Rome forgets the fumes and spares car of its youth

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Owners of the tiny Fiat 500 breathed a sigh of relief in Italy this week as the idiosyncratic icon took the first step to exemption from anti-pollution laws that could have driven it out of its natural habitat, Rome's city centre.

Owners of the tiny Fiat 500 breathed a sigh of relief in Italy this week as the idiosyncratic icon took the first step to exemption from anti-pollution laws that could have driven it out of its natural habitat, Rome's city centre.

At 53mph, the car cannot compete with Ferraris and Lamborghinis but under a new law the sentimental favourite would be given a similar status and the right to roam.

Councils across Italy have introduced severe pollution controls that seemed to condemn the 500, the youngest one at least 29 years old, and other vehicles of its generation, to immobility, or a circumscribed life on country lanes.

But the car that conjures memories of the first mass motorisation of the Italian people has won cross-party support, and the Bill exempting it from air pollution rules is being sponsored by a politician from the post-fascist National Alliance and a colleague from the former Communist Left Democrats. Now all cars 25 years old or more, and under 1,000cc, are deemed of historic interest, and usual rules do not apply.

The car, designed by Dante Giacosa, started production in 1957 and was not an immediate success. But its affordable price and tiny dimensions soon caught on, providing motorised freedom to the generation of Italy's economic boom.

It gave independence to women and the young, and many Italians still fondly associate it with their first sexual experience. It ceased production in 1975 after more than three million had rolled out of Fiat factories.

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