Something Rotten – Fiat Tempra

Time waits for no Fiat.

A Fiat Tempra amid gentler surroundings. Image: Motortudo

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on DTW in August 2016.

Remember the Chrysler K-car? It helped save Chrysler until the next crisis. The Fiat Tipo played a similar role, at least in underpinning a lot of models. This is one of them. Another Fiat, a 125 behind glass, made me stop at the location. When I stopped looking at that I wandered further. In the otherwise empty lot nearby this Tempra crouched. It looked good from afar, but it’s far from good. Although the body had galvanising, rust is biting the doors and the handles are seized. It’s not for sale anymore and evidently wasn’t worth taking to the dealer’s new location 10 km away.

As ever, the interior is in decent condition so anyone wanting stock with which to refurbish their beloved Tempra restoration project need look no further (though I notice the plastic film is coming adrift on the driver’s door top-roll; Renault 25s, Volvo 940s and Peugeot 605s also have this). In comparison with its peers the Tempra’s interior lacks conviction. When people talk of plasticky this is the reference. Is that a huge ashtray below the HVAC panel?

1991-1996 Fiat Tempra turbodiesel

Among its peers, the Bora/Jetta/Vento (delete as appropriate) may have lacked any slight charm, but they compensated with quality. Ford’s Orion (two generations!) could be Ghia’d up and coated with a certain lustre. Funnily, the Tempra was less spacious than a Tipo in the rear too. Look at the cramped rear footwell. It does have a wide centre-armrest but so does the roomier and vastly more attractive 306 sedan, the second-best looking small saloon of the time.

More significant than its inherent inadequacy, the Tempra was cousin to the Fiat Coupé Fiat, the Alfa Romeos 145, 146 and, alas, 155. It also flimsily served as an approximate basis for the Lancias Dedra and Delta 2. As a 145 and 146 it just about managed but as a Lancia it struggled. The Lancias were at least as dismal inside as this mortally oxidising turbodiesel, Zegna cloth notwithstanding. Fiat improved things for the AR 147 which now makes me curious as to why they didn’t think to do a Lancia equivalent. The Lancia mid-range went from Dedra to Lybra to Delta 3 and in so doing by-passed the Tempra’s successor, the Bravo/a and Stilo.

Fiat did offer lots of engines for this car: the range is delightfully stepped: 1.4,1.6,1.8 and 2.0 litre in-line four petrols and three diesels. Maybe the Fiat family 5-pot would have fitted?

Image: favcars

The lucky Brazilians got a 2-door Tempra. It appears quite attractive in photos. The downside might be that the assembly and trim could be even worse than the Euro car. Swiss customers could have a 4×4 Tempra wagon: is that a cult car now? The Swiss get 4×4 everything, it seems. I bet there was a 4×4 Ford Fusion, just for them.

Here’s an idea: put the 4×4 running gear into the Brazilian two-door body with the 5-banger… Now that would be interesting.

1991-1996 Fiat Tempra

Fiat stopped selling the Tempra in western Europe in 1996, a while after customers stopped buying them. The car here still has its price tag: 50,000 kr. Interested?

Author: richard herriott

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

31 thoughts on “Something Rotten – Fiat Tempra”

  1. I enjoy these ‘Something Rotten’ pieces. Like TTAC’s “Junkyard finds”, but without the grim finality.

    Is there a zero missing from that price, or is the seller so fond of the car he doesn’t want to let it go?

    I make that £5700, or €6700 (ouch!). Probably more than was paid new for the 1992 office hack I drove in the mid ’90s, a 1.4S in white turned chalky, bereft of powered anything, even steering. Considering that so much was new about the Tipo / Tempra platform, it shouldn’t have felt like a car from the end of an era, but it very much did. After five years it also felt like a car at the end of its life.

    In the previous order of things, the Tempra’s destiny should have been decades of production somewhere in Comunist Eastern Europe. Instead it went to free-market Turkey, where customers may have considered a new Mirafiori a far more appealing prospect.

    I’m trying to think of something nice to say about the Tempra. Well-loaded, with a 1.8 and the right colour and wheels, it might have kindled a mild flame of desire, but who’d choose one over a Sierra, Cavalier, 405, or Primera?

    The wagon, at least, was a useful thing. Who’s heard of a Marengo?

  2. I’ve now discovered that there were also Marengo versions of the 131, Regata, and Marea, and a similarly configured Stilo wagon. What’s more, the 131 version had a three-door version of the Panorama bodyshell.

