THERE was a time in motoring history when the six-cylinder engine was more popular than the four. For example, in 1928 about 65% of cars available in this country had four-cylinder power units but a year later the situation had changed drastically, over 50% of the different types listed being sixes, only about 25% being fours. However, as rubber mountings, stiffer crankcases and more scientific control of the burning gases became available to designers the “four ” returned to popularity, while in any case, calculated on total numbers of cars produced, this has always been the most prolific cylinder arrangement. Today the six-cylinder car is comparatively rare and, although by the halfway mark I seem to be testing more cars this year for Motor Sport than ever before, I had only driven four with six-cylinders until, in order to travel relaxed to Oulton Park for the always-enjoyable V.S.C.C. Race Meeting, I borrowed a Fiat 2100.
Fiat introduced the new 1800 and 2100 six-cylinder models last Motor Show time; they were technically notable for unusual rear suspension (the rigid back axle being sprung on a combination of coil and laminated springs, the latter serving as torque arms) as well as six-cylinder engines. The body is Farina-styled, but with not too prominent tail-fins, and very complete equipment is a feature of a distinctly brisk car selling, even in England, at a decidedly modest price.
To the question—is a six-cylinder engine worth while?, the answer is that the Fiat 2100 runs so effortlessly that it accomplishes long journeys with a minimum of driver-fatigue and that in prevailing road conditions the smooth acceleration in top gear from, say, 40 m.p.h., the habitual speed of the English traffic stream, to 80 m.p.h. is particularly well contrived.
Let us introduce this brilliant new Italian car by getting into the driver’s seat and taking stock. The front seat is of bench type, but with separate squabs, each of which can be adjusted through a great many angles down to near-horizontal (for sleeping) by pulling an unobtrusive knob at the side of the cushion. These are deeply upholstered seats in cloth, with leather-bound leading edges, which provide excellent support and are supremely comfortable, with plenty of support for the shoulders. Three people could be accommodated but the big transmission tunnel renders the car a normal five-seater.
The bonnet is short, there being no external suggestion that this is a six-cylinder car, and the driver enjoys splendid visibility, with the proviso that the steering wheel is set too high for all but a very tall person to see over it. The view of the wings curving into the bonnet isn’t very elegant but the long side ridge of the wings provides a useful “aiming line” and the swept-back screen pillars are commendably narrow.
Looking Round the 2100
It is when examining the details of the Fiat 2100 that you come to appreciate what a comprehensively-equipped and sensibly-planned car it is and become increasingly incredulous that it sells here for as little as £1,399. Such items as rear-window de-misting, reversing lamp, temperature control for the carburetter air intake, cold air venting into the car, under-bonnet, cubby-hole and luggage-boot lamps, anti-dazzle mirror, adequate “pulls” and grab-handles for the passengers, etc., are provided, and the electrical wiring and engineering detail-work are to a notably high standard.
The layout of the facia and minor controls is alone a source of considerable satisfaction to the keen motorist. The main hooded panel before the driver consists of a long horizontal strip-type speedometer reading to 100 m.p.h. in steps of 10 m.p.h. Below this strip are square recorders for oil pressure (reading 0, 55, 100 lb./sq. in., normal pressure varying with engine speed up to about 70 lb.), water temperature, dynamo, full-beam and rear-window de-misting warnings (lettered “Ventil,” “Dynamo,” “Projec.”), and petrol gauge, these instruments flanking an accurate self-winding (not electric) clock with seconds hand. Above the oil gauge is a warning light for low oil pressure, a similar rather faint light above the fuel gauge telling that only 1.1 to 1.8 of a gallon remains in the tank—in an age of minimisation of instruments such warning lights as well as gauges indicate conscientiousness in Turin! Above the thermometer is the trip mileage rending with decimal, matched by the total mileage recorder over the dynamo-warning window. Two small metal tumbler switches on the left of this panel control the heater fan and rear-window de-misting and these are matched on the right side by an identical switch for putting the lamps in circuit and for rheostat control of panel lighting. It is amusing to find English Miles-Hour” lettering on the speedometer, but Italian for the switches “Vent Anterior” and Luci Esterne.” The indicator arrows for the flashers are moulded into the lower beading of the speedometer panel and up under its hood are two small indicator lamps, again lettered in Italian, one to tell the driver the sidelamps are alight, the other flashing a warning all the time the handbrake is applied— which latter is surely going to extremes! However, yet another instance of the splendid attention to details found in the Fiat 2100 is provided here, for with the sidelamps on the indicator arrows are dimmed to prevent the driver being dazzled after dark.
