Top Fiat

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An Assessment of the £5,500 Type 130 Pininfarina Coupe, with overhead-camshaft V6 3.2-litre engine, automatic transmission and all the luxury imaginable, allied to sufficient performance and tenacious road-holding.

Fiat of Turin is accepted as one of the World’s most formidable producers of the nicer kind of automobile. Never mind the Global aspect. In this country alone, in the first six months of this year, Fiat disposed of 25,126 cars, the second largest importer after Volkswagen, who perhaps have some semi-commercial models which boost their total. Fiat’s best-seller was still the 124, closely followed by the 128. Fiat have an all-embracing range which is to be envied, starting with the ubiquitous 500, which has sold some 4-million since its introduction in the summer of 1957 and which is about to be replaced by the new 126, which should make its début at the Turin Show and which, still with an air-cooled engine, will no doubt immediately become, like its predecessor, the small-car which everyone wants! Incidentally, the sharp eyes of Alfred Woolf detected an error in a recent obscure reference to the Fiat 600, the next-smallest model in the range, with water-cooled four-cylinder engine, for this Fiat was introduced rather more than two years before, not after, the highly successful 500; but this doesn’t destroy my assumption that had Dr. Giacosa known how acceptable a foolproof air-cooled engine would be to the economy-car buying public, he might well have dispensed with water cooling for his older design. I am also informed that although the Fiat 600 is no longer manufactured in Turin, it has not faded away, being made by SEAT and Zastava, so it is still in production. However, only 40 were sold here in the last twelve month period for which statistics are available, against a total of 5,219 of the little beggars. It may or may not be true, as Alfred likes to dream, that the 600 is enjoying, as were October holiday-makers on British beaches, a kind of Indian summer. But as its sales from January to June were but one-seventh of those of the very exclusive and expensive Fiat 130 with which I am hereafter concerned, for all practical purposes the lovable 600 has gone from the British new-car scene.

* * *

Now let’s look at the Fiat 130. It has been in existence for quite some time. I was met at Milan Airport in 1969 by a Type 130 saloon, which I subsequently drove in the heat of an Italian Summer up the hills beyond Turin and I remember that it cruised comfortably at 180 k.p.h. but in the foothills a little more power would have been desirable for picking up speed out of the hairpins. This must have been agreed by the Fiat engineers, because since then two changes have been made to this top-model of the all-embracing Fiat range. In those days the engine was a 96 X 66-mm. (2,866 c.c.) V6 mated to a Borg-Warner Type 35 gearbox. By improving the breathing of the o.h.c. power unit and slightly increasing the c.r. power was increased by 20 b.h.p.(DIN), with peak revs. up to 5,800 r.p.m., or 200 more than with the original 140-b.h.p. power unit. Then, rather over a year ago, Fiat pushed the bore out to 102 mm., giving the present capacity of 3,235 c.c., and a very over-square engine, as the stroke remains at 66 mm. The gearbox was changed for a Borg-Warner Type 12, the facia was cleaned up, bigger tyres specified and the front MacPherson torsion-bar suspension somewhat stiffened up, while r.h.d. and a Pininfarina coupé body are now available.

It was in this form that the Type 130 was offered to me, a finely engineered, spacious yet compact, stylish motor car with coil-spring trailing-arm independent rear suspension and the V6 engine with a belt-driven camshaft over each alloy cylinder head, the vertical valves prodded directly by the cams, Hispano-Suiza fashion, except that Fiat uses ingenious shim adjustment of clearances instead of a screwed valve pad.

Except for the Isotta-Fraschini, Italy has seldom gone in for absolute top-bracket cars in the Rolls-Royce, Packard, Minerva, Hispano-Suiza idiom but there have always been available to her top citizens luxury versions of Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Lancia; it is in this category that the 130 falls today, a return by Fiat to the high-class quality-car market which the great Milanese manufacturer has neglected for some years, although from time to time Fiat has made such cars, from the great 6.8-litre V12 of 1922 onwards.

