Road impressions: the Fiat 124 1600 Sport Coupé

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124

Fiat make a most intriguing range of cars, as the have almost throughout their history (a history I hope Michael Sedgwick will soon provide for us, for the full story of this most prolific of Italian makes has yet to be properly chronicled). Today they are making increasingly good use of twin-cam engines. We had to miss the “Alfred Woolf Mille Miglia” from Dover to Scotland to introduce the Fiat 124T because it was postponed for a week and clashed with the French GP—the 124T being a d.o.h.c. version of the Fiat 124 saloon which normally has a push-rod engine. The 124 coupé is twin-cam and now another Fiat twin-cam engine, as used in the 125S saloon but with freer breathing, is available in this very acceptable coupé, giving it somewhat enhanced performance, as capacity has increased from 1,438 to 1,608 c.c. (bore in both cases 80 mm., stroke increased from 71.5 to 80 mm. to give the latter swept volume). So here are four twin-cam Fiats, not counting the ordinary 125 and the Ferrari-powered Dinos.

I have enthused previously over the 124 coupé, a nicely-styled compact four-seater with generous window area, comfortable seats, a self-locking boot of adequate size and a dignified interior decor. The 1600 version is much the same car and reacquaintance with this coupé model confirmed my liking for this Fiat Sport. I took it over from Fiat’s latest London headquarters on the left-hand side of the Great West Road out of the metropolis, conveniently situated for attaining the M4 Motorway, a spacious depot gay with flags, generous in its ground-level and roof-top parking space, and pleasingly banked by a canal.

Driving off into London in a blistering July heat-wave I thought how opportune it was that I was using a Fiat, for Italian cars do not usually overheat, whereas the faithful Rover 2000TC which I had left behind, while it doesn’t actually boil, gets its thermometer needle precariously close to the red in summer traffic conditions, a case, I suspect, of four years’ silt in its finely-meshed radiator. Thinking on these lines, I came upon an E-type Jaguar enveloped in clouds of steam outside Madame Tussauds. This caused me to glance at the Fiat’s neat Veglia instruments—electronic tachometer indicating that the 110-b.h.p. alloy-head engine is safe to 6,500 r.p.m., which it readily exceeds, matching speedometer and, to the left, a clock (not a good timekeeper), olio, acquia and benzina gauges, somewhat blanked by one’s left hand on the slim polished-wood rim of the slippery steering wheel.

It was then that I observed that the olio gauge read zero with the engine Idling at a steady, rather rattly, 500 r.p.m. This ruined the remainder of the run to the office, where I was able to confer with Mike Cotton, Editor of Motoring News, who regularly uses a Fiat 124. “Not to worry,” he reassured me, “they never have any real oil pressure but thrive all the same.” And it was so. When I got around to searching for the elusive dip-stick all was well and after 1,150 miles oil consumption had been negligible. Perhaps, however, there is something about 124s, because a few days later, in remote Radnorshire, I encountered an Alvis TE21 at boiling point, its luckless owner searching for a stream, with his shoes for a water carrier… However, the thermostatically-controlled electric fan kept the Fiat’s acquia at just over 90° C, but below 100° C in the worst of the traffic jams..

What a charming car the 124 Sport is! In its bigger-engined form it will do not far short of 110 m.p.h. It accelerates adequately, 0-60 in 11 1/2 sec. fashion, is comfortably sprung and accurate to control, wagging its hips somewhat on rough roads but riding straight. The five-speed gearbox is delightful, the lever movements shorter, I fancy, than those of an Alfa Romeo, although the ratios are somewhat widely spaced, giving maxima of 26, 49, 73 and 100 m.p.h. in the lower ratios if the 5-bearing engine with its belt-drive camshafts is wound up to an acceptable 6,500 r.p.m. The Fiat-Bendix brakes, disc all-round, are rather spongy.

That about sums it up. The outstanding feature of this Fiat is its docility, allied to sufficient performance. It will run happily in the geared-up fifth speed from quite moderate speeds. It is, indeed, very much a two-character car. It is quiet, smooth and unassuming if you are not in a hurry. Step on it and it responds splendidly, the engine deep-throated, the steering taut, quick and yet transmitting scarcely any kick-back (when it does, it’s a vicious kick), as I found, for instance, in overtaking an Imp which was heading in the Tewkesbury direction out of Cheltenham one evening, driven surprisingly quickly by a young slip of a girl with a baby in the back.

There are many good aspects of this Fiat’s equipment, too. The seat squabs adjust with extreme precision when their knobs are turned, though the opposite way from that expected, there are lever-operated cold-air vents on the facia supplemented by others on the console, (although the body is not vented, except by opening the side windows) the screen-wipers can be set to operate over a range of speeds or to function intermittently, the heater controls are easily reached but unobtrusive, there is a cigarette lighter, rheostat instrument lighting, a hand-throttle, a non-lockable drop-well under the facia, scuttle map-pockets, etc. The washers’ button is on the facia but a stalk-control works the wipers, which unfortunately leave an unswept area on the o/s, the doors lack “keeps”, the release lever for the self-propping but difficult-to-lower bonnet lid is away on the n/s, the big air-cleaner makes some of the under-bonnet machinery inaccessible and there is the irritatingly complicated Fiat lamps’ control of the excellent Carello q.i. dual headlamps.

But these are small disadvantages compared to the excellent “one-pieceness” of the car as a whole and it is fully equipped with boot and under-bonnet lighting (but only when the car lights are on), dipping mirror, three interior lights, stiff-to-open 1/4-windows, a loud airhorn sounded from the boss of the steering wheel, reversing lamps, winker repeaters, etc. The black interior finish is nice but plastic upholstery is used, though with cloth inserts. The coil-spring suspension is perhaps softer than before, as the back anti-roll bar has been deleted from the 1600 model. However, I found the handling good, on wet and dry roads. Despite a M. Bibendum sticking on a side window, the tyres were Pirelli Cinturatos, with unhappily worn treads—the total odometer read 11,500 miles. As for economy, I got 28.8-m.p.g. driving briskly rather than very fast. I like this car, which is the most expensive Fiat sold in this country, at £1,716.87.—W.B.