The Big Car Database

Fiat Panda First Generation (141) 1980–2003

Fiat Panda
2012 Fiat Panda III 1.2.JPG
Third generation Fiat Panda
Overview
Manufacturer Fiat
Production 1980–present
Body and chassis
Class City car (A)
Chronology
Predecessor Fiat 126 (first generation)
Fiat Seicento (second generation)

The Fiat Panda is a city car from the Italian automobile manufacturer Fiat, now in its third generation.

The first generation Fiat Panda was introduced in 1980, and was produced until 1986, when it underwent several changes From 1986 until 2003, it was produced with only a few changes

The second generation, launched in 2003, was the European Car of the Year in 2004. The third generation debuted at Frankfurt Motor Show in September 2011 and assembled in Italy at Pomigliano d'Arco.

In over 31 years Fiat has sold over 6.5 million Pandas globally, with more than 4.5 million being the first series Panda.

First generation (1980–2003)

First generation (141)
Fiat Panda first iteration in Umbria.jpg
The original Fiat Panda 45
Overview
Production 1980–2003 (4,500,000 units)
Assembly Mirafiori plant, Turin, Italy
Designer Giorgetto Giugiaro at Italdesign
Body and chassis
Body style 3-door hatchback
3-door cabriolet
Layout Front-engine, front-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive
Platform Type Zero platform (Tipo Zero)
Related SEAT Panda
SEAT Marbella
SEAT Trans
Powertrain
Engine 652 cc I2 (petrol)
769 cc I4 (petrol)
903 cc I4 (petrol)
965 cc I4 (petrol)
999 cc I4 (petrol)
1,301 cc I4 (diesel)
19 bhp (14 kW) (electric)
23.8 bhp (18 kW) (electric)
Dimensions
Wheelbase 2,160 mm (85.0 in)
Length 3,380 mm (133.1 in)
Width 1,460 mm (57.5 in)
Height 1,445 mm (56.9 in)

Introduced in 1980, the Panda (Tipo 141) was designed as a cheap, easy to use and maintain, no-frills utility vehicle, positioned in Fiat's range between the 126 and 127. It can be seen as a then-modern approach to the same niche which the Citroën 2CV and Renault 4 were designed to serve. The first Panda was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro of Italdesign. In an interview to Turinese newspaper La Stampa published in February 1980, Giugiaro likened the Panda to a pair of jeans, because of its practicality and simplicity:

«La Panda (...) è come un paio di jeans, che sono poi un vestire semplice, pratico, senza fronzoli. (...) Ho cercato di portare in questa auto lo spìrito delle costruzioni militari, in particolare degli elicotteri, ossia di mezzi leggeri, razionali, nati per assolvere nel modo migliore a certi scopi».

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.

— Giorgetto Giugiaro, in La Stampa, Year 114 - Number 26 - Saturday 2 February 1980

History

The car was introduced to the press in December 1979; it went on sale in Italy in late February, ahead of its European première at the March 1980 Geneva Motor Show. However, it was not launched onto the right-hand drive UK market until May 1981.

 
Rear of pre facelift Fiat Panda

Mechanically the first Pandas borrowed heavily from the Fiat parts bin. Engines and transmissions came from the Fiat 127 and, in certain territories, the air-cooled 652 cc two-cylinder powerplant from the Fiat 126. The plan for a mechanically simple car was also evident in the rear suspension, which used a solid axle suspended on leaf springs. Later versions of the car added various mechanical improvements but this spirit of robust simplicity was adhered to throughout the life of the model.

Many design features reflect the Panda's utilitarian practicality. Examples include a seven-position adjustable rear seat which could be folded flat to make an improvised bed, or folded into a V shape to support awkward loads, or easily and quickly removed altogether to increase the overall load space. The first Pandas also featured removable, washable seat covers, door trims and dashboard cover, and all the glass panels were flat making them cheap to produce, easy to replace and interchangeable between left and right door. Much like its earlier French counterparts the Panda could be specified with a two piece roll forward canvas roof.

At launch two models were available: the Panda 30, powered by a longitudinally-mounted air cooled 652 cc straight-two-cylinder engine derived from the 126, or the Panda 45, with a transversely-mounted water cooled 903 cc (FIAT 100 series) four-cylinder from the 127. As a consequence of the different drivetrain layout the 45 had the radiator grille to the right side, the 30 to the left. In September 1982 Fiat added another engine to the line-up: the Panda 34 used an 843 cc water-cooled unit, derived from that in the 850. It was originally reserved for export to France, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Fiat launched the Panda 45 Super at the Paris Motor Show later in 1982, with previous specification models continuing as the "Comfort" trim. The Super offered numerous improvements, most significant being the availability of a five-speed gearbox as well as improved trim. There were minor styling changes to the Super including the introduction of Fiat's new black plastic "corporate" grille with five diagonal silver bars. The earlier grille design (metal with slots on the left for ventilation) continued on the Comfort models until the next major revision of the line-up. A 30 Super was added to the range in February 1983, offering the Super trim combined with the smaller engine.

