In the late sixties, Italian wages were still one of the lowest in Western Europe, even though working conditions were much better than they had been ten years previously. However, the difference between the living standards enjoyed by workers in Italy and those in the United States had grown; every worker in Italy had their eye on car ownership.
The early seventies saw much industrial action, but it wasn’t necessarily provoked by poverty, but the spread of ideological turmoil from the streets to the factories .
At the end of January, Confindustria (Confederation of Italian businesses) and the trade unions signed a settlement. It was decided changes would be made to the “scala mobile” (Italian for escalator). The scala mobile is a mechanism where wages are adjusted in line with inflation.
In 1975 the production of the Fiat 500, the “cinquecento” was stopped. The car was an extremely popular small city car with a rear-engine and four-seats. It was made from 1957 to 1975.
This car was just ubiquitous in Italy during my childhood. Many of the Italians I knew had one and I remember in particular a couple of rather tall relatives who owned this car. Their heads grazed the roof of the car and their knees almost wrapped around the steering wheel. Not that this mattered, despite only producing 13 horsepower, these little cars were bumped up dirt-track mountain tracks and whizzed around the city regardless.
In the seventies back seat passengers never wore seat-belts, since cars weren’t fitted with any. However, neither did the passengers in the front; often just reaching for the seat-belt was taken as a slur of the driver’s prowess, so it was often left unused. A passenger could be in for an alarming experience, without trying to reinforce any national stereotypes, I don’t think it’s incidental that so many Italians are passionate about motor-racing. I remember one hair-raising journey, where we were driven by a relative who was in such a hurry, that he was still dressing whilst driving, knees at the steering wheel, putting on his tie!
Doing a little research, I think I remember the 500 L or Lusso version of the car. Lusso being the Italian for luxury. I’m not sure that was necessarily the right adjective as the little cars were rather basic inside. There was a hard bench back seat, two doors (even as a child you had to clamber into the back) and no fuel gauge, just a fuel light came on to warn you that you were low on petrol.
 Hot Autumn of 1969 on wikipedia (in Italian)
 History of the Federation of Italian Metalworkers (The 70s) (in Italian)
 The Fiat 500 on wikipedia (in Italian)