Dante’s Peak (Part Two)

Continuing the story of the Fiat 128 and its derivatives.

Image: classicandsportscar.com

In 1971, Fiat introduced a mildly sporting version of the two-door 128 saloon called the ‘Rally’. This featured an engine enlarged to 1,290cc. Perhaps surprisingly, given how oversquare the original 1,116cc engine was, this was achieved by increasing the bore by 6mm to 86mm while keeping the stroke at just 55.5mm. A twin-choke Weber carburettor and slight increase in compression ratio raised the maximum power output to 66bhp (49kW). The Rally was fitted with servo-assisted brakes and an alternator in place of a dynamo.

Externally, the Rally was distinguished by front quarter-bumpers, spotlights, black stripes along the lower bodysides and a black rather than grey front grille. One expensive change was a new rear panel incorporating inset twin circular taillights, the latter sourced from the Fiat 850 coupé. Inside the Rally was equipped with additional instrumentation, comprising a tachometer, water temperature and oil pressure gauges.

Fiat 128 Sport Coupé. Image: autopaper

Later in 1971, Fiat launched the pretty 128 Sport, a coupé that shared nothing externally with its saloon namesake. The Sport was based on the floorpan of the saloon with the wheelbase shortened by a substantial 222mm (8¾”). It replaced the rear-engined 850 coupé, production of which had ceased earlier in the year. The Sport was offered with the 1,116cc and 1,290cc engines from the 128 saloon, but uprated to produce 63bhp (47kW) and 74bhp (55kW) respectively. The 128 Sport was replaced in 1975 by the 3P (‘Tre Porte’) a revised version with all-new bodywork from the B-pillar rearwards incorporating a hatchback instead of a separate boot(1).

Fiat 128 3P. Image: autovia

Apart from a mildly altered front grille in 1972, the appearance of the 128 saloon and estate changed little during its first seven years in production, Under the skin, however, Fiat made considerable efforts to improve the corrosion resistance of its cars during this period, including the installation of plastic wheel arch liners in 1972 and much more effective rustproofing measures. There were also changes to the design of the engine’s combustion chambers, to reduce emissions and improve fuel consumption.

In 1976, the 128 was treated to a stylistic overhaul. The facelift complied wholly with the requirements of the Fiat Charter(2) in that it cheapened and uglified the car both inside and out. Externally, the slim chromed steel bumpers were replaced with thick and ugly grey plastic items, the upper surfaces of which were unconvincingly painted silver on more upmarket versions of the car. The new bumpers stood sufficiently proud of the bodywork to allow the previously hidden slots and pressings in the front and rear valances to be seen, which looked crude and careless.

Image: telegraph.co.uk

The original distinctive front end, with indicators that sat outboard of the circular headlamps and wrapped around the corners of the front wings, was replaced with a wholly generic arrangement of (too) small rectangular headlamps inset into a deep plastic grille, with sidelamps and indicators relocated to slots in the front bumper.

At the rear, there were enlarged tail lights, now incorporating reversing lamps. These were rather oddly shaped, rectangular, but with the lower inboard corner sliced off for some reason. Equally inexplicable was the addition of a plastic capping piece at the base of the C-pillar that was styled to look like a ventilation grille but performed no such function(3). Even the new badging, in silver-painted grey plastic, with trim and engine size designation badges on the rear wings, looked rather cheap and nasty.

Image: telegraph.co.uk

Inside, the cheapening theme continued. The previously smart and solid if somewhat dated looking dashboard was replaced by a black or brown coarsely textured plastic moulding that was hard, scratchy and hollow-sounding. The instrument graphics and needles were now yellow in colour, apparently to improve legibility, and there was an open shelf above the glovebox that was too shallow to be useful for anything but a pen and packet of cigarettes.

