The Fiat 500 is a great car but it’s not without its problems – namely a lack of interior space, decidedly leisurely performance and relatively high values. So what if you could buy a car that has the 500’s cute looks but addresses these issues? The good news is that you can – with the Fiat 600.
The 1950s were the decade of mobilisation for the Italian working classes (as, indeed, they were for most of Europe) and the 600 was Fiat’s contribution to Europe’s post-war swing to the rear-engine location as the way forward for small family cars. As with the 500, the 600 was designed by Dante Giacosa, but the bigger car is far more grown up in a variety of ways.
In one ultra-compact package you get a four-seat family car with a four-cylinder water-cooled engine. With its independent suspension the 600 also provided the basis for an array of sporty spin-offs from Abarth such as the 750 and 1000TC, along with the Monomille and Bialbero, so this is no economy special built down to the lowest possible cost – it’s more grown up than you might think.
But the 600 is still an economy car. However, while you can expect only so much from any car with a 633cc engine, the 600 is more fun to pilot than you might expect, even if it’s noisy on hills, bouncy on poor roads and struggles to keep up with motorway traffic. Just call it character.
Which Fiat 600 to buy?
With the regular model Introduced in 1955, the first elaborazione-derivazione Abarth-modified 600 appeared almost immediately, and the Abarth factory continued to work its magic on this humble saloon for another 15 years. It’s unlikely that any other mass-produced car has undergone such extensive and continuous development for racing, transforming it from a 21.5bhp family runabout and bursting through the 100bhp-per-litre (without forced induction!) barrier on the way to becoming a 112bhp race-winning, wheel-waving track legend.
It’ll come as no surprise that any of the more specialised variations on the 600 theme are hugely sought after and consequently very valuable. These include anything produced by Abarth along with the quirky Multipla. If you’re able to secure one of these we’d say go for it; buy at the right price and you’ll never lose out financially, while they’re also brilliantly fun and fabulously unusual.
You’re far more likely though to buy a regular 600 saloon, of one spec or another. While the earlier cars with their rear-hinged doors are wonderfully characterful and the convertible editions are enormous fun, you’ll have to buy whatever you can find as 600s of any description are very rare in the UK. That’s why you’ll probably end up having to go shopping in Europe if you want any choice, which means settling for a left-hand drive car.
There were some right-hand drive 600s made but there are very few left and they hardly ever come up for sale. So if you’re buying a left-hand drive car, also be prepared to look at SEATs and Zastavas – and if you’re considering the latter you’ve also got an 850 option available too.
Performance and specs
Engine 767cc, four-cylinder
Power 32bhp @ 4800rpm
Torque 40lb ft @ 2800rpm
Top speed 68mph
Fuel consumption 48mpg
Gearbox Four-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
• The 600 can rust spectacularly, and while body panel availability is pretty good, don’t under-estimate the cost of a complete restoration.
• You need to check everywhere for corrosion, but home in especially on the front valance, front and rear chassis legs, door bottoms, sills and wheelarches. Also scrutinise the lower corners of the front and rear screens along with the lower portions of all four wings.
• The 633cc engine has to be worked hard to make progress, which can lead to premature wear in neglected examples. Check for the obvious signs of wear; smoking, rattles and low oil pressure, but rebuilds are easy and cheap enough.
• Failed head gaskets aren’t unusual either, thanks to the engine having overheated. See if there’s a white emulsion on the underside of the oil filler cap.
• Gearboxes are tough but there’s no synchro on first gear. Even so you can expect a smooth gearchange. Wear is inevitable of course, but rebuilds are possible, and costs aren’t high.
• The kingpin bushes need to be greased every 1000 miles; on early cars the steering links need lubricating just as frequently. A lack of lubrication leads to rapid wear.
• The semi-trailing arm rear suspension provides a comfortable ride but it needs to be kept in alignment to get the best out of it and to prevent uneven tyre wear. So get a four-wheel alignment done, just to be sure.
• If the steering is vague it’s probably because the steering box is worn. Things may be able to be tightened up but if not, expect a big bill to put things right.
• The all-round drum brakes are perfectly adequate for the limited performance available, but if you want the added security of discs up front, a conversion kit is available.
1955: Fiat 600 launched in March; by October there’s a Zastava version being built in Yugoslavia.
1956: The 600 Multipla MPV is introduced, along with a 600 convertible that features a large roll-back fabric sunroof.
1957: Wind-down windows replace the previous sliding items. Production starts of the SEAT 600 in Spain and the Neckar Jagst 600 in Germany.
1960: Fiat 600 production begins in Argentina and the Fiat 600D is introduced, with front quarterlights and a 767cc engine.
1962: There’s now a Zastava 750 edition.
1964: There are now front-hinged doors.
1965: Production ends of the 600 Multipla.
1969: The final Fiat 600 is made.
1973: Production of the SEAT 600 is halted.
1979: The Zastava is now offered in 843cc (850) form.
1982: Argentinian production of the Fiat 600 ends.
1985: The last Zastava 750 is made.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
Due to the much smaller number of surviving examples than the smaller 500, the more practical 600 models are continuing to rise in value, although they still lag behind the miniature icon. Savable project cars can still be found from £1500, but scruffy running examples can be picked up for £3000. While restoration can be expensive, it means that the best examples are now fetching a premium, at £8000-£10,000.
600 Multipla models are significantly more collectible, and fetch very strong prices when they do come up for sale. £15,000-£20,000 is the price for a straight car, but prepare to pay up to £30,000 for a top car.
Words: Richard Dredge