I have been asked whether a pre-war Fiat 500 — the once frequently-encountered and beloved “Topolino” Or Mouse — would be eligible for VSCC competition. I do not see why not, although such jurisdiction is entirely a matter for the VSCC’s Eligibility Committee. But there do appear to be arguments in the little Fiat’s favour. Along the years the VSCC PVT listing has been extended to include cars not at one time thought suitable, as outside the parameters set by the Club originally. Thus, before the war the SS90 and SS100 were thought of as a rather poor joke by the 30/98/Bentley brigade and it was rumoured that if one were to draw up at a certain member’s garage for petrol he Would declare it shut rather than serve the occupants in such a, to him, pseudo sports especially if the driver and his girl were wearing white “bathing-hats”, or flying helmets of that hue… Times change, and now these fast and eye-able motors are accepted enthustically in vintage circles. So, now, is a Vale Special if such still exist, and where once only pre-war A7s were permitted to mingle with the great and powerful, for a long time now the PVT category has been open to A7 Nippies and 65s.
Now it must surely be recognised that the Franco Fessia-designed Fiat 500 is technically the equal of, if not superior to, the immortal Longbridge Baby. I remember what an odd little animal the “Topolino” seemed, when 1 and a colleague first encountered it on the Show stand at Olympia. But driving it proved that it had the safe road-holding, good ride and willing performance expected from Continental cars, of whatever size. Hydraulic brakes and i f s helped to that end, and there was a synchro four-speed gearbox. It wasn’t long before the tiny Fiat was the “in thing” for keen drivers to be seen in. Racing drivers bought them, to the extent that 15 were mustered (18 had entered) for a race at Brooklands in 1938 round the twisty Campbell circuit. It was won by S Mond, at 42.45mph. Best lap was at 44.45mph. The better known drivers who competed included Gerald Sumner, Peter Clark, Noel Mavrogordato, Charles Brackenbury, Arthur Baron, A M Leitch, Dr Beaver, J C Elwes, Hugh Hunter and V L Seyd, etc. Others, like the Hon Peter Aitken, Charles Martin, Charles Mortimer, John Eason-Gibson and H J Biggs joined the mice-men, and Dick Seaman, Earl Howe and Prince “Bira” had Fiat 500s as town cars. Tuning methods were evolved. That doesn’t prove much. But there is more.
Although the “Topolino” was never raced so extensively or professionally as the A7, it wasn’t entirely absent from competitive events. They ran in the Le Mans 24-hour race in 1937, 1938 and 1939, for example, as the 569cc Simca-Cinq. One finished in the 1937 race, two with streamlined bodywork did likewise in 1938, that driven by Aime/Plantivaux leading the Index of Performance category, and two more finished intact in 1939.1n the race of 980 miles from Tobruck to Tripoli which replaced the Mille Miglia in 1939 Baravelli’s Fiat “Mouse” won the 750cc class, averaging 63.85mph. In the summer of 1939 it was a Fiat 500 which won on formula a rally which finished at Montlhery, beating crack drivers in Delahaye and Alfa Romeo. A Fiat 500 ran in the last RAC Rally to be held before the war, and they were to be seen in such events as the Poole speed-trials, a JCC High-Speed trial at Brooklands (I know, 1 was in it), the 750 MC’s first trial, driving tests at Croydon and one appeared in special-bodied open form at the Bangkok meeting at which Prince “Bira” was Chief Marshall.
Some VSCC events are confined to vintage cars but it is the PVT section we are thinking about — forget the free-for-all Pomeroy Trophy. For this, would the Fiat 500 be out of place? It should present no problems for the dating Scrutineers, because the pre-war “Topolino” had quarter-elliptic back springs, the post-war model half-elliptics, with, as on the A7, chassis extensions at the back. As there is a separate chassis frame, specials based on these 500s should be possible, and even acceptable, subject to conforming to VSCC Regulations, which require a certain standard of appearance and for some reason ban fibre-glass bodies but say OK to manifestations in wood, papier-mache, and even old blankets. — well, fabric anyway, or leathercloth.
One can cite the FWD Citroen 15, of which a very smart 1939 Convertible is to be seen in VSCC events, as maybe setting some sort of precedent for the Fiat 500 to be considered, especially as an open-bodied racing Special. That apart, I remember when the VSCC top-brass rather “went” for the Traction Avant Citroen as their non-vintage everyday cars, as, later, they took to Volvo saloons.
You would hardly expect the Fiat 500 to have been raced as extensively as was the A7 was pre-war, because it was giving away 180cc in the usual lowest racing class (up to 750cc) but its components were a feature of the Cooper 500 and, indeed, figured in the construction of some 13 other small Italian racing cars. I do not own a “Topolino”, so I am not taking sides, just advancing some seemingly logical arguments in favour of its promotion as a vintage racing-car. I am not thinking in terms of the awful Vignale Gamine, which is 28 years too late to be a PVT anyway, and was based on the later twin-pot Fiat, not on the four-cylinder, water-cooled Fiat 500.