Ashtrays: 1972 Fiat 130 Berlina

“Dignified Italian” is how Autocar described the 130 saloon in 1972. Having had a chance to sit inside one of these cars recently, I can confirm that this actually undersells what is a remarkably lavish saloon.

1972 Fiat 130 interior
1972 Fiat 130 interior

Fiat intended the 130 to take on cars from the higher echelons of the mainstream luxury marques. Presumably this meant the middle and higher level Mercedes saloons such as the W-110 (which would have been in production when the 130 began development). As it happened the year before launch, Mercedes produced the W-114 and went on to sell nearly 2 million examples between 1968 and 1976. In about the same time, Fiat sold just 15,000 of their 130 saloons. The received wisdom is that the 130 was a failure – one of many also-rans in the executive class from this time.

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I’m not here to argue that the 130 achieved commercial success. What I will argue is that aesthetically the 130 is altogether the more interesting car. Autocar’s view in 1972 might add weight to the car’s appeal: “Seldom have we encountered such excellent handling in a car of this size. Its superbly balanced feel inspires tremendous confidence, enabling high averages to be achieved without conscious driver effort.” The four-wheel independent suspension, standard power steering and disc brakes abetted Fiat’s wish to sell a first-rate driver’s car.

1972 Fiat 130 saloon: source
1972 Fiat 130 saloon: source

The part we are interested in today is the attention Fiat paid to the needs of their smoking drivers and their smoking passengers. Like the rest of the car, the ashtrays are well-designed, nicely placed and well-finished. At the front, a properly sized ashtray sits aft of the gear lever. A fine crackle-finish lid is hinged at the trailing edge with a very wide lip to help the press-on driver open the tray without taking any attention off the road.

The lid glides downward, out of the way, into the wooden panel on which it sits. This reveals a zinc bowl and a cigar lighter. The rear passengers enjoy an ashtray mounted high in the doors. The ashtrays are quite large. Now, some may quibble that the ashtrays stand proud of their surroundings. Here form follows function: the designers wanted sufficient volume for the ash and this necessitated that the ashtrays were given room for this. It works very well. One could easily imagine senior diplomats and captains of industry appreciating the extra room for their cigars on a long trip from Milan to Ascea, say.

If you sit in the car and have a good look around, you notice the way the parts are fitted together. It’s well-made and numerous details catch the eye. There’s a bright strip across the door top rolls; the velour fabric is delightful and the seats themselves are convincingly cossetting (front and back). The trim such as the headliner and pillar coverings and carpets are all well-installed. For anyone who has ever experienced the Spartan coldness of other cars, this is somewhat of a revelation.

Only Jaguar reached this level of appeal but had less space. Not only is there room for passengers, there is room for luggage. The boot is vast but Autocar won’t say how vast. They concluded their review as follows “We advise all those who are in the market for this class of car to give the 130 careful consideration”. That holds true to today, even more so.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

8 thoughts on “Ashtrays: 1972 Fiat 130 Berlina”

  1. The first and only time I saw one of these cars was the coupe version in an underground carpark about 10 years ago. Couldn’t believe it was a fiat and went so far as to take a couple of photos. Can’t find them now of course. It really stopped me in my tracks although I had to make do with peering in the windows. I’m sorry to report that I didn’t pay heed to the ashtray situation. It’s a very long time since fiat produced anything like this (I always loved the mirafiori saloons also).

    1. Wasn´t this the last serious effort by Fiat to go upmarket? They bought Lancia to have an established brand and only succeeded in trashing it. Then they acquired Alfa Romeo and look where they are, trying to make a better type of 3-series. To imagine the oddness of this car today, you´d have to imagine Fiat trying to make an E-class competitor. What they have offered in the larger size of car are two Cromas and some MPVs. The Mirafioris aimed at the Cortina and Ascona.

      It´s funny you mention the 130 coupe….guess what else I saw that day?

    2. Fair point, the mirafiori was in a different class. There’s a guy near me who owns 3 (2 of which are in great condition) . One of them has the twin (yellow) circular headlamps and 14″ alloys and it’s just gorgeous. There are definitely echoes of the 130 in it. I agree the croma is at best a disappointment beside either of them.

  2. The first Croma at least functioned competently in its class. It wasn´t an unusual car though in retrospect Fiat were already losing the C-D class to the Vectra, Mondeo and Laguna not to mention the Passat and its brethren. The Lancias Thema, Kappa and Thesis may be properly considered the successors to the 130 saloon, the Thesis getting closest in ambition. The Kappa had the best approach though in that it was not too big and did not aim to match the S-class for technology, being more like a better class of Mondeo/Vectra/Laguna.
    The Mirafiori – it´s hard to believe that was a rear drive car, and if memory serves, competent in its class. Seven years ago or so I was in Geneva and the only interesting car I saw all day was a Mirafiiori – I haven´t seen one since but you´ll see Cortinas and Asconas often enough for it not to be a novelty.

  3. The Fiat 130 saloon were wonderfully elegant cars (do reviews talk about elegance now?) and both have stopped me in my tracks. I have seen one saloon and one coupé, both in Spain in 1970 and 1972 and to me they seemed the epitome of what a “grown up” car should be. I was driving a battered Fiat 500 at the time. I think they are less odd than might appear when you consider that their predecessors were the 2300 saloon and the beautiful 2300 coupé.

    1. Grown-up describes it very well. I saw both cars on the same day and each exuded a suggestion of competence and comfort without excess. I’d love to cross-compare the Fiat with an XJ and maybe a BMW 2500 (I am thinking of the 5-series forerunner).
      The way magazines go on about quality leaves one with the impression that people drove clumsy rattle-boxes before 1999. The Fiat was very convincing and for every detail which might be called archaic you can find a matching annoyance on a modern car.
      The sense of occasion one would driving this is far above the modest price asked.

  4. I still believe the Fiat 130 – maybe with square headlamps and more thick chrome – would have been a perfect car for soviet apparatchiks and members of the soviet secret service. A car for soviets that were deserving a bigger car than the Volga GAZ24.

    1. You are on to something there: is it a resonance involving Brutalist Soviet architecture and the car’s shape? You could see it looking quite well at the entrance of the Novygradski Workers’ Leisure Village No. 3.

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