Road impressions

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A 2000-mile European week with Italy’s stylish reply to the German coupes

A neglected and seemingly unpopular choice, even in its native Italy, the Fiat 130 Coupe is an interesting motor Car. It offers a great deal of interior comfort, distinctive looks, and an enormous boot. Unfortunately those plus points seem unable to overcome two aspects of the big coupes from BMW and Mercedes: sheer high-speed performance (over 110 m.p.h. in this definition) and the German reputation for quality.

We, through the efficiency of Fiat’s effective British press representatives at Woolf, Laing Christie, were able to sample one of the rare 130C birds over 2000 miles in our recent overland expedition to explore the high performance side of the Italian motor industry.

During that 2,000 miles we were literally able to spend hours at speeds in excess of 90 m.p.h. We were happy to find that the car really didn’t give any trouble, or look as if it was going to, during that high-speed mileage. We put in a quart of oil and fuel consumption, in Borg Warner automatic gearbox guise, was between 17.1 and 19.4 m.p.g., with 17.7 m.p.g. coming out as the average. However, we often recorded average speeds between 70 and 90 m.p.h. and employed the exceptional acceleration qualities pretty rigorously. Although our driver often had to hustle the 3,561 lb./ 15 ft. 10 3/8 in.-length of the 130C in earnest on several long sections of the trip, the car remained unflustered. As compared to the 130 saloon, the Coupé is 3 5/8 in. longer, l 5/8 in. narrower, 3 1/2 in. lower.

As soon as the pressure is taken off, the 130C relaxes into a mobile drawing room, with only the occasional snarl from the V6 engine to suggest sporting overtones.

Motor Sport’s November 1972 issue contained an account in which W.B. recounted his experiences with the 130C, shortly after its introduction with the 3200 series engine. So I will just point out that the oversquare unit (102 x 66 mm.13.235 c.c.) develops 165 b.h.p., has a single overhead camshaft per bank, and runs swiftly and happily to the red band indicated at 6,250 r.p.m. Sustained use over 5,500 r.p.m. (104 m.p.h. in auto top) would make the oil temperature gauge needle tilt toward, but not into, its red section, so we tended to cruise in the mid-ninety-mile-an hour bracket, when the fuel consumption also remained closer to 18 m.p.g. In Italy we found that the average big BMWs, despite a speed limit that corresponded closely to our Motorway limit, would drift by the Fiat quite quickly, usually cruising in the 105/110 m.p.h. area. Flat out, the auto Fiat 130C seemed, at 112 m.p.h., to be as fast as we wanted to stress the engine as the tachometer would be nudging the red at this speed.

It seems there is a strong case for a numerically lower final drive ratio, especially as the initial acceleration is so swift to 1st gear’s 50 m.p.h. maximum. 2nd gear is the general ratio for in-town, or downhill spurts, where you want to save the all-disc braking system a little of the work imposed by a heavy automatic car under full power. That 2nd gear allows just 80 m.p.h., the engine roaring pretty lustily through the luxurious padding, relaying that it’s really a sporting unit, and sounding quite formidable. At lower r.p.m. the V6 pulls well from 1,200 revs, with a good turn of accelerative torque on call from 2,500 r.p.m.

Luxury features that we appreciated within the 48,200 Fiat include air conditioning, power steering (ZF worm and roller, not quite up to the same kind of assistance in a BMW or Mercedes . . . could this be the steering geometry?), electric windows, tinted glass, alloy 6 1/2 inch rim wheels, and a limited slip differential. The independent suspension gives an excellent ride over most surfaces and big Pirellis coped well with changes in camber over greasy bumps.

The 130 has a feeling of solid worth about it, that might make a richer Rover owner feel at home, and a distinctive style. I, for one, wouldn’t be surprised to see some of its length clipped (though it is easy to park neatly) and a Lancia-badged derivative offered within the next year or two.—J.W.

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