“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.
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.
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.
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.