Driving the Fiat Mirafiori Sport

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Having referred to the Fiat Mirafiori Sport in last month’s Editorial, in connection with Fiat of Turin’s supercharging experiments, I felt I should drive one again, which Richard Seth-Smith soon arranged. The Mirafiori range is now becoming somewhat dated, having been introduced in the UK five years ago. Nevertheless, these cars still have an appeal to those who like a good, honest conception of family saloon with the engine driving the rear wheels, incidentally through a five-speed gearbox. The 2-litre Sport version, the Fiat 131 2000TC to give it its full title, has the added attraction of the classic twin-cam engine, in a two-door bodyshell, to give it considerable performance.

Fiat claim that the Mirafiori Sport is directly descended from the successful Tipo 131 Abarth Rally cars. Its 84 x 90 mm. (1,995 c.c.) racing-type engine produces 115 (DIN) bhp at 5,800 rpm, which is sufficient to increase acceleration by 21/2 seconds in the 0-60 mph band, to 10.3 sec, and to lift top speed by some eight mph to over 106 mph compared to that of the 1600SL four-door Mirafiori saloon.

I found the driving position, that is higher than normal, quite satisfactory, even rather pleasant, the big seats being comfortable even if their cushions are a trifle thin. The steering wheel is very thick rimmed and the gears are changed with a big-knobbed stubby lever that engages them with a clonky, sometimes baulky, precision. The fifth-speed is for fast cruising, a drop into fourth being desirable in town driving. Yet the competition-bred engine is smooth and docile, although noisy when opened up. Indeed the noise level at speed of the Mirafiori Sport reminds one of its design-age, as does the lively action of the suspension. Yet this is a good car in which to cover the ground, its acceleration being decidedly useful, and the somewhat ragged cornering made very safe and impressive, from the grip aspect, by Pirelli P6 low-profile tubeless tyres.

The Fiat Sport is a rather sombre car, with its black bumpers, and on the test-car, charcoal upholstery. It is recognisable by its front air-dam and side rubbing strips, the o/s one of which had shifted slightly. It is a fine “wolf-in-sheep’sclothing”, a family saloon that belies by its appearance the effective manner in which a keen owner can wind it up. The brakes may be slightly over-servo-ed but stop this brisk roomy saloon well, the instruments are generally easy to read although the fuel gauge is insufficiently calibrated to reassure a person strange to the Mirafiori’s driving-seat, and the boot is of large capacity and unobstructed. There are minor irritations, like the wide doors lacking “keeps” and the twin halogen headlamps being very poor when dipped, although otherwise excellent. The facia incorporates an unusual pair of stowages, in the form of two illuminated wells covered by sliding, unlockable lids, and Fiat’s expected triple stalk-controls and three keys are part of the Mirafiori make-up.

The steering is light, the screw-type fuel filler can be locked, and although I did not have an opportunity to check petrol consumption as accurately as usual, this fast Fiat gave about 283/4 mpg on a long run and around 25 mpg of 4-star on harder going. As the tank holds nearly 11 gallons, refuelling is not called for at too-frequent intervals. The engine commenced from cold satisfactorily if not first time, on the automatic choke. The wipers have only a single speed apart from intermittent action and the washers work independently of the blades. Two neat Californian external mirrors are fitted, and instrumentation includes a Veglia electronic tachometer and a clock. The switchgear, heater/ventilation controls, and door handles are well-contrived, but apart from pockets in the backs of the front-seat squabs there is not much oddments stowage, except in the aforementioned facia “roll-top desk”. The bonnet is front-hinged and self-supporting, the dipstick easily used — no oil was needed in 600 miles.

Although some critics will discount the twin-cam Fiat Mirafiori as old-fashioned, do not be put off by this. It is a rather good return to the one-time sports-saloon. The price is £5,448 but although the offer of £300-worth of free fuel or holiday with every Mirafiori sold has ceased, no doubt a deal can still be done with Fiat vendors over a quick sale of these long-established Fiat Mirafioris. — WB.