  3. That interior has just made my eyes water a bit… It’s been quite a while I don’t see one of those.
    If I´m not mistaken the Marea/Brava/Bravo shared most of the underpinnings with the Tempra too, so that wasn’t a short lived platform after all.
    Well, the article mention the Brazilian Tempra, so it would be rude not to say a few things about that.
    First of all, the Brazilian-made Tempra had different rear suspension, ditching the trailing arms layout for McPherson struts, just as Fiat did with the 127 (147 here) and the Uno when decided to make them down here. As for the Tipo and the Tempra SW, however, as they were imported from Italy for most of their lifespan, they decided to keep the original rear suspension layout, with no noticeable drawbacks compared to the “national” McPherson option.
    Engine wise, the Tempra was initially offered only with a 2.0 liter (8 valve) twincam unit producing a meager 80 hp, because at that time Fiat had severe reliability issues and thought the downpowering would reduce the chance of failure. A few years later Fiat launched a 16-valve version with 127 hp. Further down the line, a turbocharged was added to the 8-valve twincam, ~160 hp. The 2-door version was really unique, developed only for the Brazillian market because of a national prejudice (stupid, and dead after the 90’s) against 4-door cars. Yes, the fit and finish (in all versions) was considerably worst than the italian siblings, but it did carry some technical breakthroughs, at least for the Brazillian market.
    The Tipo was offered in 1.6-liter and 2.0-liters versions, later joined by the Sedicivalvole (sigh). The Coupé, only for a few years and with the 2.0-liters 16v from the Tipo.
    As for the Tempra SW, it was only offered with a 2.0 8v (109 hp) but as it was imported it didn’t share parts with the sedan’s. In my fading memory it had the most glorious engine note this side of a supercar, with really no place in a family’s daily beater. My dad bought one new in 95 and served us daily until it died in my hands in 2003, totaled after being hit by a red-light offender. I learned to drive in that car, and it had the heaviest clutch pedal and the chunkiest gear lever I can remember, which was all too good if you really like the driving stuff. Once I reached 188 km/h (digital precision!) in it…
    A lot of memories spring to mind, more than I knew I had. Thank you for that!

    1. Thanks for stopping by and sharing those details. Am I right in guessing that McPhersons allow more wheel travel? And that to use them means a very different floorpan in the wheel arch towers?
      Is that product mix not very complex? The Fiat mechanics must have loved struggling to recall which spares to dial up, depending on whether the car was local or not.

    2. Yes, most of the rear floorpan was indeed different, but each model, saloon, SW and Tipo, was committed to only one suspension type, so it was either a saloon with McPhersons or the others with trailing arms. The idea really was to give the suspension more travel to deal with the rough (best of cases) Brazillian tarmac. The downside of McPhersons was it needed alignment from time to time, which most owners didn’t really know or care about.
      As for the mechanics, they were struggling with Fiats since the beginning, so it just reinforced the prejudice they acquired with the 147 (127 for Europe) due to its “unique features”. From late 70’s to the early 90’s the Brazillian market was closed to vehicle imports, so there were really just a handful of engine types to master. Fiat came and made every mechanic’s day significantly worse. And it got even worse in the following years, as 5-cylinders, 20-valves Mareas were being produced… That was a nightmare for most mechanics (even Fiat’s own) at the time and it still is for some.

    3. The Tipo platform wss very long lived, parts like front footwell, lower A posts and bulkhead can be found in Alfa 156, 147 and GT and even more parts in the 916 which had a vacuum cast suspension carrier at the rear that attached to the same mounting points as the normal rear suspension and in turn held the mounting points for the fabulous muti link suspension responsible for the 916s’ extraordinary road holding.
      The rear half was more variable with trailing arms, Camuffo rear axle (I assume that thisis what you mean when you say McPherson) or the Lybra’s unique design in use. The Camuffo doesn’t necessarily offer more suspension travel than a trailing link design but it is less prone to snap oversteer than trailing links with their jack up effect under cornering.

      The question is whether a Camuffo axle can be called an Alfa part when it was invented by Lancia engineers and widely used everywhere in the Fiat emporium. Parts commonality across sister brands was high even in the 128 or beta days.

