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I’ve bashed concept cars for quite a while, so seeing as the weekend is almost here, I thought I’d do something good, something positive, and something fun for a change.

Concept cars really need a concept, but often they’re nothing more than an in-production car with stick on bits or a chance to gauge public reaction. Fiat are as guilty of this as anyone, but in the case of the Trepiuno, the car was so maniacally grin inducing that I can forgive them in an instant (at least this once).

Trepiuno is apparently the Italian for “three plus one”. Quite why the Italians had a single word for this purpose before they had a car that needed it, I have no idea. Similarly, I have no idea why Fiat thought they needed the gimmick like 3+1 for this car, it was never in danger of needing such a crutch.

They rolled out the Trepiuno to an enthusiastic Geneva motor show in 2004. Little more than a styling exercise based on the original 500, the car was an instant hit. Whether they were or weren’t working on a production version, they certainly were after the show.

In no time at all, the new 500 was born. It was a carbon copy of the Trepiuno. Virtually nothing was altered, testimony to the original designers art.

Yes, it’s cute. Yes, it’s twee. Yes, it’s small. But, yes, it makes you smile so hard your ears ache. It’s like a cross between the Jetsons and the original 500. It’s as if it had never gone out of production, and Fiat had kept updating it. The car has an irrepressible spirit. One look at the spedo and it’s mix of old and new and you can’t help looking like a feline from Cheshire.

The open top versions have a cloth roof that folds away, much as the original did but without the leaks and the mildew. Because it slides on runners you can even open and close it at something like 50mph. Try that in a Porsche or Ferrari (as a disclaimer in these litigious times – don’t, that was an attempt at humor).

There’s even a version of the 500 that has an engine capable of 55mpg (it’s called Multiair, has 2 cylinders and 85bhp but isn’t available in the US). That’s not a publicity stunt, it really is that economical in the real world.

One of the things retro cars do is play on your memories of the original car. I remember a friend driving four of us into London for a night out. When we got back to the car it had been boxed in with barely an inch free at either end. There was no chance of driving it out, so we just picked it up and walked it sideways out onto the road. Try doing that with anything made in the last 20 years.

But for all the happy memories, there are plenty that aren’t. That drive into London was painful, folded up in the rear seat. The engine droned on more than a politician at election time, and the heater was only for decoration. Perhaps if Fiat’s designers had remembered such things they would never have given life to the Trepiuno. I’m glad they forgot.

What do you think about the 500? Is it a joy to behold, or do you have hate filled memories of an old one rusting on your driveway? Could you live with a car that size, or do you think anything smaller that Delaware represent cruel and unusual punishment? And if this car doesn’t make you smile, what – legal, decent and honest thing – does?


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