19 February 2004

Fiat calls it Trepiuno – three plus one – but to the rest of the world, Fiat’s Geneva show concept car could only be the new 500.

Finally, the postmodern retro movement that produced a new VW Beetle and Mini, and Ford’s Mustang, Thunderbird and GT, gets the long-rumoured contemporary version of Fiat’s tiny rear-engined, air-cooled Nuova 500. The much-loved Nuova 500, launched in 1957, was produced for 18 years and more than four million were sold.

Despite the official response that ‘the Trepiuno probably won’t be made’, internal support for the project is strong and many believe that once the public sees the concept car, demand will be so intense, Turin will be forced to build it. But not before 2007, at the very earliest.

Stung by the success of the Smart two-seater in Italy, Fiat has been looking at a variety of potential baby cars to regain its small-car crown. One proposal was for a three-seater, whose seating package mirrored McLaren’s F1 one-plus-two arrangement, but it settled on the Trepiuno instead.Styled by Roberto Giolito, head of Fiat’s advanced studio and the talented designer who penned the Multipla and Ecobasic, the Trepiuno is a mere 3300mm long.

Fiat claims the concept is not built over any particular mechanical package, but admits the design lends itself to a transverse-mounted engine in the front, driving the front wheels.

Giolito has maintained the original’s bubble-car look, even down to integrating a wrap-over bonnet and flared wheelarches, all updated to incorporate modern technology and crashworthiness, despite the tiny overhangs.

A sky-dome glass roof replaces the 500’s canvas sunroof. However, Trepiuno gets a modern tailgate that includes the rear window, and split rear seats that fold down to increase luggage capacity.

Fiat’s product planners believe most customers want more than just the Smart’s two seats, and the three-plus-one seating arrangement gives the car its name.

In basic form it’s a two seater, but a flexible dashboard area, in front of the passenger, folds to allow the passenger seat to slide forward, permitting an adult to sit behind the front passenger. Hence seating for three adults plus one child – essentially the package the new Mini achieves.

Fiat’s small-car programme is currently based around the new Panda and its many variants, including the 4x4 and SUV. However, sales of the Seicento remain so strong on the domestic market that plans to release a short-wheelbase, two-door version of the Panda have been postponed until next year.

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