'You can look at her down your nose and she won't be offended,' a voice announces jovially as stylish young Italians drive by in unison in a 1957 Fiat 500 ad.

Introduced on 4 July that year, the Cinquecento was just under three metres long from bumper to bumper and barely 130cm wide. It was cleverly designed to give a relatively spacious cabin with petite proportions - the ideal in urban transport, especially in Italy's narrow alleyways.

Fiat invented a new typology with the original 500; the city car. The low price opened it up to the masses and by 1975 some 3.9 million cars had been sold, making it an emblem for a modern Italy in the process.

The 500 Vintage '57 salutes this spirit. Fiat's latest niche product is a limited edition of the 2007 reincarnation of the 500, an acclaimed reinterpretation that is still the core of the company's business. Just 3,500 of the Vintage '57 will be built - in the hope of appealing to collectors.

As the name suggests, this is an exercise in pure nostalgia. The Vintage is boldly retro, referencing details of the Nuova 500 with the 12 body colour palette options. Colours include pastel blue, now combined with white roof and spoiler and the tobacco - or Brown Terra di Siena - Frau leather upholstery.

Classic Fiat badges embellish the car on the outside and on the steering wheel, while the white dashboard fascia and 16" alloy white and chrome-plated rims are suggestive of the original tyres.

Visiting Centro Storico Fiat in Turin, where the car was unveiled in a dizzying display of pastel-coloured 1950's memorabilia, it is easy to forget the austerity of Italy's post-war years - before America's economic endorsement, before the world fell in love with all things Italian, and before the 500 came to signify 'made in Italy'.

The 1907 art nouveau building - originally an expansion of the original Fiat workshop (it became a museum in 1963) - exhibits a rich collection of automotive and industrial designs, branding and advertising. It offers not only a compelling journey through the history of the Turin marque, but also tells the story of Italy through design. Fiat took a chance in 1957 with Dante Giacosa's brilliant product and the climate was ripe for the 500. The exhibits here serve to remind us of how urgently today's world requires a similar foresight.

Cars like the 500 Vintage are great fun, yet Roberto Giolito, head of European design for the Fiat Group, believes the marque remains in the position to once again take up a bigger challenge. He says he is keen for the company to uphold the spirit of the Cinquecento with future models, not just as an exercise in styling, but to conceptually challenge the meaning of cars for the next stage in mobility. It will be interesting to see the outcome.

TAGS: TRANSPORT