Shortcomings as a top model, but not bad value
It had been a long time since I had driven a Fiat, apart from my 126 runabout, the previous one having been a 128 31′ sampled in 1976. As a long-time admirer of the immense Fiat Motor Company based in Turin I was anxious to rectify this omission and British Public Relations Manager Richard Seth-Smith was equally willing to let me try Fiat’s present top-model, the 132 GLS.
Back in 1969 I had driven the previous top-Fiat, the 2.8-litre vee-six Tipo 130, in the Gressony hills in swelteringly hot Italy. In due time, 1972 in fact, a road-test Fiat 130 was tried in England, an impressive if expensive Pininfarina coupe, perhaps a little underpowered but with more of this commodity than the car I had motored up and down those Italian foothills tour years before. Now the Tipo 130 is no more and the Fiat 132.GLS which replaces it is a different kind of car, a compact sporting saloon rather than the sort of superior top-model Turin should surely make, albeit a very wellequipped car with many individualities, or should I say peculiarities, of its own.
This 132 has a twin-cam four-cylinder 112 (DIN) b.h.p. engine with, surprisingly, a longer-stroke than bore, 84 x 90 mm. (1,995 c.c.) and its camshafts driven by cogged belt. It is quiet mechanically, giving no hint of its valve-gear type; which is nothing new since Jaguar discovered how to make hushed twin-cam power units many years ago. This Fiat 132 engine is coupled to a five-speed gearbox and there is coilspring suspension all round, a live axle at the back being located by four radius arms. The result is a lively yet notably docile car, the engine running and pulling away in fifth gear from 1,500 r.p.m., or an indicated 38 m.p.h., and accelerating responsively, with some unpleasant, hesitatory carburation flat-spots, to its safe limit of 5,750 to 6,000 r.p.m. You change gear with a stubby lever having a rather unpleasantly large, tapering, moulded upper-end you cannot term it a knob this gear lever being spring-loaded to the centre of the gate, more heavily against the upper gear locations. The change is somewhat notchy; reverse is to the right, opposite and down from the fifth gear. clutch is very light.
There is rubbery ZF power-steering with a poor lock but nice castor-return action, which is smooth but not exactly precise and which, asking three turns from one full lock to the other nevertheless, at times felt too low-geared. The wheel has a thick rubbery rim but can be adjusted for height. The central hand brake lever has to be absolutely fully released, its ratchet knob in, before the brake-on warning light ceases to wink.
The seats are of generous size and comfortable, upholstery being in the now-current velour. The driver’s seat-squab has both quick and micro-adjustment, from a rather stiff acting knob hidden down by the base of the scat cushion, this being no particular improvement, in my opinion, over a sensibly-arranged conventional side-knob, indeed rather the reverse, as having made a coarse squab adjustment by lifting the knob, you have to bring the squab forward by hand. There is the expected Fiat triple-stalk cluster round the steeringcolumn, direction-winkers control on the left. The interior of this Fiat is of neat mouldings, with compact door-handles and pulls, and the doors shut with a satisfying clunk, unlike my Rover 3500 doors, but the off-side rear door stuck very badly. The exterior door handles are neatly recessed.
The windows in the front doors only are electrically operated, another current trend, met also on the Renault 20 T’S, which perhaps indicates how standardisation is creeping into car design. They are slow in action. The horn, applied by depressing the broad steering-wheel spoke, and the Fiat Motorola radio function with the ignition off, but not the windows or wipers. The radio-speakers are in the front doors, another current trend. There is not much interior stowage, although the facia has an upwardscurved lip which retains pencils and similar small objects, there is a rather remote small nonlockable, drop-cubby before the front passenger, and pockets in the backs of the front-seat squabs, also a rather useless roof pocket. The driver is confronted by a single-glass panel containing the clear but flamboyantly coloured 120 m.p.h. quadrant-type speedometer (with k.p.h. readings and decimal trip mileometer) and tachometer, on its left, with smaller dials for oil-pressure (normal reading 55 lb./sq. in.), fuel contents, and water temperature (normally showing just under 190°) rather untidily set to the right, with, as it were, the small clock with second hand, on a lower level. The window-lift buttons are down on the console, above the gear lever, with the three transverse heater levers above, together with a switch for the noisy two-speed heater tan. The facia incorporates the usual adjustable ventilator ducts and a confusing two-position tumbler lightswitch, with the matching hazard-warning switch below it. Under the facia but above the heater controls are the ash-tray, lighter, and rear-window demisting switch.
The Fiat 132 GLS, which is modestly described on its flanks as just a Fiat 132-2000, gets along in a sporting fashion, with some understeer and slightly over-servoed but light disc/drum braking. Indeed, it corners very fast, once set-up following initial roll, but not very tidily, as there is a tendency to lateral sway. The tenacious road grip is no doubt partly at the door of the excellent 185/65 HR14 Pirelli P6 low profile tyres with which this Fiat is equipped, the first UK imported car to have them. The performance must be judged against other quick 2-litre saloons 0 to 60 m.p.h. in 10.0 seconds, a standing-start -1/4-mile in just over 18 sec., and a top speed of around 105 m.p.h., with almost as much speed obtainable in the fourth gear, as in this you can get the revs so much higher. While enjoying the car, I thought it tiring to drive fast and not the sort of top-most model you might expect from the great Fiat organisation, although since the days of the Fiat Forty they have not really gone for sheer luxury, until the 130. Driven fairly quickly, the 132 gave 27.6 m.p.g. of 4-star petrol and an absolute range of 320 Miles on a tankful. The fuel filler has the typical Fiat threaded cap, beneath a flap which denied mere finger-nail power to get it to lift. There is a rather useless external driver’s mirror, and when the car is stationary the speedometer and tachometer read respectively, 5 m.p.h.. and 500 r.p.m.
The appearance is typically Fiat, with a rather old-fashioned boxy boot and, to My mind, ugly “four-spoke” wheels. There are moulded rubber side lenders to guard the body. The four halogen headlamp’s give a good beam, the wiper blades are correctly positioned for a r.h.d. car and have two-speed and intermittent action, andthe bonnet-release is correctly on the off-side, the self-propping bonnet-lid being front-hinged. There is no reason why a modern twin-cam engine should use much oil and the Fiat 132’s did not require any topping-up with engine lubricant atter 600 miles. I took it fast from Wales to the VSCC Silverstone Meeting in April at least was going to a race meeting with the traditional valve-gear, enhanced on the Fiat by the clever Lampredi ‘shim-adjustment of the directly prodded tappets! -and for this kind of motoring it is quite a nice car. But not in any way a replacement, I feel, for the one-time old Tipo 130. Small luxury touches are provided by a disappearing vanity mirror in the roof and pulldown macralon see-through sun-blinds, front and side, which retract out of sight, in lieu of conventional vizors. Bin there is no place to park one’s clutch foot except under the pedal, the suspension is a shade lively over bad going, and lurchy on main roads, and the engine emits a fairly loud exhaust boom at times although the car cannot be called noisy. Regarding the 132 as the top Fiat model emphasises such shortcomings, regarded as a twin-cam, five-speed car owing some of its development to the Miratori Abarth-Rally Fiat, the 132. GLS isn’t had value, at £4.424.95 –W.B.