Still new to this country and seen but rarely, the Fiat 124 has already acquired a reputation as a roomy family saloon which performs well above expectations considering the 1,200 c.c. engine capacity. This much we confirmed while testing the car last year, before it was elected “the car of the year” by an international panel of journalists, and with some very mild tuning work by John Aley, in Cambridge, we renewed experience with the car.
No special claims for increased power or performance were made, the conversion simply consisting of elementary work on the cylinder head, cleaning and reshaping the combustion chambers, and altering the inlet manifold in order to improve the engine’s efficiency. The cost of this work is £35.
If the unmodified car performs up to the level of an average 1 1/2-litre model, the tuned version is streets ahead in terms of acceleration and maximum speed. The standing-start time to 60 m.p.h., for instance, can be bettered by a Cortina GT or a Cooper S 1275, but by no other 4/5-seat saloon of similar engine capacity, and the same applies to the maximum speed figure which was not, in any case, improved by the conversion. In fact the tuning only takes off the odd second here and there, at most about three seconds from the 0-80 m.p.h. time, but it is still worth-while to the man who puts performance at the top of his list and considers the cost in relation to the car’s purchase price.
The engine is a 4-cylinder, 1,197 c.c. unit with cast-iron block and alloy eight-port head, equipped with a twin-choke Solex or Weber carburetter, developing 60 b.h.p. gross in standard form and a probable 60 b.h.p. net as tuned by Aley. As one would expect, the torque characteristic is not particularly good and the gears have to be used freely to get along quickly, though the conversion did help by giving a smoother flow of power in the middle speed range. One drawback is a pronounced flat-spot at low speed if the throttle is depressed suddenly. Unfortunately our test was speeded through as the car was needed urgently and the overall fuel consumption figure of 22 m.p.g. reflects a disproportionately high amount of motorway cruising, cross-country work and performance testing working to tight time schedules, and should not be taken as typical.
The Fiat 124 is a good car for high speed work, especially on good roads, being quiet and restful to drive, but we have reservations about it on less than perfect surfaces as the suspension feels over-sprung, in a manner peculiar to Fiat saloons, so that the car is affected by surface irregularities and needs a fair amount of concentration. The brake pedal, too, has a long and spongy action which allows it to reach the floor when the car is standing still, though this would lock the wheels if attempted while the car was going along. – M. L. C.