Some things simply take time.
Outstanding: As an adjective, it’s one that’s prone to be overused, or maybe ill-employed; frequently used to describe something which is at best average. The 1993 Coupé Fiat (as it was designated by the marketers in Turin) was an above-average car, well regarded, possessed of the expected verve and swagger one had come to expect from a close coupled Italian. However, despite its undoubted appeal as a driving tool, the descriptor did not entirely apply. For while the Coupé Fiat was rather good, it did not raise the art of corner-carving, or apex skirting to any noticeable extent.
Where Fiat’s mid-’90s coupé offering did stand out however was in the visual realm. Because, it can be said without fear of contradiction, that at its debut, the Coupé Fiat looked like nothing else on the road. Part of the reason for that of course was the fact that it was, in stylistic terms wholly unoriginal. Now before you write in and question my eyesight, my sanity or my critical faculties, allow me elaborate.
The Coupé Fiat was perhaps the most original unoriginal design to be rendered in CAD/CAM, insofar as it was to a large extent a compilation, a roll-call of close to fifty years of (mostly) Italian sports car design, cleverly amalgamated into one oddly cohesive shape. Its originator, as even the dogs in the street know, was none other than enfant terrible, Mr Christopher Edward Bangle – otherwise known to a sizeable subset of the automotive firmament as Lucifer incarnate, and the reason we’re in the fine stylistic mess we find ourselves in now. (A view that I find laughably simplistic, for the record.)
Taken in isolation, the forms and surfaces of the car are wholly incongruent, and as such, really ought not gel into anything remotely resembling cohesiveness, yet owing to a combination of a strong theme, some solid, if slightly offset proportions (almost Citroënseque if you squint a little), and some really assured art direction at studio and design management level, the Fiat transcends its narrow remit and enters a realm all to itself.
Now close to three decades since its debut, time’s passage has lent the already retrospective Fiat an even headier sense of nostalgia than the one it started out with. And yet, in stark contradiction, it also stands as something of a post-modernist trailblazer, for there is really something quite contemporary about the Coupé Fiat even now, in that it previewed the latter-day mania for surface expression.
There is a lot more to said about the Coupé Fiat’s design, but mercifully a good deal of the heavy lifting has already been done by esteemed former DTW author, Mr. R Herriott, who has lent the Coupé Fiat design the benefit of his gimlet gaze. Speaking of which, both he and I spent probably more time than was strictly decorous stroking our chins over this very example one particularly precipitous summer evening of late (well it’s West Cork after all…)
Photography of this car (which took place some time before this), was limited by the fact that your author was on dog-walking duty – impatient, attention-deficient canines with their union representatives on speed-dial, should their servant and provider of all good things in life fall short of their standards. Hence, what we have must suffice.
But what prompted these photos, in addition to the fact that a Coupé Fiat is now a vanishingly rare sighting just about anywhere was the presence of a car that serves as backdrop. Never direct rivals, the T160-series Toyota Celica ran from 1985 until 1989, making it if anything an even less likely sighting, especially round these parts.
What is striking about the two cars when juxtaposed, is the degree to which Centro Stile Fiat moved the aesthetic forward. Some four years separate the end of fourth-gen Celica production with the Fiat’s debut, and yet they seem from entirely different generations. The Celica is a pleasant looking design, and at the time of its introduction, wholly contemporary – even if it was often cited as curating elements of past designs in its makeup – yet seen against the Fiat it appears flat, somewhat boneless. But am I being unfair – is it not the contrast that makes it so?
There are a number of readings one could posit here. One is view the Coupé Fiat as the result of a period of intense creative freedom within Centro Stile, when both stylistic and supervisory management were of similarly progressive mind – certainly, the car could not have made production within any other environment. Another is to view it as the creation of a singular mind – the much clichéd stylistic visionary.
Mr. Bangle has been hailed as such, for as much as his name has oft been taken in vain for alleged sins against the Vierzylinder, he has equally been lauded by those who cite him as a creative genius. But let’s for a moment leave aside his later career and consider Bangle as a young designer, fizzing with ideas, who with careful but courageous direction brought forth a car of immense confidence and lasting appeal.
Because, if anything, the Coupé Fiat’s design seems even more outstanding now than it did in 1993.