Fiat hit on a bright idea to launch the new Fiat 128 Rally. They brought together twenty of the country’s motoring journalists and shipped them, and ten Fiat 128 Rally cars, to Torsby in Sweden to participate in some ice racing on one of the nearby lakes.
The entourage of intrepid ice racers met at Scunthorpe’s main Fiat dealers, the Brumby Service Garage Ltd., where studded tyres, provided by Michelin, were fitted. They then proceeded to Immingham for a 24-hour North Sea crossing to Gothenberg followed by a 160 mile drive to Karlstad.
The 60 to 70 miles drive from Karlstad to Torsby brought out some of the car’s better qualities. The weather was dark with thick fog patches, and temperatures well below freezing. However, in these very poor conditions, the car was most impressive. It held the road extremely well, for which Michelins must take a lot of the credit with their studded tyres, and we were able to maintain reasonably high speeds in absolute safety and never at any time becoming tired. It was noticeable that the pedals on the Fiat 128 seemed to be closer together than normal, and one would imagine that drivers with large feet might tend to operate more than one pedal at a time. However, this was a difficulty that was quickly overcome.
The ice racing commenced early in the morning on Lake Vassjon, just outside Torsby. A snowplough was used to clear a twisting, turning circuit of about 1 1/2 miles in length and, with the Fiat representatives looking somewhat pale and drawn, ten Fiat 128 Rally ears were let loose on the circuit in the hands of journalists, already taking on the aspect of tigers.
After a few laps of the circuit, Hakan Lindberg, factory Fiat rally driver, was on hand to take each one around and demonstrate how it should be done. This was a most interesting insight into the technique of driving on ice. At speeds reaching 120 k.p.h. he explained how you should direct the car by use of the throttle and leave the brakes well alone … “They tend to slow you down”.
In the afternoon journalists were given the opportunity of putting Lindberg’s education to the test on the Klaralven River which was one of the Special stages on the Swedish Rally of a week previously. Every one of the cars, without exception, found its way into the snow banks and most of the journalists had to suffer the ignominy of being dug out or pushed out which, however, was not to stop them finding their way back again.
The little Fiats seemed to enjoy the exercise as much as the drivers. With engines revving on the cam most of the day on a considerable number of off-circuit exercises, the only casualties were two cars, one with a broken quarter-light, another with a dented rear wing.
A hard day of driving and pushing cars out of snow banks was followed by a Sauna bath and a dip in the lake.
The long drive hack to Gothenberg, interrupted only for petrol, was most enjoyable. The car travelled quite happily at 80 m.p.h., and on one downhill stretch, the speedometer showed 100 m.p.h., the rev. counter going into red at 7,000 r.p.m. The 1,290-c.c. engine, giving 67 h.p. (DIN rating), never missed a beat the whole time. Although the acceleration was not shattering it was certainly satisfactory. With long legs, no cramp was experienced and with the seat pushed back as far as possible, the ride was quite comfortable. Wind noise and the high-revving engine were somewhat distracting after several hours of driving, a window winder came off in the driver’s hands, indicator, and dip and window wiper controls all on the steering column took some getting used to, the tendency being to use the one not required.
By the time we arrived back in London the mileage had reached some 1,020 miles and the overall fuel consumption was 26-27 m.p.g. which, considering the hammering the car had endured, was fair enough. The price of the car at £1,120 makes it a tempting buy. -I. R. T.