Image: Fiat Auto

One intriguing change to the three-door ‘Familiare’ estate was the replacement of the two-part rear side windows with a shorter single-piece glass. This incorporated a VW Golf-like ‘Hofmeister Kink’ in its trailing edge. This version was renamed ‘Panorama’, which was somewhat ironic, given that the C-pillars were now much wider than on the previous estate. In making this change, was Fiat trying to reposition the estate as a three-door hatchback(4) to challenge more directly the highly successful wunderkind from Wolfsburg? In any event, the effect was again to cheapen its appearance and make it look like a small van.

Image: favcars.com

Car Magazine’s correspondent Leonard (LJK) Setright drove the revised 128 and reported his findings in the July 1976 issue of the magazine. Tactfully, he chose not to offer any opinion on the aesthetic changes, instead focusing on improvements to the drivetrain. He recalled that the earlier gearbox was “a very good and very clever transmission arrangement, but it was not perfect. Second gear was occasionally difficult to engage, bottom gear frequently so, but the difficulty has been entirely overcome, rendering the gear-change completely acceptable, by the adoption of Borg-Warner synchromesh rings for the relevant pinions.” Thicker driveshafts and a final-drive gearing raised by 10.8% had eliminated “a resonant torsional vibration that made high-speed cruising somewhat noisier and less pleasant than it should be” so the revised 128 was now “a lot sweeter and quieter than ever before.”

There was a downside, however, to the raised final-drive ratio, which Setright explained as follows: previously, “maximum speed corresponded with the peak of the engine’s power curve at about 6,000rpm. Favourable conditions would allow the car to stretch its legs well into the 90s before the ever-safe engine began to lose breathing efficiency, while the odd headwind or adverse gradient would not rob the car of more than a couple of miles per hour. It is different now: the maximum speed is much the same – about 87 for the 1100 saloon, 90 for the 1300 – but these speeds are reached at 5,300 and 5,500rpm respectively, well below the power peak [hence] the last few miles per hour are slow in coming.”

The payback was in improved fuel consumption: “The 1100 that I drove in the Italian Mobil Economy Run verified that in no uncertain terms, and the fact that none of the contestants did worse than 45.88mpg, while averaging better than 40mph on a route that was far from easy, was convincing evidence that Fiat’s claims for better fuel consumption than ever are well founded.”

Setright was very impressed by the revised 128: “After seven years one needs to drive it again to discover how little if at all its younger rivals have improved upon it. In fact its handling is still the most competent, the most satisfying, the most forging (sic, forgiving?) and therefore the safest in its class. In all other respects, including liveliness, spaciousness, convenience and refinement, it is at least highly competitive.”

While the 128 was nominally replaced by the Fiat Ritmo / Strada in 1978, an entry-level version would remain in production in Italy for another eight years and a total of over 3.1 million were produced. Even that did not mark the end of the 128 story: it enjoyed a prolonged parallel existence in countries as far apart as Yugoslavia and Argentina, as we shall see in Part Three of this series.

(1) The moot question of whether or not the 3P improved on the looks of the Sport is examined here.

(2) For readers unfamiliar with DTW, this is our shorthand for facelifts that we regard as poorly executed and disfiguring.

(3) Was this covering a joint in the bodywork that was previously concealed by lead-loading or some other labour-intensive method?

(4) Fiat would not have a direct challenger for the Golf until the launch of the replacement for the 128, the Ritmo / Strada, in 1978.

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

37 thoughts on “Dante’s Peak (Part Two)”

  1. i had a 1971 1116 cc 2 door saloon back in the mid 1970s.we used to call it the push me pull you coz it looked nearly the same at both ends when viewed from the side. what a fun car it was to drive.went like a little rocket and sounded fantastic.it was four years old when i bought it for £400. gave it a total respray due to various scratches and dents. and kept it 18 months.sadly the old italian tinworm set in at five years old so i flogged it pronto.back then fiats had bags of character with their screaming engines and thrashability. not like the grande punto i bought new in 2007,boring to say the least,a big disappointment.

    1. Good morning Mark and thanks for sharing your experience of owning and driving the 128. You describe its willing and eager character perfectly.

      I see what you mean about the almost symmetrical side profile:

      The inclination of the windscreen and great window look very similar, as do the reverse-rake front and rear ends.

