The Fiat 1500 - a fast Italian family car of exceptional merit

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Ingenious Valve Gear, Disc Front Brakes, Modern Instrumentation, Quiet Running, Excellent Suspension, 93 mph. and Sports-Car Acceleration, Comprehensive Equipment and Modest Price are features of this astonishingly good new model

When Fiat of Turin introduced their new 6-cylinder cars early reports suggested that these were outstanding vehicles, and when I was able to road-test a Fiat 2100 in 1960 I found it to be a very smooth, quiet and effortless car possessing a number of individualistic details that endeared it to me. The early cars used an unusual form of coil-spring and 1/4-elliptic leaf-spring rear suspension which did not provide altogether ideal road-holding but when this was replaced by normal 1/2-elliptic springs the new 6-cylinder automobiles from Turin were pretty close to the ideal of many motorists and were remarkably modestly priced for such a modern luxury product.

The latest Fiat 1300 and 1500 cars can be described as scaleddown versions of the Sixes, with 4-cylinder power units having push-rods actuating inclined o.h. valves from a base camshaft and with 3-pad disc front brakes. They were obviously going to offer something pretty exceptional in the way of performance and road-holding, so naturally I was interested when the Wembley depot of Fiat (England) Ltd. placed a 1500 saloon at my disposal.

The Fiat 1500 is not only a splendid performer, it is a well-planned, very completely equipped 4-door saloon selling in this country, where price is inflated by protective import duty, for as little as 8d. over £1,146.

Somewhat high off the ground, with chunky lines of the kind rendered popular by the Chevrolet Corvair, this latest Fiat cannot fail to sell strongly throughout the World. It combines the Italian flair and eagerness of the well-tried Fiat 1100, magnified, of course, by the larger 77 x 79.5 mm., 1,481-c.c. high-compression engine with its clever valve gear, with modern appointments and quiet running. The engine develops 72 gross b.h.p. at 5,2oo r.p.rn., or 8o S.A.E. h.p.

The details of the control arrangements are dealt with under the diagram of the facia layout, but it can be said that the steering wheel is well placed, slightly higher than drivers of average height might like, although its rim in no way impedes the line of sight. The front seats have squabs that drop to just short of the fully reclining position, the driver’s squab having a little free movement when upright, and which have hard cushions but are otherwise comfortable, the durable-looking leathercloth upholstery holding the occupants securely, and suggesting that it and the trim would stand up well to the ravages of dogs and young children. The seating position is high, forward visibility very good, aided by fast-functioning wipers that cope efficiently with heavy rain, supplemented by a highly commendable foot switch that brings in wipers and washers together, ensuring instant clearing of an obscured screen—I could fall for the Fiat on the strength of this one valuable accessory alone. The wiper blades work in opposition and overlap, thus cleaning a big area of glass. The wipers are wired independently of the ignition, which I like. The driver looks over a short dropping bonnet and although the front wings are swollen to contain dual headlamps, these nacelles are flat to line up with the level of the bonnet. The screen pillars are rather thick hut slope backwards, the only lack of visibility being when negotiating a right-hand bend.

The controls are well arranged, with left-hand stalks for lamps and direction indicators, a full horn-ring, and press-buttons, but the light switch arrangements, unusual to English motorists, can at first result in the Fiat being parked inadvertently unlit. Stiff crash padding outlines the facia, but the unlined glove locker is too shallow and has a “tinny” unlockable lid.

Although the car hails from a hot country the fresh-air heater and screen demister is highly efficient, it being possible to open up “the stove” to direct hot air into the body or push up this tray to concentrate warmth onto the screen. The simple horizontal quadrant controls are easy to operate if somewhat insensitive, and a great volume of heat is generated even before the engine is really warm, but not much warm air reaches the driver’s feet.

