The car had hydraulic drum brakes on all four wheels. Suspension was a unique single double-mounted leafspring - which acts as a stabilizer - between the front wheels coupled to gas-charged shock absorbers, and an independent coil-over-shock absorber setup coupled to semi-trailing arms at the rear. All 600 models had 3-synchro (no synchro on 1st) 4-speed transaxles. Unlike the Volkswagen Beetle or Fiat 500, the Fiat 600 is water-cooled with an ample cabin heater and, while cooling is generally adequate, for high-power modified versions a front-mounted radiator or oil cooler is needed to complement the rear-mounted radiator. All models of the 600 had generators with mechanical external regulators. The top speed ranged from 95 km/h (59 mph) empty with the 633 cc inline-four engine to 110 km/h (68 mph) with the 767 cc version. The car had good ventilation and defrosting systems.
A year after its debut, in 1956, a soft-top version was introduced, as well as a six-seater variant — the Fiat 600 Multipla. It was a precursor of current multi-purpose vehicles.
Retrospectively the water-cooled Fiat 600 is sometimes over-shadowed by the air-cooled Fiat 500, but the 600 was a remarkably fast seller in its time: the millionth 600 was produced in February 1961, less than six years after the car's launch. At the time when the millionth car was produced, the manufacturer reported it was producing the car at the then remarkable rate of 1,000 a day. In total approximately 2,500,000 Fiat 600s were produced. As of 2011 there are only 65 left in the UK that are road legal.
Fiat 600 derivatives
In Spain, the 600 model was made under the make of SEAT, from 1957 to 1973. Up to 797.319 SEAT 600 were made. The Spanish car maker exported them to Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Netherlands, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama, Angola, Cameroon, Congo, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Reunion island, Lebanon, Senegal, Somalia and Zaire. This car motorised Spain after the Spanish Civil War.
SEAT produced various derivatives of the original 600 model some of them with improvements and special fittings like the use of "suicide doors": the SEAT 600 D/E/L Especial version, the 'Descapotable' convertible and the 'Formicheta' commercial version etc.
The most interesting version produced between 1964 and 1967 by SEAT is though the SEAT 800, the sole 4-door derivative of the 600 model with longer wheelbase, developed in-house by SEAT and produced exclusively by the Spanish car maker without any equivalent model in Fiat's range.
Fiat 600/770 Neckar Jagstu
The Fiat 600 was also manufactured at Fiat Neckar in Germany between 1956 and 1967. Presented in a first time as Jagst 600, in 1960 with the release of Fiat 600D it became Jagst 770. The model was manufactured until the end of 1967, more than 172,000 copies.
In former Yugoslavia the model was very popular, and was produced under the name Zastava 750 (later 850), nicknamed "Fića" in Serbian, "Fićo" in Croatian and "Fičo" in Slovene. It was produced by the Zastava factory in Kragujevac, Serbia, from the early sixties until 1985. Zastava 850 had many improvements from the original model. The Fiat 850 is largely derived from the 600, but introduces a fully synchronized transaxle, front disc brakes, and an alternator. The Fiat 850 is thus a popular source of 'upgrade' parts for the 600, but these upgrades can be difficult or costly as few of the parts can simply be exchanged without modification. The 750 used a 25 hp (30 hp in the 750 SE) 767 cc engine, while the 850 received an 848 cc version providing 32 hp and a useful dollop of extra torque.
South American production
The 600 was built as the Fiat 600 R by Sevel in Argentina from 1960 to 1982, with assembly operations also taking place some time later in Uruguay and Chile. The 797 cc 36 hp (SAE) 600 R was replaced by the 32 hp (DIN) 843 cc (65.0x63.5mm) 600 S, featuring new bumpers with rubber overriders and a black plastic faux-grille to replace the previous chrome iteration. Top speed was up from 105 to 110 km/h (68 mph).
In Colombia, it was assembled in the actual motor plant of Mazda in Colombia, Compañía Colombiana Automotriz from 1979 to 1982 with Colombian 60% parts and 40% Serbian 750 parts. Colloquially it was called "topolino".
The Multipla (1956–1965)
The original Fiat Multipla and 600 Multipla were based on the Fiat 600's drivetrain, model 1100 coil and wishbone independent front suspension, and sat 6 people in a footprint just 50 centimetres (19.7 in) longer than the original Mini Cooper. The driver compartment was moved forward over the front axle, eliminating the boot in effect but giving the body a very minivan-like "one-box" look. Behind the front seat the vehicle could be arranged with a flat floor area or a choice of one or two bench seats.
Until the 1970s it was widely used as a taxi in many parts of Italy. A 633 cc right hand drive Multipla was tested by the British magazine The Motor in 1956 and was found to have a top speed of 57.1 mph (91.9 km/h) and could accelerate from 0-50 mph (80 km/h) in 43.0 seconds. A fuel consumption of 38.4 miles per imperial gallon (7.36 L/100 km; 32.0 mpg-US) was recorded. The test car cost £799 including taxes on the UK market.
In 1956 Pininfarina designed a remarkable open topped Multipla prototype called the "Marine" with a wooden slat wraparound bench in the rear. A Fiat 600 Multipla towing a caravan is used in the video clip of the Crowded House hit Weather with You from their 1991 album Woodface. The Multipla name was re-introduced in the late-1990s for the Fiat Multipla compact MPV.
In 1958 Fiat shipped a number of Fiat 600s to the Italian design house Ghia for conversion into the Jolly. Featuring wicker seats and the option of a fringed top to shield its occupants from the Mediterranean sun, these cars were originally made for use on large yachts of the wealthy (Aristotle Onassis owned one).
With a cost of nearly double that of a standard "600", they were made in a very limited production. It is believed that fewer than 100 exist today, each one being unique. 32 Jolly cars were used as taxis on the island of Catalina off the coast of Los Angeles in the USA in the years 1958-1962.