‘I’m not a car fanatic, but I’ve always liked the Fiat 500,’ says Ron Arad, as he swipes through a polychromatic portfolio of his Fiat-themed projects old and new. The acclaimed designer has assembled an eclectic back catalogue over the course of his long career, starting with post-industrial furniture and segueing seamlessly into objects, exhibition design, graphics, architecture and installations. Arad’s association with Fiat is a very personal one, starting with the post-war Topolino driven by his father through to the 1960s-vintage Cinquecento that he used for many years and which now lives in semi-retirement in his studio. ‘It’s a car that creates memories – no one is indifferent to it,’ he explains. The Nuova 500, first produced in 1957, was a miracle of packaging design, ‘the smallest vehicle you can design that still qualifies as a car’, according to Arad.
Fiat channelled that emotive pull into an all-new model, and the rebooted Fiat 500 became an instant icon when it first surfaced in 2007. The new car captured the zeitgeist, embodying the compact character of the original without sacrificing any of its zest, style or ability. Arad created an installation for the launch and, subsequently, his own customised version of the new 500. His car bore a graphical depiction of designer Dante Giacosa’s diminutive original, pivoting off the rear wheel of the modern car in a simple graphical trick.
The radically revised scale is a bit of a shock, but Arad’s decade-long obsession with reshaping, squashing, sculpting and re-presenting the Giacosa original has turned the simple silhouette into a functional icon. When Fiat asked him to turn his one-off into a limited edition, he jumped at the chance of creating an automotive series. ‘I did a piece of street art without coming in the middle of the night with a spray can,’ Arad suggests. Inside there’s a scattering of unique materials and details, from the added chrome to the splashes of ivory on the black Poltrona Frau leather that contrast with the rich, dark metallic paintwork. The Arad edition comes with the top-of-the-range 7in digital instrument panel, panoramic glass roof and 16in alloy wheels.
The designer’s recent 500-themed reinventions culminated in the Pressed Flowers, six loving prepared original 500s that have been reduced to gallery-friendly slivers of splayed and wrinkled metal, rubber and canvas. At his retrospective ‘In Reverse,’ he exhibited Centro Stile’s original polished wood styling model alongside his own reinterpretation, Roddy Giacosa, a Cinquecento rendered in yards and yards of polished steel tube. ‘It took six people six months to make,’ he says, pointing out that it perfectly bridges the gap between craft and the machine, a theme that runs throughout his portfolio.
The Ron Arad Edition Fiat 500 is a city car spliced with the playful promise of pop art, a statement to be seen and a sculpture you can drive. Arad’s obsession with the original form has given the new car the perfect back story yet not compromised its own individual style.