In 1969, Fiat introduced the all-new small model 128 created by designer Dante Giacosa and celebrated success with it again. And not only in his native Italy, but thanks to good sales actually all over the world, which also crowned him with the title of European Car of the Year in 1970. Even so, there was criticism, for example about the absence of halogen lights.
In addition, the car company also sold the license for its production to Egypt (the Nasr car), the Spanish Seat and the Yugoslav Zastava. There were many body variants – sedan, station wagon, pick-up and coupe. It is the coupe that was sold from 1971 that I want to talk about today. The technique was borrowed from the still open Fiat X1/9 (which, however, had a completely different concept with the engine in the middle), the Moretti 128 coupe and the experimental electric car Sears XDH-1.
Thanks to the concept, the type 128 could boast a much more spacious interior than that offered by most of the competition of the time and the previous Fiat 1100. At the same time, it was not a completely new idea and the inspiration for the designers was the Autobianchi Primula. It was at the subsidiary Autobianchi that Fiat tested the front-wheel drive concept. This coupe, which Fiat first showed at the Turin Motor Show in November 1971, doesn’t offer bad interior space either. As the particular car was sold as new here at Tuzex, it is the base model 1100 S. Fortunately, it is still in fairly original condition. That’s why it has square headlights and original wheels from a regular sedan. However, the period fashion of ribs behind the rear window and additional headlights suits the car.
You don’t expect it, but there is plenty of space inside
Thanks to the concept, the interior is surprisingly spacious considering the external dimensions of the car. In a particular car from the Retroautomuzea Strnadice, everything is like new. The black deck looks elegant, the alarm clocks in separate shields are supposed to create a sporty impression. The sports steering wheel, which is pleasant to hold, fares better. The seats are comfortable in both rows, but it is true that the headroom in the back is not the greatest. At the same time, access to them is not bad. It’s interesting how all the seats are actually small, short and low, but still quite comfortable. A decently large luggage compartment is also not to be thrown away. The reserve, which fit under the front hood of the drive unit, does not interfere.
Fiat is front-engined and front-wheel drive, and actually pioneered what small cars are like today. Giorgetto Giugiaro admitted that the Fiat 128 was a big inspiration for the first Volkswagen Golf, and the German designers took it down to the last detail when developing their car. Of course, the coupe stands on the same, only slightly shortened platform. There was a choice of eleven and thirteen, this car has the smaller of the two engines and a four-speed manual. Created by Aurelio Lampredi, Ferrari’s famous engine man, the SOHC four-cylinder with twin carburettors and an aluminum head produces 64 hp (47 kW) at 6,000 rpm and 81 Nm of torque at 3,800 rpm. And at higher revs, the engine sings beautifully, as if it revels in them. It’s that typically beautiful Italian sound.
Excellent driving characteristics are a huge plus
The rack-and-pinion steering is unexpectedly sharp and precise, so you know exactly where the thirteen-inch wheels are going. And the fact that it doesn’t have a booster doesn’t matter at all for a light coupe while driving. The independent all-wheel suspension and front anti-roll bar also help the handling a lot. The front is a classic MacPherson with lower transverse arms and a torsion stabilizer, the rear also, but with triangular arms. And suspension was provided by front telescopic shock absorbers, although there was still a transverse leaf spring at the rear. On a long straight, the Fiat should be able to go up to 150 km/h, it will accelerate to 100 km/h in 15.5 seconds, and the deceleration will be provided by discs in the front and drums in the back.
The car weighs 810 kilograms and drives great. The designers took the British Mini as a model and did not have to be ashamed of their result. The coupe is also better than the base 128 because it sits lower over the road. It holds great in corners, even if the Fiat is rather understeer at the limit. But thanks to the sensitive brakes, you don’t have to worry so much. The rack-and-pinion steering is beautifully sensitive and already has a safety steering column. In terms of consumption, six liters can be achieved in very quiet driving, but once you give the engine a drink to hear it sing, expect to consume around ten liters of fuel. Considering how fun the Fiat 128 is, I don’t mind this figure at all. Such a fun, nimble and lively car to look at, and nothing in life is free anyway.
The owner was also the famous il Commendatore
The end of production came in 1985. The Fiat 128 was very popular, even Enzo Ferrari owned one. While 2.8 million sedans were built before being replaced by the Ritmo, the coupe was made in just 330,800 examples, making it much rarer. In 1975, it was replaced by the three-door model 128 3P, which, unlike the coupe, was also produced under license in Poland. Around 60,000 of the sportier versions were produced, and today owners value them at 100 to 300,000 crowns. And given how fun and playful this car is, owners like to keep it. I’m not surprised, this car is sensational for its time.
Decent reliability is also pleasing, but of course, due to age, corrosion is to be expected, which does not make anyone happy. Red plague is said to like to attack, for example, A-pillars and door sills. Older specimens also suffer from a lower-quality interior, which has a greater tendency to degrade materials. The specific car has had an engine overhaul in the hundreds of thousands and also one repaint.