I thought the retro trend was over, and it was safe to breathe again. But no! Fiat is introducing the new 2014 500 1957 edition to showcase “vintage Italian styling.” Let me get this straight — it’s evoking not just an old car, but a specific year.
See if you can follow me here. The 1950s Fiat was much beloved — in Europe. It’s the car you see by the thousands in movies like "Roman Holiday" (see below). It was the successor to the pre-war Topolino. The 500 came out in 1957, and they kept right on building it until 1975. The 500 “won an enormous following throughout the world,” it says, and the so-called “Cinquecento” is “among the most iconic automobiles of all time.” Maybe, but they couldn’t get arrested in the U.S. Remember, this was the '50s, and cars were huge and had big fins — the 500, by contrast, was tiny. People did buy VW Beetles, but the Fiat was an onlooker.
For some reason, Fiat’s ads have tried to evoke a nostalgia in American consumers that isn’t really there. Reports Ad Age, “In a throwback to the simpler time of the 1950s, [the commercial] shows a couple heading to a drive-in, while the man demonstrates chivalrous behavior by opening his date's car door. They watch a black-and-white movie, accompanied by Elvis Presley's ‘Jailhouse Rock,’ which was the No. 1 song in 1957, the year Fiat debuted.” In Italy, of course.
Still, I understand why Fiat is bringing out this special model. The basic process here is that carmakers like Mini, Fiat and Smart can’t change the basic design of the car from year to year, but they can make minor changes that cost little on the assembly line. It’s a come-on to get people down to the dealership. Mini has excelled at this — convertible, roadster, Clubman, Paceman, Countryman, John Cooper Works. And they’re all the same basic car.
The current 500 is retro to begin with, but those 16-inch wheels and hubcaps really evoke the old car. Most of the rest is badging and a retro interior that Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn would want to sit in. Your move. People who buy cars like this also buy “collector’s edition” comic books —t hey’re counting on them becoming collectible decades down the pike. Maybe, but are people really going to go crazy bidding for a mint PT Cruiser Couture Edition (that's the beast above)? Any takers for the 1975 Bill Blass Edition Lincoln Mark V?
Here's the trailer for "Roman Holiday." That you can feel nostalgic for:
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