Road Impressions

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The Fiat 125S

A Fast Family Car with 80-bore Twin-Cam Engine and Five-Speed Gearbox

Not only are ordinary family cars now possessed of decently high-performance but several makers offer additional speed and acceleration from special versions of their normal models. An outstanding example of this is the Ford Cortina GT. Then there is the Twin-Cam Cortina, and recently Hillman and BMC have introduced what they call GT versions of more staid saloons. The term GT is ridiculous when applied to low-priced four-door pretty-perpendicular saloons but it is now common practice and, with TI, suggests a competition association or heritage.

Fiat are more honest in calling the exciting version of their Tipo 125 a “Special”, although it has a twin-cam four-cylinder 1,608 c.c. engine poking out 100 b.h.p. (ten more than the normal 125), which compares with 82 b.h.p. of the Ford Cortina GT and 88 of the new Hillman GT, and a five-speed gearbox. And whereas a Twin-Cam engine giving 106 to 108 b.h.p. is found only in the most extreme versions of the Ford Escort and Cortina, Fiat use double o.h.c. engines (with belt-driven camshafts) as a matter of course for their Tipo 124 coupé and 125 and 125S saloons, and single o.h.c. valve gear for their 128 and 130 models. The 125 and 125S have the once-classic 80-bore engine, but as the stroke is the same as the bore there is nothing old-fashioned about it and the “red” on the 125S tachometer does not intrude until 6,200 r.p.m., at which speed peak power is developed. Yellow marks, implying high speed, extend from 5,800 to 6,200 r.p.m.

This 125S gives extremely impressive acceleration delivered from a very smooth engine, which emits only mild power-roar and no mechanical clatter to draw attention to its twin-cam power unit, which is a splendid piece of engineering. This is true even at 6,600 r.p.m., when indicated maxima in the three lower gears of 30, 50 and 78 m.p.h. are seen. It has a top speed of comfortably over 100 m.p.h. and gets to 60 m.p.h. from rest in less than 12 sec. The gear-change is smooth but heavily spring-loaded, with a leather-gaitered moderate-length floor lever. Use of the overdrive 5th speed reduces r.p.m. at an indicated 70 m.p.h. by 500, from the 4,100 r.p.m. needed at this speed in normal top-gear, the final-drive ratio being 4.1 to 1.

A compact, rather square-shaped five-seater saloon, the 125S has all the well-tried Fiat features, allied to interior trim of high quality, and big comfortable seats upholstered in part-leather, part-cloth, giving excellent grip, with reclining squabs adjusted by under-cushion knobs, and lowering to form beds. The instrumentation and minor controls are neat and also of high quality. The triple stalks controlling lamps, screen-wipers, working either intermittently or full time, and turn-indicators, the foot-operated screen-washers, a flashing red light to show that the central hand-brake is on, but not too many other warning lights (although a small white one says the lamps are alight, a small blue one that they are on lull-beam), a tiny warning light to augment an accurate fuel-gauge, and illuminated bonnet, boot and lockable-cubby, are features, with others, which are as practical as they are individualistic. A divided under-facia shelf deputises for lack of door pockets, with hand-throttle and choke (which has its own warning light) knobs in the r.h. section, there is a map-container in the driver’s vizor, a vanity mirror in the l.h. one, and the doors have neat interior (pull-out) and exterior (lift-up) handles and cill locks. Roof grabs and coat hooks are provided. It is amusing that the dual Carello headlamps are really square; much more important that they are quartz-iodine and give fine night-driving visibility, with quite a good cut-off.

The problem of how to achieve suspension sufficiently stiff to cope with high-performance and yet able to give a good family-car ride has no more been solved by Turin than it has by Dagenham, with the result that the 125S is too lurchy and lively on the poorer sort of roads, and a wild getaway can promote back axle tramp. So the single-main-leaf rear suspension could be improved upon and this may be why Fiat have i.r.s. on the Tipo 130. The 125S corners with mild understeer, changing near the limit to notably flat oversteer. On the whole the car handles well, and its 8.9-in, all-disc servo brakes are effective. On the test car the pedal had some free movement, which made retardation rather sudden, and the clutch engaged only at the end of the travel of its pedal. Both brakes and clutch are commendably light. The steering is pleasantly smooth and light and accurate, with no serious kick-back and good castor return, but felt a trace too low-geared for coping with considerable understeer on sharp corners, the big (not truly round) wheel needing nearly 3½ turns, lock-to-lock, not counting some sponge.

The great attraction of this Fiat 125S is its ability to set up decent average speeds without the driver being conscious that he is driving hard and to out-accelerate the opposition without the engine being aware that it is doing anything out of the ordinary. It is the sort of car which can put the City of London within 4¼ hours of mid-Wales, for instance, say from Moorgate to Llandrindod Wells, including a slow crossing of London itself and a couple of stops. The very fine acceleration helps, of course, and in this respect this attractive 20¾-cwt. Fiat will out-drag a Ford 1600E, keep pace with a Cortina GT, and not be all that much inferior to a Twin-Cam Cortina. Moreover, it does this in a decidedly refined and quiet manner and feels as if it will go on doing so for a very big mileage. (Readers’ experiences appreciated.)

The 125S has matching Veglia Borletti 120-m.p.h. speedometer and 8,000-r.p.m. tachometer, hooded in the black-matt facia, the tachometer incorporating a water thermometer in its cut-away dial, reversing lamp, big openable front quarter-lights to supplement hot-and-cold facia air-vents like those on Ford and Rootes cars, anti-dazzle mirror, neat adjacent switches for putting on the lamps and the facia lighting, an accurate Veglia clock, cigarette-lighter, heated rear window, rubber-tipped bumpers, a spacious boot (but with the spare wheel under the floor and the need to hump luggage over the back panel) and, indeed, most of today’s “mod. cons.”, together with some nice features of its own.

The screw-on fuel filler is under a flap on the o/s find the self-supporting bonnet, with r.h. release on r.h.d. cars, is front-hinged and its underside well sound-damped. The r.h. screen-wipers’ arc is more suited to a l.h.d. car.

I got 26.8 m.p.g. of 4-star, which an 8.8-to-1 c.r. accepts. I had no opportunity to cheek the range; the tank capacity is quoted as a generous 11 gallons. Oil consumption was nil, the badly-placed dip-stick still indicating a full sump after 700 miles.

All in all, this Fiat 125S is an excellent car. There were minor irritations, like the doors surprisingly being devoid of “keeps” and the interior lamp functioning only with the doors open, and the n/s front door was difficult to close. (The doors have reflectors for safe opening after dark.) The screen-washers’ foot-button did not bring in a sweep of the wipers, as is intended. Nor is it easy to become accustomed to lamps which are switched on from the dash but can then be put out with the ignition switch, while the l.h. stalk, below the shorter stalk for the turn-indicators, moves up from full-beam to dipped and sidelamps only, which to me seems less natural than moving it down, so that, although the positions are well defined, it is all too easy, when dipping in a hurry, to lose the headlamps altogether. However, Fiat owners will no doubt protest that familiarity brings satisfaction. I enjoyed covering the ground fast in this twin-cant five-speed Turin product, which sells here for £1,249 2s., or less than the price of a four-speed Lotus-Cortina, and for which alloy wheels are available for the 170-13 tyres (Pirelli Cinturato on the test car, which squealed mildly without real provocation), at an additional cost of £45 13s. 115d.

W. B.

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