The front quarter-lights, sans gutters, have awkward unlockable catches and the rubber fillet was detaching itself from the off-side window, causing wind-whistle. The front main windows can be wound down without setting up draughts, all doors possess armrests-cum-pulls and tight-lipped pockets—a refreshing change from the pocket-less doors now common. A tall driver might find the rigidly-mounted rear-view mirror, which incorporates a map-light and is of anti-dazzle type, restricted by the top of the back window.

Gear-changing is effected by a left-hand column lever, springloaded towards the higher gears, which functions very positively rather than smoothly, is rigid, and selects reverse easily. There is synchromesh on all four forward gears. The handbrake lever, working on the rear wheels, is on the outside of the transmission tunnel on r.h.d. cars, which necessitates reaching down, and where it is a menace to nylons. Unless it is fully released a light flashes on the facia—a sensible arrangement with a brake of low power.

The ctutch showed no desire to slip and was quite smooth. Rather stiff handles need 2 1/3 turns front, 2 1/2 rear, to fully open the windows. The rear quarter-lights are fixed. There is the usual shelf behind the back seat, somewhat restricted by the curve of the big wrap-round back window. The seat is comfortably wide for two, but hardly so for three large people. The name ” Millecinquecento ” on the lid of the glove locker is fun but, externally, the car relies for identification on the English tag of “Fiat 1500.”

Before considering how the Fiat performs, credit must he paid to the very full and convenient equipment supplied as standard. This includes the aforesaid fresh-air heater; lamps that automatically illuminate glove locker, luggage boot and engine compartment; an inspection lamp behind the facia; reversing lamp; the previously mentioned reclining front-seat squabs and cushions of good anti-bounce characteristics; swivelling vizors with vanity mirror; a very full complement of indicator lamps, and a cigarette-lighter under the facia. Dual headlamps are a feature of the modern styling, there is a full set of electrical fuses, and the minor controls include a hand-throttle.

The luggage boot is truly canaverous and its lockable lid stays up automatically, but the high sill can be awkward when loading very heavy objects. The forward-hinged bonnet is notably light, has no second catch, and props up on its own. The engine, with its unusual exhaust manifold in which the off-takes from Nos. 1 and 4, and Nos. 2 and 3 cylinders are linked before entering the forward off-take, and 28-36D Weber dual-downdraught carburetter below a large air-cleaner, has an accessible oil filler and the Exide battery is very well placed on the off-side front of the under-bonnet compartment.

The engine runs very smoothly and quietly, apart from some power-roar when accelerating. The 110-m.p.h. horizontal-ribbon speedometer marks maxima in the indirect gears of 24, 40 and 60 m.p.h., allowing for speedometer correction, but these limits can be ignored, to provide, for instance, top speeds of 46 m.p.h. in the somewhat low second gear and 74 m.p.h. in third gear. Such speeds are obtained very quickly indeed for a family saloon, as the performance data in the table shows, and to this good pick-up, third-gear acceleration being particularly useful, is coupled a top speed of 93 m.p.h. on the 4.1-to-1 top gear, a mean maximum timed run giving better than 91 m.p.h. So the Fiat 1500, refined, fully-equipped and sensibly priced, is, a genuine 9o-m.p.h. family saloon. Indeed, it is faster than the 2100 and out-accelerates such cars as the post-war sports H.R.G. and Series III Sunbeam Rapier and gallops away from Peugeots, Consuls and similar saloons, as well as disposing of sports M.G. Midgets and Austin-Healey Sprites.

The engine has a comparatively high compression-ratio (8.8 to 1) with octane-selector ignition adjustment. It calls for 100-octane fuel, the overall consumption in very varied driving coming out to 29.01 m.p.g., while over part of the test distance, involving fast motoring in rain and gales, 28.4 m.p.g. was returned. After 740 miles the oddly-shaped but accessible dip-stick showed that no Castrolite had been consumed. The horizontal petrol filler is protected by a substantial locked cap on the near side at the back of the car, balancing the reversing lamp. The engine did not pink or run-on, and, with choke, commenced promptly from cold.

