Back To The 80s: Fiat Panda

Fri 26th Jul 2019

When we think of the classic eras of motoring we might cast our mind back to stylish cars of the 1950s, the muscle cars of the 1960s or the super cars of the 1970s. What might not spring to mind however is the motors which were produced in the 1980s - an era which certainly favoured practicality over power, style and sophistication.

But the cars of today owe much to 80s, it was decade which brought us turbochargers, multi-valve engines and hot hatchbacks, an era of the people-carrier and the rise of the SUV. Digital displays and electronic gadgetry, were the norm as designers pushed the boundaries of of what was capable in a production vehicle.

So let's celebrate the 80s, a period of huge change across Britain as a whole, and one which had incredible landmarks in the motor industry.

Fiat Panda
Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, a man who had spent the 1960s and 70s designing some of Italy’s most iconic supercars, the Panda was introduced to the press in December 1979 and was launched two months later, with Giugiaro explaining that the aim was always simplicity.

Speaking La Stampa newspaper at the time, Giugiaro said: “The Panda is like a pair of jeans, that simple, practical, no frills piece of clothing. I tried to bring into this car the spirit of military machinery, especially helicopters, that means light, rational, built-for-purpose vehicles.”

The Panda’s unique boxy styling certainly set it apart from the its rivals, which were the Renault 4 and the Citroen Dyane, two cars which had made huge strides in the European supermini market. Whilst the Panda was more expensive than its rivals at launch, the Italian kept some of its designer’s supercar capabilities by outgunning the French in the engine department and being far more sophisticated in terms of interior design, much more modern than previous Fiat’s of the era and with the quirky capability of being able to turn the front seats and rear sofa into a bed.

Practicality was also a key aspect with a load capacity which was designed to transport 2 bottles of 50 litre wine in the boot.

The public loved the first generation of the Panda, and the critics in some countries loved it too, finishing second in the 1981 European Car of the Year awards, with only the Ford Escort Mark III rated better.

Though the German press were little less enamoured, describing the car as a ‘shoe-box’ in major newspaper, Bild, amd the boxy styling which was a key feature of all Fiats during the 1980s was hit and miss. 

Despite this criticism, Giugiaro described the Panda as ‘the most enchanting work of his life’ and in 1981 he received the prestigious Compasso d’Oro industrial design award for his work on the project.

The first generation Panda received a major facelift in 1986 and went on to be produced throughout the remainder of the 80s before being phased out in the mid-1990s due to emissions and safety legislation. The first generation remained in production in Italy until May 2003 making it one of the longest-lived small cars in European history.

Manufacturer: Fiat
Assembly: Mirafiori, Turin, Italy
Designer: Giorgetto Giugiaro
Did You Know?: The Panda was originally going to be called the Rustica, which might have been problematic bearing in mind its latter reputation for attracting rust!