Model of the car: Fiat ESV 1500, 1972


The impetus for Fiat’s attempt to create the safest possible city car came from the US. In 1970, the National Highway Safety Bureau announced its Experimental Safety Vehicle (ESV) project, to stimulate ideas for substantially safer cars to be on sale by 1980. Many carmakers responded with prototypes for evaluation: hardly altruistic—they were seeking favorable influence in the world’s biggest car market.

1972 Fiat ESV 1500

The prominent black plastic “bumpers” were meant to be kind to pedestrians, while ESV occupants enjoyed a cabin fortified against impacts.

Fiat’s three-car contribution included this one, the world’s first safety car weighing 1,500lb (680kg). Built between October 1971 and March 1972, the ESV 1500 featured a massively strong inner skeleton, with separate lateral structure and floor incorporated into a hefty box-type body frame. Cradled within was the standard mechanical hardware from a Fiat 500. The body used the Fiat 126’s wheelbase and doors, and vaguely resembled the old Fiat 850. Its bizarre looks came from huge polyurethane cushion-type bumpers at either end with lights buried deep within them, protruding side bump strips in matching black plastic, and an obviously reinforced roof.

Fiat built 47 ESV prototypes. Thirteen of these were 1500s, and several were used in head-on crash test experiments, many at high speeds. However, with the fuel crisis panic of 1973, ESVs were sidelined, probably to Fiat’s relief. The ESV 1500 would have been a marketing nightmare: its hefty weight called for a bigger, thirstier engine, and a higher price.

“Should we ask ourselves if there is not a less onerous solution, one for instance linking the safe car to the safe road? Safety is based on a triangle whose three points are: man, the road, and the vehicle.”

Oscar Montabone, Head Of Fiat Research And Development, Speaking At The Third ESV Conference, Washington, Us, 1972

Specification: Model of the car Fiat ESV 1500

YEAR REVEALED: 1972
PLACE OF ORIGIN: Turin, Italy
HISTORICAL STATUS: prototype
ENGINE: two-cylinder, 36ci (594cc)
MAXIMUM POWER: 18bhp
LAYOUT: rear-mounted engine driving the rear wheels
BODYWORK: two-door, four-seater sedan
TOP SPEED: unknown
NUMBER BUILT: 13