The original Fiat Cinquecento (or Bambino) from 1957 was the Italian equivalent of the BMC Mini, which became the best-selling small car in Britain in the 1960s and early '70s. Both established cult followings that exist to this day, inspiring all-new cars that repackage their classic shapes into larger, more practical hatchback bodies.

Although the new Fiat 500 is the coolest thing on wheels in Europe right now, it's still a rare sight on the streets because the factory in Poland can't churn out enough to keep up with demand. Hamann Motorsport's sales manager, Uli Schwarz, explains that, while people are not really paying premiums, the three-month waiting list means that if you call a dealer and mention the word discount, he will laugh and put the phone down. So Hamann paid the full whack for its black demo car. Considering how fantastic this modified 500 looks, it was money well spent.

Ironically, not a lot has been done visually, apart from the four progressive-rate springs that drop ride height by 20mm in front and 30mm at the rear. Five-spoke HM Sportivo 7x17 alloys with 215/35 tires fill out the wheel wells. These rims come with either silver or matte black centers and a diamond-polished outer rim. While the more delicate silver finish suits any body color, the matte black centers really change the demeanor. The 5mm (or 15mm) spacer sets with the appropriate longer bolts can be used to further fine-tune track width and stance.

Witnessing at the results, it's hard to equate such a small, friendly looking car with tough, so let's say it now has a more purposeful look. Fiat's design center did a good job on the interior too, so Hamann only offers its alloy pedal set and mats at this time.

The Fiat 500 did not come with a sporty version at launch, although a turbocharged Abarth model is in the pipeline. The standard engines are aimed more at economy than performance and are rather weak, even for such a small car. Right now, 100 hp from 1.4 liters is the most powerful offering-no ball of fire. It's hard to extract much extra power from naturally aspirated engines, so tuners have focused attention on forced induction.

The turbocharged Abarth will have great tuning potential from the word go, but until it arrives, the only blown engine in the range is the 1.3-liter Multijet 16-valve turbodiesel. This has the potential for speed because its torque can be higher than the naturally aspirated petrol motors.

Hamann's ECU re-map boosts power from the stock 75 hp to 90 hp, with a spry 169 lb-ft of torque at 1750 rpm. That said, Hamann's car has the 1.4-liter petrol engine and, even if it only adds a couple of horses, the snappier response and deeper note from the freer-flowing catalytic converter and stainless steel rear silencer give the impression of being slightly faster.

Based on the Fiat Panda chassis, a showroom-fresh 500 is not in the same league as its principal rival, the MINI, on a twisty road, but the Hamann suspension and wheel upgrades make a huge difference to cornering ability. The little Fiat now sits square through medium and fast bends taken flat, the modest power output unable to mount a serious challenge to its newfound poise.

Hamann will soon offer an uprated brake system with 11-inch cross-drilled, vented discs matched to four-pot calipers in front and 9.5-inch vented discs and stock calipers at the rear. Right now, it's complete overkill, but big discs and calipers look good through the wheel spokes of any car.

The fully restored red Abarth 695 Richard Hamann recently acquired for his car collection is in fine fettle. It starts after a few seconds of juggling with the manual choke and hand throttle that underline the car's basic nature. The two-cylinder motor makes a characterful putt, putt noise, its unbalanced firing strokes shaking the car like a washing machine in spin cycle. That vibration isn't felt much on the move, however.

The car goes pretty well because of its low mass. You find yourself taking the ideal line within your lane because there's so much room to spare. The light, unassisted steering is perfect in feel and weight; you can almost think the little car around corners.

Place this ultimate tuned original Fiat 500 next to its newly minted descendant and you realize how tiny small cars were in that era. When you climb in, you're almost wearing it. The fact that the tiny Abarth has just 38 hp is almost irrelevant because it's so light.

Swish and refined by comparison, the new Fiat 500 is well designed and well made, with interior and exterior details that are a delight to the enthusiast's eye. It's also large enough to carry four adults in reasonable comfort and its hatchback and folding rear seats make it a practical only car for a young couple.

The new Fiat 500 is right at the start of its tuning curve and it remains to be seen how successful the many companies that have started to tune it will be. This is mainly because the Fiat is cheaper than the MINI and so its buyer profile is different. However, there's no question that Fiat will continue to sell as many of these cars as it can make for the foreseeable future, because as a fashion statement, the image and price of this future cult car are spot-on.

Hamann Fiat 500

Layout
Transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

Engine
1.4-liter inline four, dohc, 16-valve, Hamann sport exhaust

Transmission
Six-speed manual

Suspension
Hamann sport springs

Wheels and Tires
Hamann HM Sportivo, 7x17215/35

Performance
Peak Power: 100 hp @ 6000 rpm
Peak Torque: 96 lb-ft @ 4250
0-60 mph: 10.4 sec.
Top Speed: 113 mph

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