The Panda 4x4 was launched in June 1983, it was powered by a 965 cc engine with 48 bhp (36 kW) derived from that in the Autobianchi A112. Known simply as the Panda 4x4, this model was the first small, transverse-engined production car to have a 4WD system. The system itself was manually selectable, with an ultra-low first gear. Under normal (on-road) conditions starting was from second, with the fifth gear having the same ratio as fourth in the normal Panda. Austrian company Steyr-Puch supplied the entire drivetrain (clutch, gearbox, power take-off, three-piece propshaft, rear live axle including differential and brakes) to the plant at Termini Imerese where it was fitted to the reinforced bodyshell.

Minor revisions in November 1984 saw the range renamed "L", "CL", and "S". Specifications and detailing were modified across the range including the adoption of the Fiat corporate grille across all versions. Mechanically, however, the cars remained largely unchanged.

First facelift

 
a pre-facelift Panda Super
 
a post-facelift Panda

In January 1986, the Panda received a substantial overhaul and a series of significant mechanical improvements. Most of these changes resulted in the majority of parts being changed and redesigned, making many of the pre-facelift and post-facelift Panda parts incompatible between models. The 652 cc air-cooled 2-cyl engine was replaced by a 769 cc (34 bhp) water-cooled 4-cyl unit, and the 903/965cc by a 999cc (45 bhp, 50 bhp (37 kW) in the 4x4) unit. Both new engines were from Fiat's new FIRE family of 4-cylinder water-cooled powerplants with a single overhead camshaft. The rear suspension was also upgraded, the rigid axle with leaf springs being replaced by a more modern dependent suspension system known as the "Omega axle", consisting of a non-straight rigid axle with a central mounting and coil springs (first seen on the Lancia Y10, which used the same platform). The 4x4 retained the leaf-sprung live axle set-up, presumably to avoid having to redesign the entire 4WD system. Improvements were also made to the interior and the structure. The body was strengthened and fully galvanised on later models, virtually eliminating the earlier car's strong tendency to rust. The rear panel design was also revamped to include flared arches that mirrored those of the front wings, replacing the un-sculpted style seen on earlier models, and the doors received a slight redesign with the earlier car's quarter light windows being removed and replaced by a full width roll-down window. The bottom seam of the facelifted model's doors unfortunately retained much the earlier car's susceptibility to rust. In ascending order of specification and cost, the revised range was as follows: 750L, 750CL, 750S, 1000CL, 1000S, 4x4.

 
Fiat Panda Van

April 1986 saw the introduction of a 1,301 cc diesel engine with 37 bhp (a detuned 127/Uno unit). Fitted as standard with a five-speed gearbox it was only available in the basic "L" trim. A van variant of the Panda was also introduced, with both petrol and diesel engines. The van was basically a standard Panda without rear seats. The rear windows were replaced with plastic blanking panels and a small (always black) steel extension with side hinged doors was fitted instead of the usual hatchback tailgate. Neither the van nor the diesel were available in right hand drive markets.

In 1987, a new entry-level model badged "Panda Young" was added to the range. This was essentially an L spec car with a 769 cc OHV engine based on the old 903 cc push-rod FIAT 100 engine and producing the same 34 bhp (25 kW) as the more sophisticated 769 cc FIRE unit. The Panda 4x4 Sisley limited edition was also released; this was based on the standard 4x4, but came with metallic paint, inclinometer, white painted wheels, roof rack, headlamp washers, bonnet scoop, "Sisley" badging and trim. Although originally limited to the production of only 500, in 1989 the Sisley model became a permanent model due to its popularity.

Panda Elettra

 
Panda Elettra in Santiago de Chile, 2010

The two-seat Panda Elettra, introduced in 1990, added an all-electric power-train to the line. Batteries replaced the rear seats and occupied some of the engine bay where the 19 bhp (14 kW) DC motor was also fitted, driving through the normal clutch and gearbox. This increased the weight of the car significantly, to 1,150 kg (2,535 lb) (450 kg (992 lb) more than the standard model), necessitating stiffer suspension and uprated brakes. 1992 revisions to the Elettra saw the power increased to 23.8 bhp (17.7 kW) and the weight reduced, though the Elettra remained significantly heavier than the standard Panda. This, and the steep price (25.600.000 lire in Italy, three times the price of the Panda 750 Young) made it a commercial failure. The Elettra was discontinued in 1998.

