Road impressions

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The Fiat 131 Supermirafiori 2000 TC

WHEN contemplating Continental makes of cars competing for large-scale sales, one comes upon the solidarity of the great Regie Renault. the integrity of Peugeot. the Gallic logic of Citroen, and one can certainly not overlook the might of Fiat, which has so much of Italy’s destiny under its control. For some time Fiat has concentrated on economy-type models, with nothing larger than 2-litres. One of its newer offerings is the Tipo 131 Supermirafiori saloon. It uses the twin-cam engine now developing 113 b.h.p. at 5,600 r.p.m. in the typically boxy, compact four-door body. The result is a sort of “Cortina-hunter,” of very good performance if the rather “cammy” engine is kept turning at over 2,000 r.p.m., and with the amenities of electric windows in the front doors, electric central door-locking, and a five-speed gearbox.

There is not much rear-compartment leg room for a car of this size but otherwise this Fiat is a comfortable family car, endowed with the sporting connotations which a twin-cam engine implies. The interior has a plasticky but neat aspect, the upholstery of seats and doors in good-looking cloth being very acceptable. ‘those who like individuality will find this in the triple control-stalks, lamps extinguished when the engine is cut, the odd elongated well in the fascia shelf, with its flat-topped lockable lid, this serving in lieu of a cubby lit is divided into two wells, the smaller of which comfortably takes a Canon camera!), etc. This, and crude front door pockets and map pockets for the rear seat users, are the only stowages. The rack and pinion power steering of this top model Mirafiori is notably light but without much “feel”, the clutch action is smooth but the gear change baulks badly into bottom and second gears, especially when the oil is cold; the other changes, especially from fifth to normal top, are however, quite smooth and quick. Reverse is in-line with this cruising fifth speed and fairly easy to engage.

Although this is a rear-drive car, the brake pedal for the disc-drum anchorage is too far over to the left but otherwise the controls are well contrived, with the switches for the electric windows and for locking the doors down on the centre console. The front-seat squabs have lever adustment and the instruments, comprise speedometer with m.p.h./k.p.h. readings, Veglia electronic tachometer safety-lined from 5,800-6,000 r.p.m., fuel and temperature gauges (90 deg. C is normal) and quartz clock, the yellow needles being easy to sec. The triple heater-control levers are illuminated but not easy to find for quick adjustment, and the heat supply, while considerable, was insensitive to set. Them is a two-speed fan, and air-flow is from a number of adjustable vents of some complexity.

The suspension and ride of this Fiat are of the old-fashioned kind, adequate but outdated, bumps causing the tail to skitter on corners and the back-axle to judder on a fast take-off over a rough road. There is mild initial understeer from the Pirelli Cinturato P3 185 x 70 SR 13 tubeless tyres, of which the spare lives beneath the boot floor, the lid of this deep boot having to be locked with the ignition-key. The lamps give a good beam, deflected to the left on dip, but it is all too easy to leave the wrong lamps alight until the .iver acquaints himself with the confusing triple stalk controls, the long left lever operating the lighting once it has been switched on, the shorter one the turn-indicators, the light-hand one the wipers, etc. The horn-push is in the centre of the steering wheel.

With its narrow, high appearance this is a deceptively quick Fiat. Its body is protected by substantial bumpers and wide rubbing strips, the exterior mirror can be adjusted from within (but there is no near-side mirror) and the door handles work convexiently. The bonnet release is on the near-side of the car; the front-hinged lid is self-propping. All the services are easily accessible and no oil had been consumed after more than 1,000 miles. In average useage fuel consumption came out at 26.3 m.p.g. The engine started fairly promptly under auto-choke and ran smoothly, but the gear lever is an essential adjunct to it. The fuel tank, which has a screw-type filler cap, holds 53-litres. The test car had a Voxon radio. There am head restraints for all scats, and a six-year anti-corrosion warranty. Sensible loose rubber mats cover the floor but the wiring for the electric windows and rear window denusting is untidy. Fiat claim a top speed of 109 m.p.h. and 0-60 m.p.h. in 10./2 seconds and, in the “knocking” of feared rivals which is part of the sales-race, insist that at £5,245 it is better equipped and less expensive than the equivalent Ford. Alit propose to say is that it provided asahi, willing Easter-holiday transport and that it makes we look forward to trying the presumably more sporting twin-cam Strada. The back window of the test car carried a reminder of Fiat World Rally Championships achieved in 1977, 1978 and 1980, perhaps to appease those from whom it accelerated out of sight. — W.B.