With its simple design and thoughtful construction, the Fiat Panda was actually a legend when it was launched in 1980.

But there are more factors that played a role in the successful career of the small Italian car.

A square-shaped car, according to the philosophy of efficient simplicity: it simply had never been seen before.

Does the form follow the function or is it the other way around?

Or do form and function go hand in hand and has the little Italian become such a success?

Before we can answer these questions, let's get back to the basics.

The Panda's bloodline goes back to 1936, when Fiat presents the 500 Topolino: a compact model with two doors, separate fenders, a small tailgate and the engine in the front.

Simplicity trumps;

affordable and therefore accessible to everyone.

At a time when only one in two hundred Italians own a car, you can buy a Topolino, a so-called 'mouse', for about 10,000 lira (after inflation correction about 11,500 euros).

The starting shot to make the people mobile has been given, after which the Topolino will last for almost twenty years.

In 1957, Fiat unveiled its successor with a car that even surpassed the Panda in prestige and historical importance: the Nuova 500. In other words, 'the five hundred little', the cute egg, that even non-car connoisseurs immediately identify.

Only the Beetle, the Mini, the 2CV and maybe the Porsche 911 do that.

The Cinquecento is becoming the symbol of urban Italy, but the rest of the world is also very fond of the unique, round design of Dante Giacosa - who was also closely involved in the Topolino.

The dimensions of the Fiat Panda in a factory document

The dimensions of the Fiat Panda in a factory document

Photo: Autoweek

Square and more conventional, but still with the engine in the back

Nearly two decades and four million Cinquecentos later, the Fiat 126 (launched in 1972, three years before the 500's retirement) has the thankless task of getting any close to its illustrious predecessor.

In any case, the design is completely different.

Square and more conventional, although Fiat sticks to the engine in the back.

And what probably no one expected, does happen: Fiat sells almost 800,000 more of it than the Nuova 500. This is mainly due to the unprecedented popularity in Poland, where the 'Polski Fiat' rolls off the production line until 2000.

In Italy the plug goes out as early as 1980.

There, the 126 and the slightly larger 127 (in production until 1983) have to make way for the Panda.

A versatile, modular interior is an important part of the highly innovative Panda concept at the time.

More than ever, Fiat is committed to practicality for the lowest possible price.

The newcomer cannot be more expensive to produce than the 126. "Do more with less", is the mantra that haunted the minds of Giorgetto Giugiaro and Aldo Mantovani in the summer of 1976.

The chief designer and technical man of the then still young design house Italdesign locked themselves up in a house in Sardinia for two weeks to work on project Zero.

The story goes that, while sitting / lying on their

chaises longues

by the pool, the idea for the hammock interior originated.

“My idea was to make a minimalist car.

Spartan, also in production method. ”

Designer Giorgetto Guigiaro

Giugiaro says of this period: "At Fiat we had to deal with ten or twenty different interlocutors who looked at us suspiciously. They were especially suspicious of me, an external designer, after generations of in-house designed models such as the 600, 500, 850 and 126. My idea was to make a minimalist car. Spartan, also in production mode, but sympathetic. So sympathetic that the Renault 4 and the Dyane should leave the field. So reduced to the essentials that Umberto Agnelli (then vice president at Fiat, ed.), Who played the referee, exclaimed: but give that car at least an extra two centimeters of glass. And that happened. "

Even for the windshield, only flat glass should be used

One of Fiat's prerequisites for saving costs and weight is that only flat glass should be used, even for the windscreen.

More a pleasure than a burden for Giugiaro;

his characteristic, sleek drawing style fits in seamlessly with this.

That the Panda will get a straightforward appearance is clear from the kick-off.

"I designed it like a refrigerator, like any household appliance," said the lead designer.

Nevertheless, the then 38-year-old Giugiaro manages to make more of it than a refrigerator on wheels.

Proportionally, the 3.38 meter long Panda is right on all sides, with a nice split of engine compartment, doors and stern.

The black or gray painted underside of the side panels (no, it is not plastic) is in line with the bumpers.

Characteristic of the Panda, just like the asymmetrical grille.

The details add the right dose of whimsy.

The longer you look, the more you see: the subtle shoulder line through notches in the sheet metal, the small air grilles under the windshield, the single windshield wiper, the 'channel' above the rear side windows, the narrow black edges along the roof (as a cover for the welding seam connecting the roof and side panel), the small round flashing lights on the front fenders.

"The dashboard is little more than an upholstered gutter with a sliding ashtray."

Minimalism reigns supreme in the interior

The Panda's interior is just as minimalist as the exterior.

So simple, it takes a long time to think about it.

Fiat is wise enough to also leave the design of this to Giugiaro, so that the interior and exterior form one coherent whole and not as two separate worlds of two different design agencies.

Inside, the theme 'Doing more with less' is expressed in optima forma.

The instrumentation consists of no more than a speed and fuel gauge, supplemented with the most necessary warning lights.

The adjacent black plastic 'bin' is reserved for a pair of pressure switches and the ventilation and heating control slides.

Furthermore, the dashboard is little more than an upholstered gutter with a sliding ashtray.

Giugiaro borrowed the idea of ​​such an elongated storage box from the Citroën 2CV.

Talk about pragmatic simplicity.

The doors are also fitted with a piece of fabric to decorate the injected metal inside.

The biggest attraction of the Panda interior is the furniture.

With their simple tubular frame, wafer-thin upholstery and minimal padding, the chairs are little more than glorified hammocks.

Tilt them forward and you come to a rear seat that can be adjusted in seven ways for the most flexible possible seating, lying or loading space.

With its flat floor, generous headroom and multifunctional sofa bed, the Panda is the epitome of practicality.

And it looks nice too.

Pure and simple: the interior of the Panda.

Pure and simple: the interior of the Panda.

Photo: Autoweek

The price in 1980 is 3.97 million lire

If the Panda is officially presented to the public, the previously communicated starting price turns out not to be feasible.

Entry-level model 30 costs on the home market not 2.80 but 3.97 million lire.

Converted slightly more than 2,000 euros in 1980 and, after adjusting for inflation, more than 15,000 euros now.

Although the Panda is more expensive than its foreign competitors, 70,000 orders are recorded in the first two months.

To keep costs down, Fiat dives into the storage bins of the 126, 127 and 850 for the technology of the Panda. The basic engine for the Panda 30 is the 652 cc air-cooled twin-cylinder from the Fiat 126. The Panda 45 uses the water-cooled 903 cc -four-cylinder of the 127 and for export in 1982 the old 843 cc four-cylinder of the Fiat 850 (34 hp) is dusted.

The front suspension consists of MacPherson struts and the rear wheels are connected by a live axle suspended from leaf springs.

Simple, cheap and efficient, just like the rest of the Panda.

In Spain, the Fiat Panda is also built under license as SEAT Panda, which we have known as the Marbella since 1986.

Millions of Pandas have been sold over the years.

In the Netherlands, 1986 was the absolute top year with 10,539 units.

The current generation of the Panda is still for sale, but less than six hundred were sold in the Netherlands last year.

The success of the original will likely never be matched again.

Read more about the history of the Fiat Panda in this article from AutoWeek, which also contains a driving impression with the original model.

Interested in a used Fiat Panda?

More than two thousand are for sale on Gaspedaal.nl.

Click here for the offer.

Like a biscuit tin: the rectangular shape of the Panda.

Like a biscuit tin: the rectangular shape of the Panda.