Second facelift

 
Second facelift of the original Panda
 
Second facelift of the original Panda

In 1991, a facelift was introduced. This entailed a new front grille with a smaller five-bar corporate badge, plus revisions to trim and specifications across the range. New arrivals included the 'Selecta', which had a continuously variable transmission with an electromagnetic clutch. This advanced transmission was available either with the normal 999 cc FIRE engine (revised with single-point fuel injection and a catalytic converter) or an all new 1108 cc FIRE unit, fitted with electronic fuel injection and a three-way catalytic converter and producing 51 bhp (38 kW).

The new CLX trim also featured a five-speed gearbox as standard. The range now comprised the 750 Young (769 cc ohv), 750 and 750 CLX (both 769 cc FIRE sohc), 900 Dance (903 cc ohv), 1000 Shopping, CLX, CL Selecta and S (all with 999 cc sohc, available with or without SPI and catalytic converter depending on the market), 1100 CL Selecta (1108 cc sohc with SPI and cat) and the 4x4 Trekking (999 cc, again available with and without a cat depending on the market). The Elettra concluded the range.

In 1992, the 1108 cc engine, complete with SPI and catalytic converter, replaced the 999 cc unit in the 4x4 (with 50 bhp) and also in 1992 an 899 cc (with injection and catalyst) became available, in the 'Cafe' special edition. This was a reduced capacity 903 cc unit, designed to meet tax requirements in some markets.

End of production

From 1996 onwards, the Panda was gradually phased out across Europe, due to tightening emissions and safety legislation. The car remained in production in Italy until May 2003. Its total production run of 23 years makes the Panda one of Europe's longest-lived small cars.

Most original models have long since succumbed to rust, but the second facelift variant remains a relatively common sight on the roads of continental Europe, and many are still in daily use in the UK where the model ceased being available new in 1996. While the original Panda never gained the kind of cult following that similar cars such as the 2CV and VW Beetle enjoy, it nonetheless engendered strong feelings of attachment among many owners for its robustness, affordability, simplicity and flexibility.[citation needed]

With the end of production, the 4x4 version of the Panda came to be seen as a valuable used car: it was cheap, sturdy and useful in rural areas, while most of the other 4x4 vehicles on the market were expensive SUVs. Also Fiat were not planning to build a 4x4 version of the replacement Nuova Panda.

SEAT Panda / Marbella

 
SEAT Marbella
 
SEAT Trans

Spanish car maker SEAT also produced a version of the Panda between 1980 and 1986, based on the first Panda model. It was called SEAT Panda. SEAT also made a tiny, tall delivery version of the Panda called the SEAT Trans.

Up to 1983, SEAT made rebadged versions of Fiat cars through a licence agreement between the two firms. Thus, there existed a Spanish version of the Panda. When Pope John Paul II visited Spain in 1982, he rode in a specially built SEAT Panda.

After Fiat sold their share in SEAT and the licence agreement ended, the whole Fiat-based line of SEAT cars were quickly given minor facelifts.[citation needed] The SEAT Panda had its bonnet, bumpers and rear tailgate redesigned. From 1986, when it received a second facelift, it was known as the SEAT Marbella until the end of production in 1998. Emelba also produced a roofless version called the Pandita, which was popular as a rental car in resort areas. The SEAT Trans also received a major facelift and was renamed SEAT Terra.

As Fiat and SEAT's licensing agreement had expired in 1986 the Marbella never received the major mechanical upgrades of the facelifted Fiat Panda, instead continuing with the old pushrod Fiat-based engines, quarter light doors, un-galvanised frame and leaf-sprung suspension as for the original model. It was popular in Spain throughout its production life, but was less popular on export markets (where the Fiat version was firm favourite) and by 1996, exports had mostly finished.

Reception and awards

The first generation Panda met with great success across Europe, polling 2nd in the 1981 European Car of the Year awards in its first full year of production (pipped to first place by the Ford Escort Mark III) and remaining on sale in some regions until May 2003.

In 1981 Giugiaro received the Italian Compasso d'Oro ADI industrial design award for the Panda. A less positive reaction to the design came from German magazine Der Spiegel, which in 1980 contrasted Giugiaro defining the Panda as "the most enchanting work of his life", and chief designer Felice Cornacchia describing himself as "proud overall of the car's architecture" to Peter Glodschey, road tester of mass-market Bild newspaper, who likened the car to "a shoe box". In several key markets the Panda's styling would continue to attract mixed reactions as the Uno followed in 1983 and the aggressively boxy look became the house style for Fiats throughout the 1980s.

 

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