Utility Fastback

Impressions of the Stylish Fiat 850 coupe

THE emphasis placed by politicians before the General Election on the serious financial state of the country and the prospects of a depressing Budget, with a probable increase in car taxation, made me think that perhaps the time had come to shy away from big, thirsty cars and think in terms of low cubic capacity and modest m.p.g.

Consequently, when Alfred Woolf, whose firm of publicity agents looks after Fiat's affairs in Britain, offered the Tipo 110GC Fiat 850 coupe for test, I accepted enthusiastically, having a high regard for all the Fiat small cars.

The test started with penetration into remote Herefordshire to investigate certain pieces of vintage machinery (which included calling on someone whose garages housed G.P. and Brescia Bugattis, a Ferrari, and a couple of V8 B.M.W.s), and on to Wales to see whether my house had survived the storms of winter. And the following day there was Oulton Park to go to, in order, as we thought, to report the "200." Motor Sport has covered this race since 1924 and we set off early, determined to see how Clark's Lotus-B.R.M. would cope with the Brabham-Honda and how Stewart would perform in a Matra-B.R.M. in the 1966 version of this race. An increasing snowstorm as we motored in our miniature fastback out of Shropshire into Cheshire made a repetition of last year, when the B.A.R.C. F.2 meeting at Silverstone was rained out, seem probable and, sure enough, as we prepared to turn down the Oulton approach road a policeman told us that racing had been cancelled—this at 12-noon, although the "200" wasn't due to start until after 3 p.m.

We drove into a sodden Paddock to find the Press-room deserted and no sign of any official bulletin giving the reason for abandonment. It appears, however, that what the Daily Express called "slush" on the course was the cause, so the meeting has been postponed until October 30th at Brands Hatch. By the time I was back in Radnorshire I already knew quite a lot about the Fiat coupe, which was to go to Wales and back once more and to the Goodwood Easter races before the test concluded.

When I had gone to collect it from Fiat's Wembley depot, where an imposing new showroom not far off the North Circular Road is nearly completed, I was driving a Cortina GT heavily laden with vintage Sunbeam spares, the boot and suspension of this Ford being well suited to adaptation to the role of light lorry. So the Continental Correspondent took the Fiat home for me. He handed it over with the remark that it was a buzz-box but with a very nice gear-change, especially creditable for a rear-engined car. I agree about the excellence of the gearbox, although I see that Gianni Rogliatti, writing in Auto-Universum, disliked it. But he apparently tested an early car with smaller section tyres and no tachometer, so presumably the gear-change has been altered since then. D.S.J.'s reference to buzzing, however, made me dubious about venturing as far as Oulton Park via Radnorshire in what looks, outwardly, to be a very hot little number indeed. However, remembering that he is apt to compare lesser cars with Porsches and Jaguar E-types, and assuming that off-shore-island citizens may have to set their sights low; I was content with the Fiat, the styling of which has been cleverly contrived, so that it resembles far more exciting and illustrious fastbacks.

This is not just a pretty version of the Fiat 850 saloon. The engine has been dealt with, as a glance at its 4-branch exhaust system suggests, so that there is an extra 9 1/2 b.h.p. available, the peak engine speed having been raised by 900 r.p.m., 6,200 r.p.m. In fact, with raised c.r., dual-choke Weber 30DIC carburetter and double valve springs, the willing little engine develops 52 (S.A.E.) b.h.p. at that speed. It is interesting that Fiat make their own starter's and dynamos.

Although it is a very small car, my 16-year-old 5 ft. 3 in. daughter did not complain unduly at sharing its back seat with a good deal of loose household impedimenta, while a full-size suitcase, garden plants and other odds and ends went into the front boot, in spite of the spare wheel being carried vertically in a well therein. Nor did all this considerable load affect the cornering, which is. really very good indeed, with initial understeer; in spite of the rear-located engine, while the Fiat suspension, which is quite supple so that the wheels audibly ride over surface contours, assists by not bottoming or becoming disturbingly dead when a heavy load is placed upon it. This is normally rather lively but very well-damped springing.

D.S.J. was right about buzziness; at anything over 4,000 r.p.m. this little water-cooled 65 mm. x 634 mm. (843 c.c.) "four"makes itself heard, and to get any sort of performance. it is necessary to take it to at least 6,000 r.p.m. in the lower gears. The red sector of the tachometer indicates that 6,200 to 8,000 r.p.m. is to be regarded as "occasionally only and not for too long either" engine speed. Even driven like this, the performance is not exactly inspiring. The Fiat gets along well enough, however, and 40 in 2nd and 60 in 3rd show up on the speedometer without going into the red. 65 m.p.h. in 3rd gear (6,500 r.p.m.) is the procedure when in a hurry (Fiat recommend 59 in 3rd, 84 as maximum top, however), but even so, a Cooper S blew it off and ambitiously driven delivery vans were a match for it. Nevertheless, this mildly "hot" Fiat 850 cruised happily at the legal-70 at well below 4,800 r.p.m., and the increased power over the 850 saloon is worth having because it renders the performance just not tedious, at all events for main-road journeys which do not make too much demand on low-speed acceleration. Indeed, on a familiar 165-mile run of this kind it bettered the time I have taken in larger and much costlier cars.