  4. I am a happy owner of a Tempra, the Brazilian model uses front seats with electrical regulation of the Alfa Romeo 164, independent rear suspension similar to that of the Alfa Romeo 164, a 2.0 16v of 127 horsepower, a great car for the year of 1995, the Brazilian Tempra was developed to be a luxury car at the time, it was faced with the Opel Vectra A, VW Santana (a remodeled version of the German VW Santana of the 80s, GM Monza (a resized version of the Opel Ascona of the 80s) and Ford Versailles (a variant of the restyled VW Santana that was made by Autolatina which was a partnership between VW and Ford at the time). At the time Fiat made several mistakes with the Brazilian Tempra, first put in the instruction manual an exchange very extensive oil, at the time in Brazil had only mineral oil for engines and this oil required a change of 5,000 KM, Fiat recommended the exchange of 10,000 in 10,000 KM making with which many engines would break, or Trouble solved at the time was also the temperature sensor that took a long time to be triggered, this was enough to stain the image of a car that by Brazilian standards of the time was very advanced.

    1. Thanks for that. I had no idea Fiat used Alfa Romeo parts in that way at all. Also, that the Alfa parts fitted too is a surprise as well. Was there a larger engine or a turbo available? The EU version is much less special machine, seemingly produced by a firm uninterested in trying too hard. I think even then the small saloon market was fading so Fiat saw the writing on the wall. It would have been up against the Escort saloon, Astra saloon, Vento/Jetta and Megane and 306 saloon. Apart from the Escort, most of them very nice cars in one way or another. Did you get any of those? I have a suspicion Peugeot is not or was not a big player in Brazil. Or Renault. Am I right?

  5. Good morning Richard and thanks for the reminder of another long forgotten Fiat. The Tipo at least had its distinctive ‘industrial product design’ styling to commend it but, with the Tempra, Fiat attempted to make it more conventional looking, but merely succeeded in making it bland and unmemorable. The SW estate version is better, retaining more of the hatchback’s style and might have done better marketed under the Tipo name.

    1. I always thougt the SW was quite striking. IMO one of those cases where the estate looks better than the standard version.

    2. And the estate had the two piece rear door with a fold-down lower half DS Break style.

  6. Fiat apparently put a lot of capital investment in to the Tempra to try to get the quality right, as shown in this Fiat film ‘The secrets of quality’. They use a British car to show it being driven in the rain, which made me smile.

    Speaking of compact saloons, I see that Volkswagen have launched a new Polo Sedan in South Africa. The boot is enormous, at 521 litres, which is bigger than a BMW 3 Series or a M-B C Class.

    1. It ist difficult to imagine now but at the time of the Tempra Fiat was a technology leader in many areas. For example the Comau robots shown in the video were made by a Fiat spin-off.
      Fiat Auto systematically searched for advanced solutions at other Fiat subsidiaries (of which there were far more than there are today) and at Fiat Medico they found a material used for dialysis equipment that was ideal for making airbags as it was only a third of the thickness of the then standard material and allowed to produce airbags that needed much less space and could be hidden in much smaller steering wheel hubs – see the steering wheel of a barchetta or some Alfas as examples.
      At Fiat Avio they found a vacuum casting process that was new to the automotive industry and was used for the Alfa 916’s rear suspension carrier, 156/147/166/GT’s front upper wishbones and the 156’s seat frames.
      Fiat also was one of only two (the other was Ford) manufacturers able to create parts from resin in a 3D hardening process (they used basins filled with resin and focussed laser beams to set the resin at the point where the beams met). They were able to create stamping dies from resin, infinitely speeding up creation of prototypes by removing the need to make parts by hand. The most prominent showcase was the Alfa 155 whose numerous modifications would not have been economically sensible without that technology.
      Also the 916 ALfas
      But somehow Fiat only managed to get all this together in very few cases like the barchetta or the Coupé Fiat but not in their mass market products. Bravo/a had a good initial reception but somehow faded away very quickly, similar the first Punto.

    2. Dave, thank you for the description. If I remember correctly, this new technique of plastic/resin processing was “tried out” on the tailgate of the Uno Turbo and then later used on other vehicles in larger numbers.

    3. Amazing – thanks, Dave. I think that vividly illustrates the problem with big companies – lots of talent and some wonderful technologies, but how then to keep track of it all.

    4. This picture is fabulous: “it has a boot and it’s really pretty! Honest!”

      I’m not a big fan of the design, but I like that they made the D-pillars relatively narrow.

      Dave: fascinating, your knowledge is astounding. I do seem to remember Fiat making much of its techical prowess (similarly with the Croma, if memory serves) and rightly so – at the time. All those various subsidiaries remind me of Japanese (informal, after WWII) or Korean industrial conglomerates. I wonder how much is left, considering Fiat Auto itself barely seems to exist anymore.

