Fiat, the Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, was established in 1899 in Turin by Giovanni Agnelli. Its first car the 3 ½ CV, of which 24 were made, was a copy of Benz’s revolutionary machine. By 1910, it was the largest car manufacturer in Italy – a position it still holds today. Amongst their first vehicles were buses and a fireman’s trailer, with their first truck being the 24HP.
Fiat’s commercial vans were well known. In the lead up to World War I, Fiat was providing vehicles for the armies of France, Britain, Russia, and Greece. Fiat’s van production continued after the war, and they brought out the economical range of cars, the 501 series, as well as the company’s first tractor. By the late 1920s, they had a large range of cars and vans in production including the SuperFiat 519 and the luxurious 509.
In 1932, they released the Balilla, which came in both car and van format, and continued on from the success of the earlier and durable 1014 truck. Other models of this era included the Topolino and the Musone. The company set the still unbeaten propeller-driven seaplane record.
During both World War I and World War II, the company’s plants were turned over to military production including aeroplane engines, machine guns, and vehicles. By the end of the 1940s, there were 71,000 people employed by Fiat.
The 1950s saw a boom in Italy. Fiat was no exception, with the fast V8-powered sports car, their first diesel-powered car, the 1400, transatlantic liners, the G.80 jet plane, and the 7002 helicopter all rolling off the Fiat production lines. As the 1950s drew to a close, they released what was to become the very popular Fiat 600 and the irrepressible Fiat 500.
The 1960s saw a number of ‘Car of the Year’ awards, with the Fiat 124 and the 128 being recognised. This continued into the 1970s with the Fiat 127. There were also a number of changes with the commercial division becoming Iveco and the combining of the Fiat brands: Ferrari, Lancia, and Autobianchi.
Other landmark Fiat cars appeared in the 1980s with the manufacture of the Panda, Uno, and the COTY winner, the Tipo, in 1988. Fiat models like the Punto and the Bravo/Brava again picked up awards.
The new millennium saw lots of changes with movements in its other marques and the setting up and then dissolution of an association with GM. Despite all this, Fiat is still the fourth-largest car manufacturer in the world. Over time, the brand has brought a number of other motor producers under its wing, including the iconic Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, and Chrysler. Fiat continues building top-selling cars to this day.
Fiat as a company has ventured into many vehicular markets producing boats, aeroplanes, vans, and trucks as well as a vast range of cars. One of its most memorable cars from the 1950s, the Fiat 500, is still regularly seen on the roads today and has even seen its popularity rise with some retro styling.
Their range is normally associated with affordable, small or medium-size cars and led the way with some award-winning designs, such as the novel front 3-seat Multipla. For many people, the Fiat Uno, Panda, and Punto are memorable first cars, while the his-and-hers styled Brava/Bravo was a favoured family compact car in the 1990s. The most recent range of Fiat cars is comprised of the 500, Panda, Bravo, Punto, and the Fiat 4x4s, the Qubo and the Doblo.
Fiat’s main competition comes from the big German manufacturer, Volkswagen, as well as Ford. Both Volkswagen and Ford have always put up good models in the same market. The Mini has been competing against the Fiat 500 for over 50 years now, and the Japanese producers Suzuki and Nissan have distinctive models in the same categories as Fiat.
There have always been those who decry Fiat cars over their reliability, but if you are looking for a budget car, they’re a good safe bet. The issues with build and breakdown are not as much issues with later models.
The latest Fiats are well equipped and economical to run. They have good fuel consumption figures and a certain style about them. Most models can be a little tight on space, but their residual values mean you can pick them up cheaper than many of their similar rivals.
If you look through the trophies given out in the industry, many of Fiat’s current range have received the ‘Car of the Year’ awards over their histories. The Fiat range was never conceived as a series of luxury, top-spec roadsters. They are cheap to run, inexpensive to buy, and stylish-looking family cars.