    2. A two year anti-corrosion warranty! A sign of absolute quality that leaves nothing to want.

  2. Interesting. I have to admit I never saw the facelifted 128 as ugly. I think it looks rather good as far as facelifts go (especially Fiat facelifts) and I like the unusual tail lights. The front end is blander, but still neat. I even like the C pillar faux vent – maybe because here in Croatia practically all 128s were Zastavas and they all had that (albeit simpler), and an original 128 without it looks to me like it’s missing something.

    You will probably cover this in the third part, Daniel, but a really bad 128 facelift IMO is the Argentinian Super Europa. That’s just insane.

    1. Good afternoon, boarezina, and thanks for your comment. Yes, the gruesome Super Europa does feature in the third and final part of this series.

  3. I think it’s interesting to ponder the question of facelifts regarding to when one was born. I was born in 1974 and became quite aware of different car models already as a four five year old. And I remember understanding the concepts of facelifts and planned obsolesence already at that age. I distinctly remember the ’78 facelift of the Volkswagen Passat, and the concept of “new” equals “better” compared to the old model. Therefore to my eyes, the ’76 facelifted 128 always looked better than the original, no matter how cheapened out it may have been. It is also a question of the times, if one remembers the late seventies, and the thought that battle ram bumpers, big plastic chunks, and blacked out trim represented the future, and the future was not only good but always better.

    1. Good afternoon, Ingvar. You make an interesting point about perceived modernity influencing ones judgement about the merits or otherwise of a facelift. I’m more than a decade older than you and was thoroughly familiar with the original 128 when the facelifted version arrived. It certainly looked more modern with an absence of chrome and those plastic bumpers, but the execution was shockingly poor: I recall looking down at the plastic bumpers and noticing the crude metal brackets that supported them and the now exposed pressings on the valances. Inside, the dashboard was a hard and hollow-sounding plastic moulding that looked cheap and nasty.

      In contrast, the 1978 Passat facelift you cite was really well executed, with close-fitting plastic bumpers, the front one with upturned ends to meet the new wraparound indicator lenses. Here are images of the original and facelifted front ends:

      At the rear, there were smaller tail lights that facilitated a deeper hatchback, which now opened down to bumper level. One interesting detail change was to the pressing of the rear quarter panel, which gained an additional crease running back from the side window sill before turning upwards on the D-pillar. You can see it clearly in the photo of the facelifted car above. I wonder if this was done to take some visual ‘weight’ out of the base of the D-pillar? Overall, I would argue that the Passat facelift shows attention to detail that was largely lacking in the 128 rework.

    2. In the late ´70s a car with chrome bumpers started to look terribly outmoded and as Ingvar says big chunks of plastic were the future. Perhaps we see now the “Fiat-Chartered” 128 lacking the elegance of the original, but in those years, like now, newer was better.

      And if the restyled 128 seems uglier, the US spec 128 wasn´t a beauty either.
      It seems the side rear light marker is exactly in the same place that the badge with the engine size/trim of European cars. Did the 1976 restyling coincide with the arrival of the 128 to the US market?

    3. Hi b234r. The US-spec 128 in your photo is, I think, a pre-facelift example because it still has the original front end, albeit combined with US mandated 5mph bumpers. The side marker lights look pretty awkward, don’t they? I think it says something about the insularity of European automakers back then that, even when they planned to export a model to the US, they failed to ‘design in’ features needed for that market.

    4. The facelift and how you describe it remind me of many BL stories, Daniel: you can see what they were going for, but why so crudely and clumsily executed? By Fiat Charter standards, the use of black plastic is actually somewhat restrained, I think.

      Ingvar’s point is very good. I’m from roughly the same vintage and remember the “black plastic is the future!” feeling from those days well. I still have a guiltily sneaking admiration for harmonica-bumpered 911s… and even worse, I don’t really mind the plastic fantastic Alfasud Sprint. I mean, I know I shouldn’t, but…

      Right, that’s confession done. 😁

    5. I’m glad I could provide a talkable point for once, always fun when something resonates.

      But yeah, I’ve always preferred the blacked out era over the chrome era cars because of that. Even with the big bumpers. Like the Series III Jaguar XJ6 over the Series II, or the Citroen CX body coloured bumpers over the chrome bumpers. I guess I was a child of the times….

