My ‘little mouse-shaped’ Fiat 500 ‘Topolino’

PUBLISHED: 10:35 07 February 2018 | UPDATED: 10:35 07 February 2018

Kem Crane�s first car was a Fiat 500 A �Topolino� � italian for �little mouse�. Picture: Ken Crane

Kem Crane�s first car was a Fiat 500 A �Topolino� � italian for �little mouse�. Picture: Ken Crane

Ken Crane

Ken Crane tells about his 500 A Topolino – a ‘little mouse-shaped’ Fiat which he bought after passing his driving test.

I was just 17, and had passed my motorbike test, so it was time to take my test for a car.

Having cleaned and polished my grandfather’s 1938 Morris Eight, he sat beside me to get me ready for the test – not that he gave me instructions but that is another story.

Having got that all-important licence, it was time to obtain my own first car so I spent some time looking round Weston-super-Mare to obtain something that looked good and was reliable so eventually found my car in a showroom at the bottom of Orchard Street.

It was the first Fiat 500 A ‘Topolino’ – so as you can see 500s have been around for a very long time. Mine had two seats, a four-cylinder, water-cooled, side-valve engine and was one of the first cars with independent front suspension.

They were made from 1936 to 1955, with a production run of 520,000, had a top speed of 53mph and give about 39mpg – the 600 followed in 1955.

My photograph was taken during a ‘concours d’elegance’ at the Beach Lawns in Weston, run by Keith Palmer who still runs classic car shows today, but the commentator referred to my car as “a little mouse-shaped Fiat” – this I found out was the translation of the Italian word topolino.

Although the car was a two-seater, I would place two cushions on the flat area behind the seats for two passengers. On one occasion we decided to go to Torquay for the day so we went down the A38 to Exeter – there were no motorways built then. When we got to Telegraph Hill, I found the car did not have enough power to get up the hill, so two of my friends had to walk to the top where we joined them to get to our destination.

I thought the car was in good condition but the engine was beginning to burn oil so I decided to purchase a reconditioned engine from the main Fiat dealer in London. To change one unit for another, I started removing the bonnet, bumper and the cross member. I could then remove the starter and the linkage to the carburettor and finally the eight bolts round the bell housing. This was the time to remove the engine from the car so a block of wood was put underneath and, with a sharp pull, I could then lift it on to the wood and away from the car – all this when the radiator was still in situ.

All that had to be done again, but in reverse, and I was motoring again. After running the car for about a hundred miles, I decided to put some Molyslip into the oil to give it a longer life but I never knew how long as, after a while, I sold my first car to upgrade to more of a family car – Fiat 600.

Tell us about your first car – email your memories with a picture of the car to or post it to Andy Russell, Archant motoring editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE.

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