Seven fat years: from 1993 to 1997 Fiat sold the Coupé Fiat as nobody calls it. As if that was not enough Fiat also sold the cheaper Barchetta, which had a good ten year year run. Glory days indeed.
We’ll discuss the Coupé today. If the body slashes down the side of the car get the most attention, and deservedly so, this view shows another form of design discipline in operation. The whole lot seems to be defined by very few lines: the outline, the dark trapezoids of the of lamps, grille aperture and the front screen and not much else.
How I wish I could say the same about some more recent designs. It is such an economical shape. The bonnet in particular deserves attention: the grille is a gap between the bonnet piece and bumper, the lamps are cut-outs as well. The edge of the bonnet is also the edge of the front wheel-arch and is where the bumper meets the body.
While involving very few elements, all the elements on this design are working very hard. The shape is credited to a guy called Christopher Bangle who I presume went to on to other good things somewhere else in the car industry. This design certainly shows incredible promise: the wit and intelligence shining from every (B)angle.
At the rear, there are two pairs of recessed lamps which is supposedly a retro-touch and isn’t. Rather than being retro it is cleverly economical. A form as a pure as a circle can’t be said to be dated, can it? Geometry is timeless. Excuse me if I wax lyrical about the near-symmetry of the rear-screen outline and the boot-lid aperture. The glass house perches on broad haunches and the panel the lamps are placed on is as beautiful as a simple double-curved panel can be. The clay modelling is not interesting – the effect of all that empty metal is however thrilling.
It’s often said the side view of the car’s a bit odd: long overhangs and those love-them/hate-them slashes. I’d argue the proportions were interesting. They work an awful lot better than the too-tall Kappa coupé (1997-2000). Luckily I have no photos of the car from the side anyway.
The Coupé Fiat didn’t just look good. It did very well in tests and comparisons. Car magazine rated it better than the Honda Prelude and Nissan 200 SX (if memory serves). The throaty petrol turbo five performed well but showed dipsomaniac tendencies. Luckily mainland Europe markets got a 1.8 petrol four.
Sales of the car were about what you’d expect of a pricey two-door with striking looks: dire. The peak year was 1995 with 17,619 and declined sharply to an average of 12,000 units for the next three year and then it faded away. In all, they sold around 72,000 units in 7 years.
Despite the rarity and stylish looks, a good one is not that expensive still. It’s rather cruel that the ingenuity shown in this car didn’t lead to more success. I think a lot of designers looked at and felt they couldn’t do more than approve its daring. It was one of those cars that made a big impression but offered no formal solutions that could be used elsewhere.
That’s not to damn the car: a car design is there to serve its own ends and not to provide handy ideas for those who come after. Do you wonder if the fizz and sizzle of this car awoke Ford from its slumbers, to make it able to present the Focus in 1998?