The Fiat 132 1800 GLS
Fiat of Turin announced not long ago, through their efficient British publicity people, that they had taken notice of the criticism of those journalists who reported on the Fiat 132, and had carried out certain improvements, and that they would now like this model re-appraised. Well, I did not try the original 132 so I cannot relate earlier opinions to those I formed of the top-version of the 132, the 1800 GLS, which I took away from the impressive Brentwood depot. But, having just survived 4-1/2 hours in a Fiat 126, I was amply primed to enjoy its luxury and comfort!
First, I had to learn something about this high-performance Fiat family saloon. “Fiat”, by Michael Sedgwick, told me that it was the principal novelty from Turin in 1972, but that as a replacement for the 125 which retained both rear-wheel-drive and a live back-axle, it was “regarded in some circles as a retrograde step”.”A new and lower line”, continued Sedgwick “met with a mixed reception, some people considering that the 132’s shape was Japanese-inspired”. But he made it clear that this car, new in April 1972, with its twin-cam engine and optional 5-speed gearbox, promised to be competitive with the British cars, including the new BL six-cylinder f.w.d. 2200 model, and with the single-o.h.c. 2-litre Datsun and Toyota offerings.
That placed the 132 for me. But at first it failed to impress me. The engine tended to hunt and stall in traffic. All manner of irritating minor short-comings became evident, to put me off this well-equipped smart dark blue saloon with its comfortable cloth-upholstered seats and very thorough ventilating system. For instance, while the accelerator was much too heavy and its cranked stalk seemed all too likely to snap off, the disc brakes were over-servo-ed. This made the right leg tired and the left leg flustered, and the high-set accelerator pedal made heel-and-toeing impossible. The throttle also tended to stick, ruining a decent tick over. The central handbrake, which I used when the engine required blipping to prevent it from stalling in London traffic-jams, was impossibly heavy to pull up. The facia-mounted hand throttle cum choke was equally stiff, and there was sometimes a smell of petrol within the car. Although the instruments — speedometer, tachometer, oil pressure gauge, electric clock, and combined heat/fuel gauge, by Veglia—were recessed in the imitation wood panel, they were sometimes difficult or impossible to read, due to reflected light. They were also of three different sizes, but neatly spaced.
Continuing this tale-of-woe, the steering wheel had an uncomfortably thick rim and parking called for considerable effort. Although a facia shelf and door pockets were provided, the under-scuttle cubby had a very awkward catch and one that tended to claw any hands that were thrust into the invisible well. The lid of the very spacious boot flew up when released, hoping to smack you on the chin, a rear door was difficult to open, and the engine was not a particularly prompt commencer from cold. If you switched-off the ignition the brakes almost immediately became ineffective, because there was no reasonable vacuum reserve. Without doing a great deal of reading of other people’s magazines I do not know whether, in putting right earlier complaints, Fiat have introduced fresh short-comings, or whether I have simply found the items which had been widely criticised previously. Whichever way it is, I was disappointed.
Until, that is, I got onto the comparatively open road. Then this 1,756 c.c. twin-cam 104 m.p.h. Fiat got along very well. The suspension is apt to lurch laterally to some extent and the gearbox is inclined to be baulky. But this is a comfortable way of driving quickly and by judicious use of that fifth gear I recorded a rather remarkable 29.5 m.p.g. of four-star petrol on a long run. If you don’t mind the Fiat triple-stalk levers on the steering column, most of the controls are well contrived, and items like a heated rear window, red light on the door extremities, flush-fitting door handles, dual headlamps, cigarette lighter, etc. are included.
I thought at first of this Fiat 132 as an Italian Mexico. Actually, it is a better appointed, more-luxurious car, but one nevertheless able to go from to 60 m.p.h. in about Mexico-time. It may have a softer ride and less responsive steering than the fast Ford, but a twin-cam, 5-speed, fully equipped saloon for under £1,900 is not to be scorned. Further Fiat attractions are the adjustable steering column, thermo-electric fan, those all-disc dual-circuit brakes, single-speed wipers with electric washers and an intermediate action for light rain, etc. But roadside “pit-stops” were delayed because the flap over the fuel-filler was difficult to pivot and the screw cap then took time to undo and replace. Turin may take heed of what we Press roadsters say. But the Fiat 132 still isn’t free from snags. However, as a car with a dual personality, sporting saloon and well contrived family coach combined, it merits attention.—W.13