Coming to aspects of handling and control, the Fiat 1500 has light, reasonably high-geared, accurate and responsive steering, which becomes faintly heavier towards full lock but needs real effort only for zero-speed manoeuvring. It is free from kick-back, has mild but useful castor-return action, transmits but very faint vibration and is geared 3 turns lock-to-lock plus 1/2 a turn of sponge which is not particularly noticeable when driving the car.

The suspension is able to cope admirably with rough roads taken at speed, without producing excessive roll when cornering normally, and directional stability in gale-force cross winds could hardly be better. The rear-end tends to break away early on wet roads, giving a sense of insecurity when accelerating hard or braking heavily on slippery surfaces, but the quick steering catches this very well and catching mild tail liveliness with the steering can be actually enjoyable to an experienced driver. Cornering at really high speeds accentuates roll and results in loss of directional stability, road-holding under extreme conditions being the least impressive aspect of this very fast family saloon. No tremors are set up when negotiating bad roads and the body is notably free from rattles and squeaks. The Pirelli tyres do not howl on fast corners and the suspension is damped so that a potentially lively motion is subdued to a near-level ride over most surfaces.

The pads of the front disc brakes are applied by three wheel cylinders and a Baldwin booster is incorporated. This results in very low pedal pressures, the pedal having considerable movement and feeling spongy. But there is no question but that these brakes are very effective, being powerful under firmer pressure, progressive, and completely silent. They can be applied hard on a wet road without fear of locking the wheels, and give the driver enhanced confidence when the very considerable performance of the Fiat 1500 is being fully employed. Reverting to details, the fuel tank provides a useful absolute range of over 290 miles, although the warning light will induce refilling at nearer 260 miles. The doors shut nicely, all the passengers have highly-practical roof-level grab-handles, the spare wheel and tool roll are under the floor of the boot, the road wheels are held by set-bolts, dowel located, and there is side jacking; no starting handle is provided. Ash-trays in facia and rear doors are very neat and compact.

The use of the Fiat centrifugal oil filter and a by-pass filter should ensure engine durability. The test car was just over 5,000 miles old; in bad conditions a little rain entered the nearside front door. The noise level is commendably low, road noise higher than wind or mechanical noise (apart from power-roar), but still not obtrusive, while gearbox and back axle are inaudible. The starter is, by comparison, rather noisy. The dual Fiern headlamps are disappointing, for while the main beam lighting is excellent, the low beams are pale and too sharply cut-off. For this reason it is regrettable that day-time headlamp flashing is confined to the low beam. Only the battery charge, ignition, starting and (if fitted) radio circuits are unfused. There are 12 points requiring grease every 1,500 miles, three more to be attended to every 3,000 miles, when oil-changing is recommended.

The engine is surprisingly flexible for a high-compression 4-cylinder. The doors have very neat lift-up external catches and lock easily, with sill interior locks. There are two substantial keys, one for ignition-cum-starter, the other for doors, boot and fuel filler cap. The front doors give courtesy action of the mirror lamp; there is a lamp in each rear corner of the body with its own switch and courtesy action when the back doors are opened. The internal door handles consist of lift-up handles under the arm-rests; these have been criticised as dangerous should a passenger grab them when alarmed by a sticky situation, but on the Fiat they are some distance below the arm-rests, so this is less likely to occur.

To conclude, the Fiat 1500 is an exceedingly attractive car offering as it does a considerable degree of luxury and exceptional performance from an interesting engine design, besides being very generously equipped at the “loaded” but competitive price at which it sells in this country. It runs eagerly, smoothly and quietly, and responds quickly in the manner one has come to expect of an Italian car. I expect soon to see a great many of these meritorious Fiats on the highways of the World. To many of those seeking a disc-braked family car of notably high power output and refreshing individuality, the refined, accelerative Fiat 1500 will surely prove irresistible; it is the poor man’s Flavia-except that it out-accelerates this costly Lancia. Truly, the millecinquecento is some car which is only to be expected when Aurelio Lampredi, late of Ferrari, is Fiat’s engine designer.

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