Small car topics

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(Concerning cars of under 1,000 c.c.)
Driving the Fiat 127

At times, when the Continental Correspondent and I have been motoring together in one or other of our more staid vintage cars, we have remarked on the lack of stress and strain which this form of driving encompasses, for the simple reason that you progress at a sedate pace, overtaking presenting no anxieties because it so seldom arises and thus the need to anticipate circumstances ahead of one and judge when to pull out and accelerate is left to others. Driving a modern small car often implies just the opposite, minimal acceleration and no great top speed increasing rather than diminishing the strain of driving.

This is far less true of the latest Turin number, the Fiat 127, because this rather remarkable and very acceptable little car, in spite of having only a 903-c.c. push-rod o.h.v. engine under its bonnet, will cruise at an indicated 70 to 75 m.p.h. and also possesses very reasonable pick-up, going from 30 to 50 m.p.h. in 7.4 seconds in third gear, and managing 60 m.p.h. from being stationary in a matter of less than 15 1/2 seconds.

For a very considerable time-span Fiat have been making some most effective small cars—the staunch little petrol-preserving 500, the now defunct, refined 600, the now obsolete 850 range and the more recent Fiat 128. Now Turin has excelled itself, in this field, with the 127.

This splendid little car follows the Issigonis concept of transverse engine and front-wheel-drive—which Fiat will declare they got onto paper first—but it also utilises MacPherson coil-spring struts all round and a wheelbase of 7 ft. 3/4 in., so that its spacious interior, into which five not-too-bulky adults can sit, is on a par with that of 1,100-c.c. class cars with even more impressive performance. It is thus that the 127’s price of £811.15 should be evaluated, with a look inside its very roomy boot while thus assessing it.

I found, on exchanging the Fiat 124 Special-T reviewed in Motor Sport last month for this 127, that two surprises were in store. The first concerned the considerable quantity of luggage and oddments we stowed so easily in this 11 ft. 9 3/4 in. x 5 ft. vehicle. The second was the ease with which the 127 got along at the legal maximum, so that apart from a frenzied sewing-machine noise from its Fiat 850-type 85 x 88-mm. engine, which gives 47 (DIN) b.h.p. at 6,200 r.p.m., it was not all that tedious in spite of coming along for appraisal immediately after its very quick and desirable larger model and the new Ford Consuls and Granadas. The road-holding, you see, is in keeping although rather severe understeer is promoted by entering acute bends at speed, and the rack-and-pinion steering and disc/drum brakes are so effective as not to call for comment, although the steering is rather low-geared for parking.

The Fiat 127 is sensibly contrived in so many ways. It is a two-door, four/five-seater saloon with adequate, p.v.c.-covered seats, 1/4 lghts, opening rear side-windows, a self-locking boot and, on the test car, 135SR-13 Pirelli Cinturato CN45s. The matt-black and simulated wood facia has cold/hot-air vents and speedometer with matching dial for fuel contents and engine temperature, generator and oil-pressure alarm lights, and an insufficiently bright low fuel level light. The Fiat triple stalk-controls flank the steering wheel (but with separate washer button so that you tend to signal with the wipers), and a long central gear-lever controls a baulky gear-change. The by-roads ride is quite choppy and the open under-facia oddments well, before the front-seat passenger, is too deep and narrow for easy extraction of small objects. The left foot has to be parked under the clutch pedal but need not come into contact with the exposed steering column universal joint. In more than 1,000 miles the only defect was a loose driver’s anti-dazzle visor.

The three-bearing engine springs to life immediately from cold if the simple choke control is pulled out and although it is running audibly fast at cruising speed, its oil consumption was 1,000 m.p.p. The fuel tank, with again a typically Fiat screw-on cap, gave a range of 266 miles, driving fast, and the overall consumption of four-star petrol came out at 41.8 m.p.g. with cold starts, quick cruising and commuting along the lanes combined. The self-propping front-hinged bonnet lifts to reveal a very accessible Magnet Marelli battery and distributor cap but well-buried plugs and a rather fumbly dip-stick. The spare wheel is instantly available, from its horizontal perch on the n/s above the engine, but the efficient bonnet-release is on the left side in RHD cars. Tightening down the head and adjusting the tappets after 500 initial miles takes half-a-day and is a chargeable item, incidentally.

Fiat have had ample experience of all the permutations—air-cooling/water cooling, front drive/rear drive, front engine/rear engine, with prior use of the Issigonis layout on the popular 128. It is comforting, too, to know that, although located across the car, the 127 uses basically the great Fiat 850 coupé engine, with alloy head, thermostatically controlled cooling-fan, and single Weber carburetter. It will get up to nearly 84 m.p.h. in top, 67 m.p.h. in third gear, if extended, but the noise it makes can cause the driver to feel for a fifth gear. The gearbox, being conventional, is, however, commendably quiet, in contrast to a Mini’s whining in-sump gear train. A rubber-bushed tie-rod between engine and bulkhead effectively damps out torque reaction when opening the throttle. The appearance is not particularly praiseworthy but this did not matter, as I am one of those peculiar persons who sees cars mainly from within, and does not bother overmuch with this aspect.

I thought I had grown out of very small cars for long, hurried journeys but the Fiat 127 nearly changed my views about this; it is a most excellent shopping and pottering car. It is well endowed with coathooks, roof-grabs, pull-out inside door handles, sill locks, visors, concealed ash-trays, etc. Moreover, just when I was thinking that a three-door 127 would be useful, the versatile Fiat Company announced just such a model, although it will not be available here for some considerable time.— W. B.