The bucket-type front seats give good support and are comfortable for their modest size; the squabs do not adjust but are locked in place, a press-button on the back of each squab releasing it for entry to the fully-upholstered rear compartment. The agricultural piece of iron serving as the seat adjuster can savage trouser turn-ups as one gets out of the car. The test car was enhanced by deep blue upholstery offset by black facia and window trim, and virgin white external finish. The quality of the interior upholstery and appointments is of commendably high standard. A polished wood strip embellishes the facia decor and is used for the hooded instrument panel, on which large Veglia electronic tachometer and speedometer (the latter incorporating fuel gauge and water thermometer), clearly calibrated with large white digits, confront the driver. Three press-buttons at the right of the facia control instrument lighting, lights and wipers (which are efficient), with the rubber washers-button outboard of the wipers' button. The usual Fiat l/h. lights' and turn-indicators' stalks are fitted below the well-positioned metal-spoked steering wheel, the button on which sounds a loud-note horn, seemingly within the car. The lights are put on from the facia press-button but the ignition key over-rides this unless it is turned to the left. This is a precaution against anyone tampering with the lights, and the Fiat stalk arrangement for dipping or main-beam is preferable to the rotary action switches used by Peugeot and Citroen, but it does cause those unfamiliar with the car or forgetful to inadvertently leave it sans illumination. I disliked the too-bright dual arrows acting as turn-indicator warnings. The front bonnet was difficult to close securely and the ignition key not easy to insert.

No cubby-hole is provided but an under-facia shelf, door pockets and a deep back shelf provide useful stowage. The heater is so efficient that on full heat it is possible to burn one's fingers on the twin rotatable scuttle vents, so I did not dare switch on the fan. Two little under-facia levers, one blue, one red, control the heater, providing full cold-air flow when required, but they are rather inaccessible and spaced far apart. The rear side windows open as vents, greatly improving de-misting (there are also openable quarter-lights) but the true GT-style rear window becomes obscured by rain and would benefit from wipers of its own. The wide doors appear to be devoid of "keeps" but have very convenient combined lift-up handles-cum-pulls, and sill internal locks. Roof grabs-cum-coat-hooks, vanity mirror in the n/s vizor, interior lamps on the facia, side arm-rests, etc., figure in the equipment.

The 5.50 x 13 Pirelli Sempione tyres appear of generous size for the car's weight and should have a long life, but they offered depressingly little grip until nearly deflated when I foolishly got the Fiat bogged down in one of my own fields. Extracting it did not play fair with the fuel consumption check but, even so, the figure came. out at 37.4 m.p.g. of premium petrol (cr. 9.3 to 1), and a further check showed 39.2 m.p.g. during mainly fast driving. The tank, its accessible -filler under the lift-up unlockable rear bonnet, holds 6.6 gallons and I covered comfortably over 200 miles before the gauge suggested refuelling, although the warning light comes on before this. After 750 miles the dip-stick level had fallen below the minimum mark and 3 1/2 pints of Castrolite were necessary to restore it to normal, which was disappointing from a Fiat. The test covered 1,700 miles; towards the end a throttle-cable bracket broke and caused the throttle to stick open.

Girls go crazy over the appearance of this fastback from Turin (or mine did) and for anyone who wants a well-finished car which looks different, is very pleasant to drive, has a fine reputation for reliability and yet which can be bought for £850 and is decidedly economical to run, there is real merit in the coupe Fiat 850. For austerity Britain this Fiat coupe is just, the job—or will austerity be swept away as the promises of the newly-elected Socialist Government are fulfilled ?—W.B.

V.S.C.C. Hambleton Rally (April 16th)

Results :
Vintage Northern Weekend Jug and First Class Award : McMillan/A. Blackwood (1928 Rolls-Royce).
First Class Award : A. Lomas/C. Derry (1935 Riley).
Second Class Awards : J.A, McEwen/D. Allen (1937 Riley). R.C. England/G. Snushall (I931 Alvis), and Mrs. Arnold-Forster/N. Arnold-Forster (1925 Frazer Nash).
Third Class Awards : I. Selvey-Willars/E.J. Lovell (1930 Alvis) and A.D. Mitchell/S. Leach (1927 Rolls-Royce).
Team Award : Midlands.