Under the facia, which has good crash-padding along its lower edge, is the box-like heater unit with neat external pipes, its two quadrant levers having settings for “Chuso,” “Interno,” “Cristallo,” “Folddo” and “Caldo”—such names, and the generous details I am now describing, should enhance the enjoyment an enthusiast derives from using this Fiat!
Bark to the facia; at each end are neat quadrant levers which admit cold air to the front compartment, although to the floor, not onto the face as on the Citroen. The ignition key is inserted on the extreme right. It is turned to the right to start the engine and has to be turned to the left to leave the sidelights on after it has been withdrawn. In this way the lights eannot be tampered with, but as there is also the lamps switch on the dash the system becomes a trifle cumbersome, and unless the owner is conscious of the aforesaid warning lamp reminding that the lamps are on, it is likely he will leave the car unintentionally unlit. On the other hand the arrangement ensures that the car will not be garaged with its lights on but a simpler arrangement would be to control the circuit only from the facia switch. A good point is that horn and wipers are operative with the ignition off.
From the right of the steering column project two stalk-levers, excellently placed and pleasant to operate. The short upper one controls the direction flashers, which flash not only from the lamps but also from a point midway along the sideof the front wings, a good safety factor. The only criticism is that they self-cancel rather too eagerly. The longer, lower stalk controls the lights, and here again you need to know your Fiat to obtain the full benefits. The lever moves up to select dipped headlamps from sidelamps, up again for full headlamps beam. Pulling it inwards flashes a dipped beam warning when it is either in the side or full headlamps positions, but when the facia switch is in the lamps-off position it is possible to flash a low-beam warning from any position of the stalk lever—a good feature, nor is control of the lighting so complicated as these words suggest. A reversing lamp comes into operation when the gear lever is in reverse and the lamps-lever is in low-beam position, this apparently being a sensible way of obviating that cardinal motoring sin of reversing with the headlamps dazzling oncoming traffic.
On the left of the column (on r.h.d. cars) extends the gear-lever, which is of exactly the right length, rigid, and which works extremely well. It is spring-loaded to the lower (or higher-gear) position and has to be pulled out beyond top gear to engage reverse. The steering wheel, of large diameter, has a single spoke carrying the name “FIAT” (matching a winged “2100” motif on the centre of the facia,) its rim has finger holds and serrations, and it carries a full horn-ring. The pedals are well placed, slightly offset to the off side; they are of pendant type, with treadle accelerator. There is ample room for resting the left foot.
Reverting again to the facia, it incorporates a useful lined cubbyhole with lockable lid, this having a neat press-down catch used also for the central, drawer-type ash-tray. When the lid is dropped the interior is automatically lit-another excellent item of detail! On a bracket below is a hand-throttle knob. Another bracket convenient to the driver’s right hand carries the screen-wipers’ switch, which has to be depressed to park the blades, and the screen-washers’ knob. A cigar-lighter, which glows ominously, is situated centrally below the facia. Rubber mats supplement the carpet in front and there are kick-plates alongside the floor.
Even now the description of all the 2100’s amenities is not complete. There are twin anti-crash vizors, which can be swivelled sideways, the left-hand one incorporating a mirror for the girl friend. The central rear-view mirror is effective, is of anti-dazzle type, and incorporates an interior lamp. This lamp comes on automatically when the front doors are opened, as do the two neat rear interior lamps, which likewise have their own switches, if either back door is opened.
The pull-out handbrake is set vulnerably rather too far over to the left below the facia on r.h.d. cars but is angled towards the driver’s left hand. It has a visible, coarse ratchet which can be overcome by twisting the brake as it is pulled in or pushed out, otherwise the action is fierce and hard on the mountings.
