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Fiat Panda. The last of the Mohicans

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Fiat Panda. The car with which you laughed at everyone astonished the world in 1980. A cheap, smooth, practical and very handy cart for little. Intended for the motorist who simply wanted to get from A to B. But so cleverly designed that many saw how great the added value of ingenuity in its simplest form could be. The Panda became a cracker, and the last of the Mohicans to demonstrate just how amazingly fun basic transportation can be.

The angular square cart was designed at a reasonable cost. A lot of basic technology and various engines were available on the shelves of Fiat. For example the 652cc engine from the Fiat 126 and the 903cc engine from the Fiat 127 and the 850 Coupé. The latter engine belonged to the legendary Tipo 100 generation, which had been used for the Fiat 1955 from 600 and had grown over the years. He enabled the Panda 45, which was initially only available in the Netherlands, to perform very well, something that the importer also wanted to emphasize in that llegendary commercial with the Fiat Panda that passed everything. To the satisfaction of Uncle Motoragent, who laughed when he concluded that he could issue the best ticket. You probably remember the commercial.

Much more than utilitarian

The Fiat Panda, it was astonishingly simple. Take the chassis. The front driven wheels were independently suspended (with struts) and leaf springs were used at the rear. The Pandaatje of the first six years bumped on nicely and caused a laugh. Also because of those simple but oh so practical hammock chairs with removable fabric. Handy if there was once - in any way - spilled. You could do everything with the simple furniture. You could just turn it into a bed for two. Thus the Fiat became the smallest camper in the world. It was just one application that also proved that Fiats' second smallest back then (the 126 was still there) had so much more to offer than just utilitarian traits. Without the Panda losing its simple image. So handsome.


“Carefree driving for a few years”

You could literally and figuratively go in any direction with it, the pleasure that such an economical little Pandaat offered was endless and many car buyers began to see that. The Fiat Panda sold easily, it was not a car that you as a driver spent hours thinking about or turning around for hours. You bought it, like you bought a Renault 4 or one Citroën 2CV also bought. You knew you were in the price lists very early and could of course expect the minimum. And that is precisely where the secret lies. You got so much independence and convenience in return. You didn't have to explain anything to anyone. A few years of carefree driving. And then we'll see again.

Well-chosen moment

Fiat saw that very well. 141 project came at the right time. The 126 oh so underestimated today - with the engine and drive at the back - needed to be replaced, at least for the Western market. Also the Spanish Fiat 133 was retired in Europe. And the peers Renault 4, Dyane and 2CV have been around for a long time. They still sold in numbers that many manufacturers were jealous of. Fiat saw a great opportunity in that long career of those fine French evergreens. It responded to the need for replacement and the fact that consumers in the R4 / 2CV corner were looking for an alternative after years. An alternative that radiated historical philosophy and simple charm, but was indeed designed for the demands of the time. The Fiat Panda was extremely clever at a time when motorists were increasingly demanding. Although that knowledge did not prevent the 2CV and the Renault 4 from surviving for a long time.

Towards adulthood

Fiat responded to the demands of the time with the Panda. In 1982 the 34 HP engine from the Fiat 850 (!) Became available in the Panda. There was a Super, there was a convertible, there was a legendary 4 x 4 and the engine range was further expanded and renewed (FIRE). And action models, many action models. Fiat facelifted the first Panda generation a few times and gave the playful car more and more maturity and, for example, a different interior with firmer furniture. And Fiat came up with the 4x4, an icon within an iconic myth.

Sales success remains, even after the arrival of Seat Marbella

The Panda became less unique, but that never stood in the way of sales success, because the historical principles were at least partially preserved. But still: certainly the Panda of the first six years was the best. Whoever thought that the Panda evolved too much could go to Seat for the primal feeling of the Panda. That built the Marbella, which was very close to the Pandas of the early years. The Spaniard sold just like the renewed Pandas, they could coexist perfectly.

Built for 23 years

The first generation of the Fiat Panda showed how simple multifunctionality, efficiency, unpolished design and sophisticated planning led to an almost immortal concept. A concept that existed for 23 years in its basic forms. These were years in which millions of drivers were able to experience why the simplicity of the first Panda generation could be astonishingly clever and above all, could offer a lot of carefree fun. It's not for nothing that the great Giugiaro named the Fiat Panda as his best design. And it is not for nothing that Fiat recommended the Panda as one early on giant of a car. Cheers, Panda!

Automobilia 2022 (copy)

7 Comments

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  1. DHB is probably a stringent Italian and French “car enthusiast”, whom he always rigorously denounces. It is precisely the German cars from the Jaten “90, the expensive Audis less, are rotting away, including VW!

  2. nice article !, I just bought a completely original, not rotten, Dutch panda34 from 1986 last week. I would like to preserve this car in the coming year… because I am a designer myself, I appreciate Giugiaro very much!

  3. But not mentioned: the thing already rusted in the folder! After a few years, the holes in the bottom and box girders fell.
    Nevertheless: a nice, functional car.

  4. The Panda 4X4 of the time is still used in mountainous areas in Italy. Even the Soccorso Alpino still drives with it, and the cart is even able to beat the Land-Rover Defender in some inaccessible parts.

  5. And for those who wanted to drive even cheaper, there was the Seat Marbella from 1986, which did not receive any technical gadgets but would remain a primal Panda until the last (1998). Even when Seat had long been a part of the Volkswagen group.

    • Thank you Olav. That is a useful addition indeed. Moreover, a strange story, because Fiat and Seat were involved in a legal battle because the Italians felt that Seat was emphatically guilty of plagiarism. The evolution of the Panda was not an obstacle to the granting of permission. The Marbella also had a tweaked version of the 903 CC (Tipo 100) engine, I think, and kept the originally designed chassis, for example. A chassis that Panda purists preferred to the chassis that was mounted in a modified form under the Fiat Panda from 1986. Off topic: Seat also invented the Terra, a small van based on the Marbella. Nice history!

      • I drove a Seat Terra for 15 years, with the 1.3 diesel that he shared with VW polo. It was my first completely new car, Seat was now part of the VW concern, and contrary to DHB mentioned, the quality control was now more than OK! Never had any problems with it! In the beginning I was a bit worried about rusting, because of the thin sheet metal, but Volkswagen had the rust protection under control. After 15 years, not even a speck of rust (on a car that was usually outside! ') With the square body, also a spacious miracle, with that size. Most trouble-free car I've ever owned. After 15 years I got rid of a plumber from my village (some 'normal' parts had to be replaced, such as shock absorbers, radiator). Bought back Daihatsu Feroza 4 × 4, which just turned out to be the most hopeless car I have ever owned.

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