By: Todd Niall .
Some cars are just cars. Some are a social and economic phenomenon. Fiat's diminutive 500 was the latter. Its release in 1957 brought not only affordable but also stylish motoring to Italy's masses. For several generations of Italians it was the first car they owned, eventually becoming a motoring icon. Halfway around the world, at the bottom of the South Pacific, the 500 would achieve a status and recognition perhaps unrivalled outside its country of origin.
The story of the Fiat 500 in New Zealand is unique, and one that was shaped by the politics of a prosperous country in which the Government severely restricted access to new cars. In New Zealand, the Fiat 500 developed its own identity. From the mid-1960s, its local branding Bambina has, alongside Beetle and Mini, been widely recognised, decades after the model ceased production.
The Fiat 500 celebrates its fiftieth anniversary in 2007. This is the story of the Bambina, created in Italy and built in a factory in New Zealand, that won the hearts of Kiwis.
About the Author
Todd Niall is an award winning broadcaster with Radio New Zealand and still drives his first car, the Fiat 500F he bought 30 years ago. In 2004 he made the pilgrimage to the annual Fiat 500 gathering in Garlenda Italy, to record the Documentary - Bambina Days. His first book The Trekka Dynasty told the story of New Zealand's only mass-produced vehicle.