During its thirteen-year lifespan, Fiat’s D-segment saloon went under the knife on four different occasions, with varying degrees of success.
The Fiat 132 was launched in 1972 to replace the 125 Berlina. The latter, although a pleasant enough car, had always suffered somewhat from the inaccurate perception that it was little more than a Fiat 124 in a party frock. Both cars shared the same doors and passenger compartment but the 125 had longer front and rear ends and an 85mm (3.5”) longer wheelbase, courtesy of a platform carried over from its predecessor, the Fiat 1500. This allowed the rear seat to be pushed back slightly to liberate a little more legroom. Notwithstanding the similarity to its smaller sibling, the 125 achieved over 600,000 sales during its five year production life.
With the 132, Fiat wanted to move its large family saloon upmarket and give it a more distinctive appearance. The wheelbase was 52mm (2”) longer and the overall length was increased by a substantial 173mm (7”) over the 125. The design at launch was (courtesy of centro stile Fiat), however, somewhat frumpy looking.
The problem centred around the DLO and, specifically, the door windows. The one-piece door skin pressings contained the window openings, and their thick frames and rounded corners lacked elegance. The problem was compounded by a fussy brightwork treatment: the door window openings had a brightwork surround and there was a second strip of brightwork running immediately below, which kicked up slightly before continuing across the base of the C-pillar.
The 132 continued in its original form for only two years, before a clever, comprehensive and highly effective facelift was introduced in 1974. The base of the DLO was lowered to the level of the car’s waistline and the bottom corners of the door windows were squared off. This facilitated the deletion of the extraneous second strip of brightwork. The rear door quarter light and C-pillar were reshaped into a facsimile of BMW’s Hofmeister Kink.
In fact, the facelifted car now had more than a passing resemblance to BMW’s handsome 1972 E12 generation 5 Series, which might very well have been Fiat’s intention. A new grille and larger tail lights completed the update. This was possibly the cleanest and most handsome iteration of the model line.
In 1977, the 132 received grey plastic bumpers and lower side rubbing strips which concealed the bodysides’ indented pressing. It was also given the distinctive clover-patterned steel wheels from the 131 Supermirafiori. The bumpers were garnished by some rather unconvincing silver paint on their upper surfaces. This was Fiat’s ‘plastic fantastic’ period when all of its models were subjected to similar treatment. The 132 actually escaped rather lightly, but further was to come.
With the end of production of the slow-selling Amiragia Fiat 130 saloon in 1977, the 132 became the company’s flagship model. No immediate successor was planned for either model, so the 132 went under the knife once again in 1981 to become the Argenta* – Fiat having abandoned its numerical designations in favour of names for all models.
The Argenta looked broadly similar to the 132, but all external panels apart from the door pressings were new. At the front, large rectangular headlamps with outboard indicators and side lights replaced the dual circular headlamps on the 132. At the rear, new flush tail light clusters replaced the 132’s surface mounted units. Revised plastic bumpers and matching side rubbing strips gave the car a rather more contemporary and substantial look, adding 44mm (2”) to the overall length.
The Argenta received its final makeover in 1983, when a more vertical grille featuring Fiat’s new five-bar logo and smoother fully-integrated bumpers and side cladding were fitted. Production came to an end in 1985, when it was replaced by the Croma, Fiat’s version of the Type Four platform joint venture with Alfa Romeo, Lancia and Saab.
The Argenta was Fiat’s last rear-wheel-drive car**. The facelifts had kept it looking broadly contemporary, but it was never a big seller and was getting pretty geriatric towards the end of its life. Nowadays, it is hard to conceive of any market for large Fiat saloons in the style of the 132 / Argenta, never mind the 130. Still, the 132 had its moment in the sun: the 1974 to 1977 model with its sonorous 1.8 litre twin-cam engine and five-speed gearbox had an allure and element of exoticism, for a certain teenager at least.
* The choice of the Argenta name was most unfortunate for Fiat in the UK at least, its launch coinciding with the outbreak of the Falklands war.
** Ignoring the short-lived Mazda MX-5 based Fiat 124 Spider (as most did).