    6. Good afternoon all. I think for many European car makers, the American market would make up such a small proportion of overall sales that they probably didn’t think it was worthwhile spending the extra to ‘design in’ features which only the US and maybe Canada required.
      Fiat’s US sales in the seventies would have been quite small, to judge from all the ‘Fix It Again Tony’ jabs going around; I have a 1972 Motor Trend yearbook where they review the new ‘imports’, and the Fiat page has a faint whiff of ‘you can still buy one if you really want’ about it. While Fiat would have been hoping for a sales breakthrough, they would have realised they were fighting a hard battle while waiting for better days. Would you spend the money in the hope of better sales, or stand pat with what you had?
      But I have to wonder – knowing they were going to be selling them in a market where such features were required, why not design in things like marker lights better in the first place?
      Trivia for the day- When the Canadian-sourced Dodge Phoenixes (Plymouth Fury up there) were assembled in Australia for 1969, the side marker lights had to be disconnected, as (supposedly) they fell foul of local regulations. And yet a wraparound taillight, which also showed red to the side, was okay. Thirty years later, Australian-assembled Mitsubishi Diamantes had the required red lens on the rear guard whether for local sale or export, but no bulb or wiring behind it on ones sold locally. Bureaucracy, don’t you love it!

  4. I never liked the original coupé. With its kinked beltline and Manx cat like tail it looked like contemporary Japanese products.
    The straightened out 3p was much better in my eyes.

    1. FIAT had an ad for the 3P featuring Nicki Lauda racing a family to their holiday in Monaco. It’s the only car and I’ve seen with a realistic family, complete with snotty kids pulling faces in the back.

    2. Not a Fiat, but Niki Lauda.
      And a demonstration why Italian cars were the way they were

  5. Find it difficult to view the 128 Sport as a replacement for the 850 Coupe, as the 128 Sport ended up having a similar wheelbase as the 127 with the latter and the smaller A112 making for a more convincing basis for a coupe bodied successor.

    Am assuming the 85 hp figure cited for the 1290cc is in SAE, still 66-74 hp is not too shabby although more into the lesser-known 93 hp (?) Fiat 128 1600 Rally by Giannini.

    1. To clarify the 85 hp figure is in reference to the 128 Rally and Sport seen on the web.

    2. Apart from the 128 being famously responsible for the layout
      & packaging of most modern cars (via Ingolstadt…), there
      are two parameters about it that never cease to fascinate,
      over and over :

      -Rodlength/stroke ratio of 2.12 (!), comfortably into race engine territory), and
      -Wheelbase/trackw.ratio of 1.87 (almost equal to a Citroen CX).

      Make of it what you will, but the 128 was definitely
      something entirely different.

  6. My uncle had a facelifted 128. It was a light blue 4 door saloon. I was maybe six years old at the time, but I remember the car. My uncle drove it quite fast at the time, which is probably why I haven’t forgotten about it.

    Build quality was another matter, though. Rainwater was trapped somewhere in the car, which caused rust and some mishap with the wiring loom. My uncle only bought Japenese cars from that moment on. He also drove slower after the Fiat was gone.

    1. “He also drove slower after the Fiat was gone.”
      That’s the defining feature in the character of Italian cars of that period.
      You should feel that Italian urge to get forward, if possible as quickly as possible. A small devil should sit on your soulder and whisper ‘faster, faster!’.
      Just as my driving school instructor taught me fifty years ago: ‘don’t brake, the guy in the other car is just afraid of damaging it as you are. He’ll brake in the end…’

    2. This German road test team certainly drove it enthusiastically, giving us the opportunity to hear the lovely raspy exhaust note. They bemoaned the fact that the German manufacturers weren’t producing anything similar.

