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Whether or not they know of it, many people drive four-wheeled acronyms these days. From MINI to BMW to the Nissan LEAF, many vehicle names comprise the first letters of a series of words. So, what do the letters FIAT stand for, and what’s the history behind the name and company?

The early history of Fiat

The Fiat automaker logo pictured at the 2014 Paris Motor Show
The Fiat automaker logo | Daniel Karmann/picture alliance via Getty Images

Founded in Turin, Italy, in 1899, the Società Anonima Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino turned out a total of 24 cars during its first two years of operation. By 1916, the carmaking company boasted the largest manufacturing facility in the country, explains Rewind and Capture.

According to Dictionary, the last four words of the original company moniker roughly translate to “Italian automobile factory of Turin,” and that’s what the acronym Fiat stands for today. When not in use as a car brand name, the word “fiat” means something akin to “let it be done” or “authoritative decree.”

The Fiat car company has come a long way since the early days when annual assembly line output was just a few cars. Today, Fiat is the 11th-largest carmaker in the world, delivering a range of affordable compact cars, including the sporty Fiat 500X, with a base price of less than $28k.

Since 2014, the company has been part of the Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Group, which includes Alfa Romeo, Dodge, Jeep, and Maserati. Ferrari was part of the FCA Group until 2016, when it became an independent company. More recently, FCA merged with the French PSA group in 2021, creating Stellantis.

The very first Fiat vehicle: the 3 1/2 HP

The first 24 cars manufactured and marketed by Fiat were the 3 ½ HP models. The two-cylinder, three-speed convertibles could attain speeds of up to 22 mph and got around 35 mpg of gas. Water-cooled, the rear-mounted engine was able to produce a little more than 4 horsepower at 800 rpm, explains OSV Ltd.

As FCA Heritage points out, Fiat 3 ½ HP cars looked very much like 19th-century horse-drawn carriages, with quilted leather seats, narrow wooden wheels, and a double-sprung leaf suspension system. The newfangled Fiat automobile was able to accommodate four passengers, and the controls were hand-operated.

At least one of the original Fiat 3 ½ HP cars sits in the Fiat Historical Centre Car Museum at Via Chiabrera 20-24a 10126 in Turin, Italy. Another is housed in The UK National Motor Museum Trust in Hampshire, England.

The Fiat Historical Centre in Italy is home to other iconic Fiat models, too, including examples of the Topolino 500 and 600, an 8V Dino sports car, an 1100 Fiat Cabriolet, and a massive 1924 Mefistofele.

Other car companies and model names that are acronyms

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Fiat isn’t the only carmaker to use initials instead of a spelled-out name. Take, for instance, the Subaru Brat. Built between 1978 and 1994, the youth-oriented mini truck came with jump seats in the rear and a name that stood for “Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter.”

Another Subaru that wears an acronym on its name badge is the Subaru BRZ. Only slightly braggadocios and more than a bit incomprehensible, the three letters are said to stand for the six words “Boxer Engine Rear-Wheel Drive Zenith.”

The word “smart” in the Smart car name doesn’t refer to intelligence. In this case, “smart” is an acronym for “Swatch Mercedes Art,” which makes sense since the zippy little automotive failure was the brainchild of a collaboration between Mercedes Benz and the Swatch watch company.

In case you’re wondering, BMW stands for Bavarian Motor Works, and in the case of Nissan, the Leaf model (often stylized as LEAF) stands for “Leading Environmentally-friendly Affordable Family” car, says Driving magazine.