The Fiat New 1,100 Provides Excellent Performance, Spaciousness, Quality and Economy
On the Continent, where motorists are discerning, the Tipo 103 Fiat New 1,100 has an excellent reputation and a French contemporary awarded it high praise for all-round excellence. After using one of these little cars during a strenuous Whitsun week-end we approve strongly of this Italian representative of the small family saloon.
The Fiat is spacious, well-equipped and possesses better-than-average acceleration and speed, while it is notably economical. The 1,089 c.c. push-rod o.h.v. engine has a crisp exhaust-note and a willingness to match. It propels the car at an indicated speed of over 70 m.p.h. for mile upon mile without any apparent exertion but naturally calls for reasonable use of the lower gears in traffic and to promote acceleration. If the revs. have been kept up considerable hills can be taken in top gear, but otherwise the useful third gear must be employed; the engine tends to snatch at below about 30 m.p.h. in top speed, and prefers to run at over 40 m.p.h. in this ratio.
The gear-change is of the steering-column type, the slender lever protruding on the left of the column. It is one of the best of its kind, light, smooth and quick to use. It is spring-loaded towards top and third, and the knob has to be pulled out before reverse, which is beyond top, can be engaged. The clutch is light and reasonably smooth to engage.
The steering and suspension of this Fiat are interesting, inasmuch as the suspension, helical spring i.f.s. and ½-elliptics at the back, is soft and the steering low-geared. Road-shocks are admirably absorbed, at the expense of some up-and-down motion and roll on corners, and a tendency to sway over bad surfaces, magnified because of the action of the back-axle. The steering, light normally, heavier towards full lock, asks three turns lock-to-lock. This combination of supple suspension and low-geared steering would be expected to spoil the handling qualities of the car for fast drivers but, in fact, the Fiat corners nicely, oversteer never developing into a vicious roll-oversteer, and as it is exceedingly difficult to promote tail-slides even on wet roads the steering does not seem particularly low-geared. The thin-rimmed, single-spoke wheel is set well away from the instrument panel, so that an excellent semi-Farina or Salvadori driving position can be adopted, while there is eager castor-action and only a trace of column judder or return-motion. Lost movement was confined to about 1 in. and the car can be “placed” confidently in “tight places,” while the turning circle is useful, although the steering, as such, is not especially “precision,” and lacks “feel.” Towards full-lock a “clonk” is heard and some “give” felt, possibly the stops coming into action, but rather disconcerting. These qualities, then, add up to pleasant handling and it is customary to throw the Fiat at corners for the sheer fun of negotiating them fast, the 5.20 by 14 Pirelli whitewall “Stelvio” tyres scarcely protesting at all.
The Fiat-Baldwin hydraulic brakes are sufficiently powerful and light to apply, but have rather an “all or nothing” effect in emergencies; they can be applied progressively but more skill than usual is then called for and if the Fiat 1,100 could be improved it is in this department; the brakes are silent, fade free in ordinary use and function “all-square.”
The engine was completely forgotten during the test, for it needed no oil or water in a total of 1,009 miles, started easily given some choke and showed no sign of losing its tune, nor does it “pink” or run-on.
Engine temperature can be controlled by a blind brought into use to the required degree by pulling out a chain, the blind being rendered inoperative by pulling a knob above this chain, which then flies back into its tube with a vicious action, so that it is as well to keep your fingers clear. Under varied English climatic conditions we did not find it necessary to use the blind.
Maximum speedometer speeds on the lower gears are 25, 45 and 62 m.p.h., respectively. Any speed up to the indicated maximum of 75 m.p.h. seemed a happy cruising speed. So far as economy is concerned, over six gallons rather better than 37 m.p.g. was recorded — and during most of this mileage we were in a distinct hurry! — while the overall consumption was rather better than 39 m.p.g. — excellent indeed.
For a small car the Fiat offers ample personnel and baggage accommodation. Both seats are of bench type, so that six people can be carried if necessary and there is good luggage space, the spare wheel being mounted at the top of the boot on the off side. The boot lid is propped automatically after being fully raised, and its handle locks. The car’s seats are covered in a pleasantly-patterned cloth, but do not possess centre arm-rests. The four doors are wide for easy entry and egress, but those at the front are hinged at the rear, whereas we prefer trailing doors. The body is free from major rattles; there was a slight squeak from the steering column. There is Securit safety-glass all-round.
Anti-draught screens are fitted at the back of the front-door windows, but there are no half-windows, while the back-door windows do not wind down fully. The door handles and interior appointments are of good quality, the window-winders rather low-geared.