The backs of the front-seat squabs have netted parcels-recesses, neat lidded ash-trays and rope “pulls.” For the further convenience of the passengers there are rigid horizontal grips on each side of the roof at the back and on the near side of the roof in front. There is a very big shelf behind the back seat, obstructed only by the very welcome de-mister fan, while the Fiat isn’t “skimped ‘” like so many modern cars and consequently one finds excellent if tight-lipped pockets in the front doors. The backseat has a folding centre armrest and there are well-placed arm-rests-cum-door pulls on all the doors
The. interior decor is tastefully carried out, the interior of the doors being two-tone, leather-to-cloth at the back, the exterior colour appearing in addition on the inside of the front doors. The window winders work nicely and have rotating finger grips–they fully open the front windows with just under 4 1/2, turns, the rear ones with four turns. Quarter-windows are provided in the back doors as well as at the front, so ventilation is well looked after in the Fiat 2100. Rain-gutters are not provided, while the catches are rather stiff and do not lock. The doors shut very “expensively,” not with the ” double-clonk ” of a quality vintage car but very quietly and positively, this being an especially endearing aspect of the six-cylinder Fiat and typical of the car’s luxurious demeanour. The interior handles move forward to open them and both push-button front door external buttons have locks.
The front-hinged bonnet panel, which carries sound-damping on its underside, is opened by pulling a toggle within the cubby-hole. This works with precision and the bonnet goes overcentre to remain open, held by a metal strap, shutting easily, like the doors. The luggage-boot lid opens automatically when its lockable catch is pressed. The luggage space is cavernous, the spare wheel being held vertically in a well on the off side by a quick-release strap, with jack and tools behind it. As has been said, the boot is illuminated automatically at night. The petrol filler consists of a half-turn, unsecured cap under a locked flap in the near-side back wing.
Accessible under the bonnet are the Marelli distributor and Marelli 12-volt battery, the fillers, easy-to-replace dipstick, plugs, hydraulic-fluid reservoirs, twin two-tone horns and plastic screenwashers’ bag, while the engine is a fine sight with its polished, substantial-looking valve cover, six-branch exhaust manifold and two three-branch alloy inlet manifolds for the Weber 34 DASI twinchoke carburetter, which is hidden under a huge air cleaner and air temperature control which can be varied summer and winter. Engineers will appreciate the neat h.t. wiring conduit, well-contrived general wiring and high quality of the mechanical linkages. It is significant that eight fuses are incorporated in the electrical system, four of which protect the full and dipped headlamp filaments. The headlamps are slightly hooded and the test car had Marehal 672/682 and 670/680 auxiliary lamps. While walking round this Fiat the generous back-window area, strong wrap-round bumpers and big wheel knave-plates will he noticed, also the ample ground clearance and mild fan-tail on the exhaust pipe
Driving the Six-Cylinder Fiat
The value of the 95-b.h.p. six-cylinder 0.h.v. high-compression, oversquare Tipo 114.000 engine is seen when making a long journey in the Fiat. This power unit comes within the exclusive category of those with inclined o.h. valves push-rod actuated from a camshaft in the base chamber. Although the car is called the “2100” its actual capacity is very near 2-litres (2,054 c.c.), and the performance is excellent for a roomy saloon of such size. Top speed is just over 93 m.p.h., but of more interest is the easy acceleration, of the excellence of 0-50 m.p.h. in under 11 seconds, to 60 in fractionally over 16 seconds, and the s.s. 1/4-mile in 20 seconds exactly. The pick-up in the 4.3-to-1 top gear is also highly effective for overtaking; 40 to 60 m.p.h. taking under 11 seconds, for instance.
The Fiat 2100 runs very quietly, road noise being more intrusive than engine or wind noise. The body is devoid of all hut very trivial rattles and thus a great sense of luxury is imparted as the car cruises effortlessly at anything up to 80 m.p.h., or even faster. The speedometer is marked with indirect-gear maxima of 28, 46 and 64 m.p.h. but, in fact, 30, 52 and 70 m.p.h., respectively, does not distress the engine, which will run up to 6,000 r.p.m., although it peaks at 5,000 r.p.m. At the other extreme the Fiat will pull away from 15 m.p.h. in top, smoothly carburetted by Weber. The speedometer is not easy to read, and showed 7 m.p.h. when at rest, while reflection renders the other instruments not entirely clear.