    5. The process of 3D sculpting is similar to today’s 3D printing methods and is not suitable for making large numbers of parts. Fiat used it to create temporary dies for press tools to make body panels – the soft tools are worn out after about a dozen parts which is plenty enough for making prototypes.

      Fiat developed new processes for producing fibre reinforced parts like the Tipo’s hatch. The best known probably is CMK, an injection moulding method for resin with a non-woven kevlar-carbon fibre mixture used for the bonnet of the 916 Alfas. CMK combined low tooling costs with good production precision.

    6. Fiat also made one of the most important invention of the last decades: common rail injection.
      But not even a company as large as Fiat could bring this to production readiness so they founded Elasis, a company of the Magneti Marelli people working on the project and all related intellectual property and sold it to Bosch who were established in the market of diesel injection systems. Fiat’s role in the process was honoured by giving them the opportunity to present the first car with a common rail engine in the Alfa 156, presented before the Mercedes C class CDI.

    7. I’m no Fiat fan, but I find their decline over the past two decades both shocking and saddening. How could a company with such resources come to where they are now? Did the succession of worthy but not especially appealing products (a lá the Tempra) drain away the profits needed to sustain the company? Or was it years of poor decision making at the top levels? Or was it simply that the market simply moved away from the kind of cars Fiat were so successful with for so many years, and they simply failed to adapt?

    8. I would quite like to know, Michael. From the outside it looks like pure neglect and maybe a certain petulant defeatism because almost none of Fiat’s grand plans bore fruit over the last 15-20 years. Fiat never cracked anything above B-segment superminis so margins were probably always slim, but they also managed to let their perfectly servicable B-segment supermini wither on the vine for an eternity. Only the 500 hit bulls eye (with presumably bigger margins), but Fiat never really managed to grow that success beyond the original, like Mini has beyond the 3 door.

      The fact that Fiat does possess a full line up of cars in South America, where safety and consumer demands are lower, as well as the current built-in-Turkey Tipo suggest a dearth of funds (or know how) to develop something up to western European standards, but whether that’s a cause or a consequence is a moot point.

    9. Dave, your comment about Fiat using a thinner material to make airbags smaller remembered me the Punto, Barchetta or Coupé ´bagged steering wheels:

      A lot better than the clumsy items from the Clio

      or the Corsa

      The first small airbag I remember is the one BMW put in the E34 and E36, I think they appeared in 1992, and the airbag warning light is in the steering wheel, not the instrument cluster (sorry about the colours, I couldn´t find another picture)

    10. Fiat also made a big deal about the partial space frame construction that debuted under the Multipla and then was used for the Stilo. They claimed it was the future of their larger offerings but never went anywhere from there.

  7. Spotted one European Tempra this very afternoon. Purple colour, iron wheels. Occupied by a family performing the Saturday shopping run. Sturdy, durable car. The small side window seems to cover the c pillars when viewed from the front and a little bit to the side.

  8. When the Tempra was launched I lived near a Fiat dealer (at the times when many car dealers were relatively small family- owned business, located in the middle of a neighboorhood and not in an industrial state). They had in the showroom a metallic red Tempra with alloy wheels, I don´t know if it was a 1.6 or 1.8. The car looked very atractive and even a bit upmarket, at least after seeing an Orion, Jetta or R19 Chamade. Unlike Ford, VW or Renault, Fiat bothered to style a different front end.

    The Tempra, like the Tipo and so many italian cars, got old very soon and the resale value was almost worst in class. The fact that Fiat repeated the mistake with the Bravo/a mkI and II and the Stilo makes you wonder why Fiat failed again and again to develop properly its cars through its whole commercial cycle.

  9. The thing that stood out to me about the station wagon was the integrated roof spoiler and the feature in the roof that apparently helped the airflow. It looks a bit like full width, very shallow naca duct.

    1. Well spotted!
      That naca duct was connected to the back of the roof spoiler, which channelled air to the rear glass. It was there only to keep the glass clean from debris. That means the roof spoiler wasn’t a spoiler in the common sense.

    2. I thought it might be something like that. I remembered this feature and tried to look up a photo on the internet, which was a bit harder than I thought. This car is indeed largely forgotten.

  10. Yesterday I spotted one white Tempra 4door. I would prefer the front end treatment to be like the Tipo, using the more rounded corners and the clamshell bonnet. I like clamshell bonnets, but as it seems the designers do not prefer them.

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