The two instrument dials are before the driver, and hooded. They comprise an 80 m.p.h. speedometer with total mileometer but no trip and an identical-sized dial comprising the fuel gauge with suitably pessimistic warning light and warning lights for lack of oil pressure and dynamo-charge and to remind the owner that the side-lamps are “on.” The lamps are switched on by a tiny metallic tumbler switch and a long lever extending from the right of the steering column then selects headlamps, dipped or full-beam. A shorter lever above this lamps-lever operates the self-cancelling direction “flashers,” for which there is a warning light, not troublesome at night, between the two dials. Switches matching the lamps-on-off switch control heater, instrument lighting (decently subdued) and dual wide-arc screen-wipers, the latter self-cancelling but noisy. Three large pull-out knobs deal with starter, choke and a mysterious function not apparent, a similar knob serving to bring in cool air, while a rather flimsy trigger-lever by the passenger on the extreme left, releases the lightweight bonnet panel (which has an effective safety-catch). There is, rather oddly, no normal cubby hole, the dash (which is painted to match the interior of the car and with plated embellishments is rather “showy”) merely possessing a rather garish “Fiat 1,100” motif before the passenger, while a fuse-box lives nakedly beneath, but both front doors have long pockets and there is a lidless cubby-hole, sensibly inclined, for the driver, and parcels’ shelf behind the back seat. The back doors have arm-rests; “pulls” depend from the roof, folding up when not held, and besides two of the usual roof-lamps, each with its own switch in the rear of the roof, the substantial rear-view mirror is illuminated, when the doors are opened if the switch is so set.
The seats are comfortable, although the driver lacks the lateral support afforded by a bucket-seat, and adjustment easy. First impression is of the dash being too far from the driver, but soon you become accustomed to this, and visibility is assisted by slender pillars to the large curved screen, both front “wings” being visible when sitting upright. There is a degree or noise and resonance transmitted to the interior of the car, but little wind-noise.
The horn has a penetrating note (the button in the wheel centre carries the word “Fiat”) there is an ash-tray on the dash-sill, but none for the rear-seat occupants. The small clutch and brake pedals are rather high-set; the accelerator is of lever-type.
The propeller-shaft tunnel protrudes into the front compartment and to a lesser extent at the back; the hand-brake lever is short and, being set on the passenger’s side of this tunnel, is distinctly inaccessible — which could be embarrassing as well as inconvenient with girl-friends of short acquaintance sitting beside one. This brake holds well; operating on the transmission, a pleasingly individualistic feature, it permits the car to rock slightly when at anchor.
At night the Carello lamps give an excellent beam but cut off rather sharply when dipped.
The ignition key is detachable and the rather “tinny” doors have pull-out handles, the driver’s lockable with a separate key, which also locks the luggage boot, in which, however, the key stuck. The fuel filler also locks. There is a large rear window, twin screen visors are provided, and, like the boot lid, the bonnet-panel is self-propping when raised.
Under the bonnet the rubber-covered battery, oil and water fillers, big air-cleaner, From oil-filter, dip-stick and brake fluid reservoir are extremely accessible; the plugs and Marelli coil rather less so.
We drove the Fiat 1,100 fast along Norfolk’s excellent main roads, we crawled in the holiday traffic, we took it down by-ways and over those shocking approaches which seem inseparable from caravan sites, and it adapted itself admirably to these varied conditions. Nicely upholstered (the ladies, in particular, liked the soft shade, of green and fawn check of the seats), better appointed than is usual amongst Continental small cars, pleasant to drive, a distinctly willing performer, and able to go a long way on little petrol (the tank, too, providing a commendably big range); the Fiat 1,100 is not only a thoroughly practical car, but one which feels likely to be dependable and to retain its tune over a big mileage. Although it has “square-rigged” lines, and a “tin-apron” at the front, it attracts much favourable comment because of its compact shape and unfamiliar appearance to English eyes. Rather costly in this country, this Fiat New 1,100 is a car for the discerning, and is available in faster TV form.
I rate it as one of the road-test cars I hated having to return. — W. B.
The Tipo 103 Fiat New1,100 4-Door Saloon
Engine: Four cylinders, 68 by 75 mm. (1,089 c.c.). Push-rod o.h.v.; 6.7 to 1 compression ratio; 36 b.h.p. at 4,400 r.p.m.
Gear ratios: First, 16.59 to 1; second, 10.23 to 1; third, 6.75 to 1; top, 4.3 to 1.
Tyres: 5.20-14 Pirelli Stelvio on bolt-on steel disc wheels.
Weight: 16 cwt., without occupants but ready for the road with approximately one gallon of fuel.
Steering ratio: Three turns, lock-to-lock.
Fuel capacity: 8.8 gallons. Range approximately 335 miles.
Wheelbase: 7 ft. 8 ½ in.
Track: Front, 4 ft. 7/8 in.; rear, 3 ft. 11 ¾ in.
Dimensions: 12 ft. 4 7/8 in. by 4 ft. 9 ½ in. by 4 ft. 9 in. (high).
Price (in this country): £563 10s. (£799 8s. 2d. inclusive of p.t.).
Concessionaires: Fiat (England) Ltd., Water Road, Wembley, Middlesex.