Because of its silent functioning and vivid acceleration it is possible to cover a lot of ground in a short time in the Fiat 2100.
The gear-change works well, except for occasionally catching up slightly going into second, but my dislike of steering-column changes increased when, manoeuvring outside my hotel in Chester, I was suddenly left only with the two lower gears, the lever very firmly jammed. This necessitated leaving the lamps on all night, as the car couldn’t be moved into a garage, and in the morning the battery was flat. However J. Blake & Company, B.M.C. agents in Chester, dealt with the situation very early in the day, cheerfully, and for the modest charge of 5s., and I was soon on my way. Lack of grease was the trouble, and the clutch pedal linkage sounded as if it, too, had been starved of grease.
Otherwise this is a quick finger-light gear-change. with synchromesh on all four ratios. The handling of the Fiat 2100 is not up to the standard of the performance available. The car does not roll unduly but the suspension is soggy, some surfaces cause either a floating or up-and-down motion, and too much work is called for with the indecisive, low-geared steering, although to its credit this transmits no kick-back, little vibration and has powerful castor-return action. But it is the sort of steering with which you can pretend to be Fangio trying hard without much effect on the car! It is geared 3 1/4 turns lock-to-lock plus some free play, and gives the impression of being much lower geared than it is. The Pirelli Extraflex tyres draw too much attention to one’s efforts on corners, even at low speed, and I would like to try the car on BS3 tyres. Against these comments must be set the observation that as speed increased the oversteer tended to lessen and the car felt happier as the front anti-roll bar and rear Panhard rod took effect, while the steering is light except for parking or taking a tight corner against the castor-action; and the turning circle (32 1/2 feet) is good. Generally, too, the car is comfortable and much of the pleasure of driving it derives front the closeness of the gear ratios, the three upper ones being 8.15, 6.03 and 4.30 to 1.
The 10-in. brakes, with two leading shoes at the front, have a lining area of over 194-sq. in. and are aided by a Baldwin booster for the front shoes. Very powerful retardation results front extremely light pedal pressures—another ” luxury ” aspect—but there was a tendency for the brakes to pull the car slightly but suddenly to the off side under light applications. Otherwise these are extremely good brakes.
To the commendable silence of the engine can be set quiet gears and an axle inaudible even on the overrun.
The fuel consumption under general running was 23 m.p.g. and there is an excellent absolute range of approximately 303 miles, although the gauge read zero after 270 miles. Slower driving, with much local running and considerable starting and stopping, raised the m.p.g. figure to 24. In 775 miles no oil was required. The engine started readily ou the automatic choke, did not run on, but was inclined to “pink ” when pulling away in top gear on good quality but not 100-octane fuel.
In conclusion, the Fiat 2100 is one of today’s really outstanding motor cars and one which is well endowed with practical features that give it a great deal of “character.” At the tax-paid price of £1,399 7s. 6d. in this country it will appeal to the large number of persons who are compelled to use a family saloon but require a maximum speed of 90 m.p.h., good acceleration, and who can appreciate individuality in a car. The Fiat 2100 has the added merit of being very fully equipped and beautifully put together, and service and a six months’ supply of spares are available for it at the Fiat depot at Wembley.
I found this six-cylinder Fiat one of the most interesting ears I have driven this year and, especially with somewhat modified suspension and higher-geared steering, it would move to near the top of any list of vehicles that I would like to own.—W. B.
Fiat Register Trial (June 26th)
1st: Malcolm (Fiat)
2nd: Rawlings (Talbot)
3rd: Tarring (Humber)
This event counted towards the Inter-Register Contest, in which, to date, the Sunbeam S.T.D. Register leads 11 points from the Fiat Register (10) and Alvis 12/50 Register (9). The next round is the Humber Register trial on August 7th.
Curiouser and Curiouser
Some time ago Stirling Moss was fined for changing lanes in the Mersey Tunnel and we have been in trouble ourselves for this. Imagine our surprise, then, when we were waved on in the Tunnel the other day by more than one policeman, who positively encouraged us to not only go from fast to slow lane and back again but to drive as fast as possible. “Curiouser and curiouser” says Alice behind the Steering Wheel.