $13,500) and partly because its quirky and clever modern design evokes the original 500's cult status and appeal. I want two: one for each foot.

"500 Wants You" Introductory Video [seems to take a while to load]
Fiat 500 History at Gizmo Highway Auto Guide
Vintage 500s for sale in the UK


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