The Fiat 500 Club Italia, an organization formed in appreciation of the iconic 500–“Cinquecento” in Italian–car produced by the automaker Fiat (Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino), holds what the Guinness Book of World Records will call the world’s largest parade of Fiat cars on July 9, 2006, between Villanova d’Albenga and Garlenda, Italy.
Fiat, founded in 1899 by Giovanni Agnelli, released a 500-cc car known as “Il Topolino” (the Italian name for Mickey Mouse) before World War II; at the time, it was the smallest mass-produced car on the market. In the postwar years, the company sought to capitalize on the need for affordable family-size cars by revamping their 500 model. To that end, the Nuova Cinquecento, a two-cylinder rear-engined four-seater, made its debut on July 4, 1957. Some 3.5 million new 500s were sold between 1957 and 1975, when Fiat halted production. Like the Volkswagen Beetle in Germany, the diminutive but efficient 500 became an iconic symbol of postwar Italy and its people.
In 1984, a group of enthusiasts calling themselves the “Amici della 500″ (Friends of the 500) unofficially organized as the Fiat 500 Club Italia in Garlenda, in the province of Savona. Some 30 participants attended the club’s first rally on that July 15: the crowd included Dante Giacosa, the designer of the 500. The club was officially established in 1990 and today boasts more than 200,000 members and holds as many as 100 rallies per year. In July 2006, during the club’s international meeting in Garlenda, a record-high number of participants (754 teams) gathered to make up a parade of 500 Fiats, later recorded by Guinness as a world record.
After struggling financially in the face of stiff competition from Volkswagen and other automakers, Fiat turned its fortunes around beginning in 2004, with the arrival of Sergio Marchionne as the company’s head. A key part of Fiat’s resurgence was was the launch of a redesigned Cinquecentoin 2007. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi was among the more than 100,000 spectators who gathered in Turin on July 4, 2007–50 years to the day after the original Nuova 500 made its debut–to celebrate the new version’s arrival. In 2009, Fiat completed an alliance with Chrysler after the struggling American automaker was forced to file for federal bankruptcy protection. Under the terms of the partnership, Fiat owns a 20 percent share of Chrysler (which could eventually grow to at least 35 percent).