Alfred Woolf, calm and convincing publicity purveyor in this country for Fiat, rang me the other day to remind me that I had not driven a 124ST. Remembering how impressed I had been with the vivacious 1,197-c.c. Fiat 124 saloon, a date was readily arranged for trying the quicker version, and an immaculate light grey example duly arrived at the office, delivered with Fiat’s usual nonchalance. Being busy (well, occupied) until late that day, I drove it home in the dark before discovering how to put on the facia lighting or rear-window de-mister (which latter the 124ST has as standard) and having to fumble to reduce the fine volume of heat which was pouring into the car. I made re-acquaintence with Fiat’s triple-stalk controls, the long l.h. one flashing or dipping the lamps after these have been switched on from the facia (but the ignition-key will turn them off ! ), the short l.h. one working the turn-indicators, the long r.h. one dealing with intermittent or continuous screen-wiping, although you have to use a rubber under-facia button if you require the screen-washer. Frequently I plunged myself into darkness, because the aforesaid lamps’ stalk moves up to dip the headlamps, which to me is unnatural. But the Siem four-lamp set gives a good driving light and is not nearly as bad on dip as the lamps on many foreign cars. (Can one still speak of foreign products, now that Britain is just part of the great European land mass?).
I was finding the driving scat of the Fiat moderately acceptable, if a bit too spongy in the cushion, its cloth-cum-leathercloth covering holding me firmly in place, but the squab adjusting too coarsely, after a rather awkward knob had been pulled out. Getting out of London in the evening rat-race, I thought how easy this unfamiliar Fiat was to handle. The gear-change, controlled by a long but rigid lever, is precise and pleasant. The all-disc dual-circuit servo brakes are almost too light. The acceleration is very impressive indeed, and if the engine emits rather excessive noise as the revs. go up, it nevertheless remains as smooth as a turbine.
As the traffic thinned out and I pressed on round the effective new Oxford ring-road for places NW, it occurred to me that this boxy Fiat saloon was getting along surprisingly quickly and making no real commotion in so doing. The engineers at Turin, I reflected, must be clever with push-rod power units. It was only when I inspected the car in daylight that I discovered that it was a 124 Special T, which means that it has an 80-b.h.p. twin-cam alloy-head engine of the kind used in those delectable five-speed 124 coupes, only detuned by ten fewer horses. As the saloon is some 2 cwt. lighter than the coupé, it is the more accelerative model, which may be why Fiat now offer the coupe in 1600 form. Certainly this twin-cam engine makes the 124ST a very quick family car, not to he confused with the 124S, which uses a push-rod 1.4-litre engine giving 70 b.h.p., against which the small 124 develops 60 b.h.p.
The coil-spring suspension has not been uprated for the 124ST and is a bit too supple, although the car is well-balanced through fast bends. On tighter turns there is an under-steer condition which tightens up the otherwise moderately light steering. The test-car was on Pirelli Cinturatos, which held on well, although both ends of the car would slide under provocation, on wet roads. In spite of its effective acceleration, an affinity for cruising at between 110 and 130 k.p.h., and a top pace of 100 m.p.h., under favourable conditions, this Fiat is a refined car rather than a rally job, and, although the engine is able to run safely between 6,400 and 6,900 r.p.m., it will also pull away smoothly in top gear from 1,800 r.p.m. Because the Veglia Borletti speedometer ceased to work, it was not possible to check fuel consumption, but this was in the region of 27 m.p.g.; no oil was required in approx. 650 miles.
The interior of the Fiat 124ST is well appointed, with a multitude of ventilatory permutations, the body is vented, but luggage has to be humped into the boot, in which an upright spare wheel occupies the n/s, the fuel tank the o/s, the latter still having a screw-on filler cap.
The forward-hinged self-propping and releasing bonnet lid lifted to reveal the Castrol-serviced engine—a very nice piece of engineering to have in your family car. It has a Weber carburetter (a Solex is an alternative) and calls for tappet adjustment every 6,000 miles, inspection of the camshaft-driving belts every 25,000 to 37,000 miles. The Exide Supreme Type 265 battery need never be overlooked; the dipstick is less obvious, but quite easy to use.
The 124ST has carpets, more interior stowage, a tachometer and those better seats and heated back window, compared to the other 124 models. It sells here for £1,249.37. While I was in possession of it I also drove the Ford Escort Mexico. Both cars are similar, in size, performance and price. They could well be labelled HIS and HERS, the Mexico more accelerative, rougher, but with tamer handling, an even nicer gear-change and perhaps more economical, the Fiat more fully equipped and refined. In the 124 Special T Fiat have another good one! -W. B.