The Fiat 130 Pininfarina coupé is a very beautifully contrived car indeed. Just consider it! The styling, with fluted waistline, is simple, clean-cut, classic. The interior is in the best possible taste, with upholstery of velvet cord, cut-pile carpeting, and a pleated headlining, ahead of which are recessed vizors. The driver’s seat adjusts for reach, height and squab angle, the last-named having a knob for fine movements, a lever (at the inner side of the seat) for coarse settings or for dropping the squab to give access to the shaped back seats of this two-door car. There is a big movable arm-rest between the back seats but the 130 is virtually a four-seater car. Riding in this Fiat is more like being in a Victorian drawing-room than a West End club and I found the seat comfortable but as unresisting as a plush-covered sofa. There is every variant of ventilation and heating, including four cold/hot-air vents, a pair in the facia centre, two more at the back of the transmission console, and two others at the facia extremities, all of swivelling-type, controlled by left- and right-hand under-facia knobs. The body is naturally self-air-extracting, a knob on the left of the heater-control panel with its three horizontal quadrant-levers looks after the two-speed blower, and there is a recessed, knurled knob used for quickly de-misting the screen. The windows are lifted and dropped electrically, with the disadvantage that unless the ignition key is set correctly they don’t function. The rocker switches for them are on a separate panel above the heater panel, bearing the “Fiat 130” label.

Above this again are the row of six press-down switches controlling, from I. to r., the wipers’ speed, Sigla heated rear window, front courtesy light, town/highway control of the Fiamm horns, a spare switch, and erection and retraction of the radio aerial. Above these again are the symbols applicable to the switches. The central console carries the hand-throttle and choke quadrant levers and the T-handle control for the automatic transmission which selects accurately and easily, with a depressible section on the bridge-piece acting as a safety lock, the lever controlling “Hold-1”, “Hold-2”, “N”, “R”, and “P” settings. The gear selector moves in a nylon-brush-protected gate. To the rear is a big lidded ashtray with inset lighter, and forward to the left the knob for location of the radio-speaker action. A rocker switch on the top of the steering column brings in side/headlamps and a tiny facia button on the rheostat-varied panel lighting.

To the n/s of the driver is a lid for the shallow but long cubby-hole, in real wood, this being pulled open with a tiny leather tag. Below it is a more useful oddments’ drop-tray, not fitted on the 130 saloon. Neither locks.

Although there is some wood-trim before the driver the instruments are very neatly set in black-hooded panelling. They comprise Veglia Borletti speedometer, with speed digits at 20 m.p.h. spacings, calibrated in k.p.h. as well as in m.p.h., with trip and total odometers, and the matching tachometer, with smaller Veglia dials for oil-pressure, (0-55-110 lb./sq. in.), oil temperature (blue-210ºF), fuel-level (0-½-4/4 with warning-light), water-temperature (120-190-260 ºF) and state of the battery, each with its symbol window. The white needles of the speedometer and tachometer lie almost in the same plane when the car is doing 70 m.p.h. at 3,500 r.p.m., quite the old Bentley touch! And when cruising on motorways the white needles of the small dials lie virtually upright, oil pressure at about 55 lb. (although at an alarming zero at idling revs.), water at 190ºF, oil heat at 210ºF. There are numerous warning lights, while the neat little Veglia electric clock is just to left of the instrument panel. The steering wheel is of sensible size, with a drilled cross-spoke and uncovered rim, the centre sounding the shrill horns. Three different-length stalk-levers control wipers/washer (the right-hand one), the turn-indicators (which have repeater lights), and lamps dipping/flashing. A plated lever releases the entire steering column if it is desired to adjust it for reach or rake, there is a rest for the driver’s left foot, the front radio-speakers are incorporated with the “pulls” for the wide doors and the latter have neat plated interior handles-cum-locks, with flush-set external handles and keyholes. The steering wheel centre has a block-letters “FIAT” motif but the radiator grille carries the coin-type badge with the laurel leaves, as used on the aforesaid V12 luxury Fiat.

The whole aspect of the Fiat 130 coupé is that of the refined luxury car from any age but I must confess that I would have done better had I read the comprehensive manual before driving away. For instance, because I hadn’t, I thought for some time that the screen wipers had packed up, because I mistook the two-speed facia switch for the main control (the latter gives full or an intermittant wipe), and then, thinking I was bringing in a heater fan to help demist the screen before I found out how the complex ventilatory arrangements functioned, I shot forward almost into a Herald ahead, having opened the hand-throttle, breaking off its plastic tip as I hurriedly closed it. This is no fault of the Fiat’s for it is not a moron’s shopping car. . . . The registration letters were LUV but for a moment I didn’t luv it!

