In 1949, Fiat released the front engine Fiat 500 economy car to meet the demands of the post-war market. It had a 2-door coupe body with sun-roof, which was later complemented by an Estate version. Both continued until 1954 when they were replaced by an all-new, lighter car. The new car had a rear-mounted engine, on the pattern of the Volkswagen Beetle, just like its bigger brother the 1955 Fiat 600. Several car makers followed the now uncommon rear engine configuration at the time and were quite successful. The Neckar version of the 500 was manufactured in Heilbronn under a complicated deal involving NSU, and was introduced in October 1961. Steyr-Puch produced cars based on the Fiat 500 under license in Graz, Austria.
Despite its very small size, the 500 proved to be an enormously practical and popular vehicle throughout Europe. Besides the two-door coupé, it was also available as the "Giardiniera" estate; this variant featured the standard engine laid on its side, the wheelbase lengthened by 10 cm (3.9 in) to provide a more convenient rear seat, a full-length sunroof, and larger brakes from the Fiat 600.
Sports models were famously produced by Abarth, as well as by Giannini. An Austrian variant, produced by Steyr-Daimler-Puch, the 1957–1973 Steyr-Puch 500, had a motorcycle-derived Puch boxer twin motor, a sports model of which was the 1965–1969 Steyr-Puch 650 TR2.
Production of the 500 ended in 1975, although its replacement, the Fiat 126, was launched two years earlier. The 126 was never as popular as its predecessor in Italy, but was enormously popular in the former Eastern Bloc countries, where it is famed for its mechanical durability and high fuel economy. The Fiat 500 has a Cx (aerodynamic resistance coefficient) of 0,38, a very good performance for its time
The Fiat 500 (Italian: Cinquecento ) was a rear-engined two-door, four seat, small city car manufactured and marketed by Fiat Automobiles from 1957 to 1975 over a single generation in 2-door saloon and 2-door station wagon bodystyles.
Launched as the Nuova (new) 500 in July 1957, as a successor to the 500 "Topolino", it was a cheap and practical little town car. Measuring 2.97 metres (9 feet 9 inches) long, and originally powered by a 479 cc two-cylinder, air-cooled engine, the 500 was still 24.5 centimetres (9.6 inches) smaller than Fiat's 600, launched two years earlier, and is considered one of the first purpose designed city cars.
In 2007, the 50th anniversary of the Nuova 500's launch, Fiat launched another new 500, stylistically inspired by the 1957 Nuova 500, featuring a front-mounted engine and front-wheel drive.