It may be hard to believe, now that it's just one of fourteen brands within the Stellantis group, that Fiat has once been Italy's largest private employer. It may not have had the best managers, but Fiat sure had plenty of talented engineers and designers, and here are five examples you may well have never seen before.
The cute X1/23 (1974)
Presented at the 1974 Turin Motor Show, the impossibly cute Fiat X1/23 was a vision of sustainable urban mobility well ahead of its time.
Penned by Fiat's in-house styling studio and just a little over 2,5 meters long, the X1/23 could comfortably seat two people and was powered by an electric motor installed at the front and rear-mounted batteries.
Initially fitted with traditional lead-acid batteries, the X1/23 was later fitted with experimental nickel-zinc accumulators that boosted the little Fiat's range to 70 Km.
It never made production and was never meant to, but part of me wishes it had, as it's so adorable it makes you wanna hug it.
The tough ESV 1500 (1973)
The ESV 1500, named after its weight in pounds, was the smallest of the three prototypes Fiat presented at the 4th international conference on experimental safety vehicles, held in the Japanese city of Kyoto in 1973.
As it's immediately apparent, zero effort went into the little car's aesthetic appearance, as that was secondary to its mission of representing the state-of-the-art in terms of passive safety for a small city car.
Based upon the Fiat 126, the ESV 1500 was extensively re-engineered to withstand front and rear collisions up to 50 Mph without compromising the integrity of the passenger compartment.
However, the massive bumpers and the extensive reinforcements needed to protect the passenger compartment made for a substantially longer car which was around 45% heavier and about as much more expensive to produce than the standard 126.
The efficient X1/75
Automobile development in the early 1980s had been heavily influenced by the previous decade's oil crises, which spurred companies toward researching lightweight construction and aerodynamic efficiency.
Weighing under 600 Kg and equipped with a diminutive 770cc twin-cylinder direct-injection turbodiesel engine mated to a CVT automatic transmission, the Fiat X1/75 could reach a top speed of 135 Km/h but, most importantly, could do 40 Km on a single liter of diesel.
Perhaps not the most exciting car to drive, but nevertheless quite an impressive technical achievement.
The clever 850 City Taxi (1968)
By the late 1960s, Fiat investigated the possibility of creating a vehicle explicitly dedicated to public transport: a task enthusiastically taken on by the talented Pio Manzù, a young designer then collaborating with Fiat's styling center.
The City Taxi prototype used the engine and running gear of the Fiat 850 "Idroconvert," whose four-speed transmission was equipped with a torque converter in place of the usual clutch, thus eliminating the third pedal for easier driving in busy city traffic.
The City Taxi's design, with its short overhangs, taut lines, and short sloping bonnet, is all about maximizing interior space against the vehicle's diminutive exterior dimensions, while the large glass surfaces allow passengers to enjoy the city's landscape to the fullest.
Coherently with its intended use, the 850 City Taxi has an asymmetrical bodyshell: on the left side, it has a conventional door for the driver, while on the right side, a wide electrically operated sliding door lets the passengers in.
The City Taxi could accommodate three passengers that became four if the folding jump seat next to the driver was deployed. The padded dashboard incorporated the instrument panel, the taximeter, and a small television screen.
The 850 City Taxi was displayed at the 1968 Turin Motor Show, and the many novel solutions of this innovative prototype were covered by 15 new patents. Although some were subsequently used on production cars, the City Taxi itself would remain just an experiment.
The funky 126 Cavalletta (1976)
Presented at the 1976 Turin Motor Show and based on the Fiat 126, the prototype "Cavalletta" (the Italian for grasshopper) was Fiat's own foray into the open "beach" cars genre independent coachbuilders like Savio and Moretti had been exploiting for years.
The 126 Cavalletta was the work of the Fiat's in-house style center, and, to improve cargo space in the rear, it was fitted with the horizontal "pancake" engine from the 500 Giardiniera.
Even though the removable hard-top and doors increased its usability beyond the summer months, the 126 Cavalletta didn't impress the public during the Turin Motor Show and therefore remained a single prototype.