THE little Fiat 126 is an appropriate car to road-test at the present time and makes an interesting contrast to the Aston Martin V8 reported on elsewhere in this issue. Fiat have had long experience of making petrol-conserving baby-cars. Before the war the famous 570 c.c. side-valve Fiat 500 or Topolino made a great many friends here, racing drivers included, on account of its good handling, four-speed gearbox, hydraulic brakes and other niceties. After the war came the 630 c.c. water-cooled rear-engined Fiat 600, a compact and economical little saloon which was also available as the commodious but still compact Multipla mini-bus. But the bestloved baby born in Turin has been the subsequent Fiat 500, which was death to scooter-sales. It had a 499½ c.c. engine, also in the tail, but of the air-cooled vertical-twin variety. It, too, was available in more commodious form, the willing little power unit being buried under the floor of the Giardiniera estate-car version.
The Fiat 126 is the newest edition of the well-liked 500. Indeed, whereas several other makers of little cars have been busy with new designs, Fiat have been content just to modernise and mildly revise the old 500. The result is a low-priced (£715) car of new, boxy outward appearance but possessing all the desirable qualities of the earlier Fiat 500. Small cars have to be accepted these days and the Fiat 126 makes economy motoring amusing as well as practical. In spite of its 73½ x 70 mm. (594 c.c.) 23 b.h.p. engine, a cruising speed of 60 m.p.h., with a bit in hand and the speedometer reading 70 at times, is easily achieved. In spite of a wheelbase of only just over six feet and an overall length of fractionally more than ten feet, which banishes most of the parking nightmares, the little car rides extraordinarily well, without pitching, and has sufficiently generous seats to be comfortable for long runs. It is durably finished in matt-black within and if the front luggage space is rather flat, most people will stow their bulky baggage on the back kids’ seat. A well before the gear lever holds a bottle nicely—for example, a pint milk bottle!
Admittedly the engine is noisy, the more so when the heater is in operation, as this necessitates opening a flap which lets in sound as well as warm air, if you find the control lever after groping about behind you with the left hand. To make up for its strident cacophony, the 126 offers a very nice gear change, light steering (three turns, lock-to-lock), and the heater gives more than sufficient heat. The fold-back roof has gone but well-arranged door handles, wind-up windows, a simple facia equipped with a Veglia 80 m.p.h. speedometer also calibrated in k.p.h. and incorporating a fuel-gauge, mileometer and warning lights, a rear parcels’ shelf, opening quarter-windows in the doors, dual sun-visors, outside and internal rear-view mirrors, door pockets and the Fiat triple-stalk minor controls, are provided. Screen washing is still done by a rubber press-button in the facia, from where also the lamps are switched on, and the two little levers down on the floor, for starter and choke, are retained, the ignition key being on the steering column. An ash-tray, roof “grabs” and interior light are supplied, and large doors make for easy entry and exit.
Anyone who likes character in little cars will find the gentle “putter-putter” of the Fiat’s engine as it idles pleasing. Acceleration is sufficient, cornering can be quite brisk, and the spongy brakes are adequate when used in earnest. Gale-force winds provoke over-steer but then the 126 is very light – 580 kg. or 1,278 lb. It is intended for four people and 88 lb. of luggage and is permitted to tow a 400 kg. (882 lb.) load. As the engine is in the tail, where it is easily seen by opening the louvred back panel, traction is reassuring over slippery surfaces. Oil replenishment is a slow process and the dipstick is a bit tedious to replace.
The Fiat 126 really is a most jolly little car, which feels as dependable as the old 500’s good reputation should ensure. The 12 in. Tyres (Pirelli on the test-car) should wear well and as the smallest Fiat will presumably be bought for fuel economy, it was pleasing to get as much as 46.4 m.p.g. when driving it about as hard as it would go. Pottering about increased consumption to 45.6 m.p.g. Probably the average driver would get nearer 50 m.p.g. but as petrol is no longer supplied to tins, I have not been able to experiment. Oil is consumed at the rate of approximately 1,100 m.p.p. The fastdriving thirst of the Fiat 126-.is on par with that of the pre-war Fiat 500. Although it has a c.r. of only 7.5 to 1, the fan-cooled engine likes four-star fuel. The tank, filled via a large screw-can filler on the n/s of the body, holds 44 gallons. Starting after several days in the open without the engine being run is reasonably quick. There is a loud horn and the rectangular SIEM headlamps give a very good beam. Altogether this is about the best solution to almost enjoying the fuel crisis that I can suggest, and it is certainly one of the least-expensive.—W.B.
Fast and Economical
DRIVEN by members of the Metropolitan Police MC, during their vacation, a Fiat 126 last year was run for seven days and nights at the IoM TT and Manx GP circuit, covering 6,514 miles at an average speed of 40.59 m.p.h., or, inclusive of stops, 38.77 m.p.h. The consumption of three-star fuel worked out at a surprising 51.34 m.p.g. and oil consumption was 2,600 m..p.p. The tyres lost less than 2½ mm. each and the only work required was once cleaning plugs and points. Drivers of 17 stone and 6 ft. 6 in. said they were quite comfortable in the tiny car for their 24-hour stints. So the Fiat 126 seems to be living up to the sturdy and thrifty traditions of its predecessor, the 500L.