On the road it behaves in keeping with its expensive décor. The engine gives 165 DIN b.h.p., so there are faster and more accelerative cars of this class. But a Silver Shadow does not have to compete with sling-shots and for all practical purposes this 1,600 kg. (kerb weight) 115 m.p.h. Fiat behaves beautifully. The Borg-Warner gearbox jerks under stress but if left to itself or locked in “hold” there is smooth pick-up, and the light-throttle change-downs go through nicely. Kick-down can be held to peak revs, equal to about 53 and 80 m.p.h. Acceleration is adequate rather than sensational, and useful from the higher speed. It is not possible to kick into low gear if “Hold-2” is in use.

The suspension is on the firm side but absorbs almost all kinds of shock for maximum comfort, the use of enormous Pirelli Cinturato HS CN36 205/70VR 14 tubed radial-ply tyres means that it is almost impossible to get the car to breakaway in normal motoring, and roll when cornering is effectively controlled. It is difficult to suppress road noise with such chunky tyres but this had been very reasonably dealt with and wind noise is low. The engine is somewhat more audible than might be expected when accelerating, and there is the usual automatic transmission noise. It took a few moments to warm up or start from cold even using the choke.

The ZF worm-and-roller power steering is excellent, being firm instead of over-light, even slightly heavy, a good fault with this kind of steering, smooth and almost shock-free, but it could have been a little higher-geared, because as it is some 3¾-turns are needed from lock-to-lock without the benefit of anything unusual in turning circles. There is gentle castor return action. The brakes, which have ventilated discs all round, dual-line hydraulics, and Bonaldi vacuum-assistance, feel spongy under the foot but actually function very nicely with slight squeal under modest pressures. The right-hand brake lever is a curious affair, because it is badly placed if “on” when one wishes to slide from the driving-seat. Usually it isn’t of course, as it falls to the floor unless its knob has been depressed, the car normally being restrained by the “P” setting of the gearbox. If, however, this stupid lever is left on, a noise like an egg-timer comes from it, causing driver irritation and any passing policeman to think you are making off in someone else’s £5,500 motor car—as, indeed, I was. There are times when you want to run the engine in neutral on a gradient and have to use this brake if you leave the car, but isn’t the warning light sufficient reminder ?

Ground clearance presents no problems to the Fiat 130 owner, and he should get about 270 miles to a tankful of four-star fuel; the filler is of screw-type under a lockable flap. Petrol consumption came out at 17.0 m.p.g. in ordinary usage, but was considerably heavier when the car tried to emulate a Dino. Oil levels for engine and gearbox are checked with separate flexible dip-sticks (on opposite sides!), no lubricant being required when inspected after 450 miles. The easily opened rear-hinged very light bonnet panel is self-propping, with a convenient lever-release on the o/s. Electronic ignition is available but the test-car had normal Marelli coil ignition. Perhaps a sign of the pending EEC, the battery was a Type 260 Exile Supreme, the safety-belts Britax inertia reel type. Carburation is by a single Weber 45DFC10, electrically fed. The wheels are the impressive Fiat Cromodora cast-alloy spoke type, with live uncovered fixing nuts. The various fillers are accessible, the heater is a Bonaldi and the headlamps rectangular dual Carellos.

The plugs on the n/s bank of the engine are accesible those on the o/s less so, especially no. 1 plug. The second of two small keys opens the very large boot, in which the spare wheel is angled on the n/s. The bumpers have long rubber tips but do not afford much protection for the front auxiliary lamps. There are twin exhaust tail-pipes, a front tow-hook, emergency handles for the electric windows, and amongst other discreet emblems the body proudly wears a Pininfarina crest.

In fact, it goes without saying that this Fiat 130 is splendidly appointed, even to two pull-out blinds for the back window, tinted glass and corner lamps in the back compartment. All the anticipated equipment and courtesy lights, etc. are naturally fitted and there are 16 fuses for the electrical system. The engine develops maximum power at 5,600 r.p.m. and the tachometer is yellow area-ed front 5.800 to 6,300 r.p.m., after which you are “in the red”, although there is little point in using such high engine speeds. The test-car had a very neat Autovox MA754 Melody stereo-cum-radio, a laminated screen, and Thermosol safety-glass.

This Fiat 130 is a very excellent luxury car, beautifully engineered, with the taut “expensive” feel such cars used to have, although in view of what BMW, for instance, achieve in terms of performance from 2½-liires, it could do with still more power; Fiat’s comment on that could well be that for the really press-on drivers they provide the Fiat Dinos! For comfortable, unostentatious fast motoring this top Fiat model is most certainly not to be denied but it is a very expensive car in this country, at £5,499.48. In the first six months of 1972, however, 108 Fiat 130s were sold here. — W. B.