  7. Many thanks for the write up on the 128 and its relations.

    My first car was a 1976 128 3P 1300 in red with blue tartan upholstery. It was structurally rust free, which was a big step up from the rotten Chevettes, Escorts or Avengers I’d been looking at and had loads of Italian style and pizzazz (Weber carburetter, Veglia instruments!). It revved quite happily to 6000rpm, much to the consternation of my colleagues with their asthmatic British cars.
    It did, however, have rotten bottom doors and leaked at the base of the windscreen, both caused by blocked drain holes leading to permanently moist environments. I had many memorable drives over the Woodhead Pass between Sheffield and Manchester, including more than a couple of white knuckle overtaking moments, the 145 tyres and 73hp were more than adequate in those student days.

    An abiding memory of the 128 saloon was during my one and only (thus far) trip to the Emerald Isle in our Citroën LNA (aka the Bean Can) in 1991. We followed the frog green 128 across the hills from Dublin to the west at a good pace and were astonished to see the back edge of the roof flap open and close as we went round the bends. We later found out that there was no MOT in Ireland at that time!

    When I look back now I still like the style and layout of my 3P and I’d be quite happy in a modern equivalent but sadly none exist. You never forget your first!

    1. Great memories, Andrew. Thanks for sharing. Italian rust-proofing and the Irish climate were not happy bedfellows, so your sighting of that disintegrating 128 was by no means unusual back in the day.

      There was no statutory roadworthiness test in Ireland before the introduction of the NCT (National Car Test) in 2000. Vehicles are tested at four, six, eight and ten years old, then annually thereafter. Unlike the UK MOT test, the testing is independent of the motor industry and operated by a company called Applus, which was awarded the franchise by the government and runs 47 test centres across the country. They are quite big and slick operations, typically with teams of testers and four to six testing lanes, but there have recently been delays in trying to book appointments and the €55 fee is waived for anyone unable to get an appointment within 28 days. That said, I had no difficulty booking appointments to have our cars inspected prior to re-registration in Ireland, then subsequently tested after we imported them from the UK late last year.

    2. Going way OT here, but I couldn’t help noticing – the UK test is named for the government department that requires it, while the Irish test is named for what it actually is. A car test. Much more friendly.
      Australia? We don’t have one on a national basis, For states that do it’s RWC for RoadWorthy Certificate. My state (Victoria) only needs one when a car changes hands, so the Cortina I had for 25 years never needed one. I took it off the road voluntarily when the A-pillar began to rust, but it would not have been illegal to keep driving it like that. Unless the police stopped me for a roadside inspection and noticed. Rust on a brown car was hard to see…

    3. Daniel, my experience with NCT is that there have been delays for a few years, starting pre-covid with an issue with stress cracks in the vehicle lifts. As for multi-lane test stations, I’ve seen places with two lanes, but always assumed the second was there in case of a malfunction in lane #1.
      Before the NCT was introduced, an insurance company would ask you for a report from an registered assessor before giving you cover on an older vehicle, but this was very much a visual and test-drive check. Applus got the franchise when the original ran out – not sure if it is a ten-year deal.

    4. For a modern(ish) equivalent of the 128 3P, perhaps consider the 2009–17 VW Scirocco. I’m on my second and I love it. Obviously it’s a lot bigger than the 3P but conceptually it seems quite a close fit.

  8. Hello Daniel
    I recall seeing the then new 128 Rallye (ISTR that it was spelt thus) on a childhood holiday in Italy. Even at the tender age of 12 I thought how much better the round rear lamps suited the car, compared to those of the ‘cooking’ 128. The Ferrari reference was lost on me: I am afraid to admit that I had not heard of the Prancing Horse then.
    The 128 coupé was also a good looking car by the standards of the day. I agree with DaveAR when he says that it looked Japanese (probably to do with the ‘coke bottle’ rear haunches), but the appearance was definitely preferable to that of the contemporaneous Morris Marina coupé 🤢
    Finally, re. the VW Passat mk.1 facelift, it might well have been well executed, but good looking it most definitely was not. The same was true of the mk. 1 Audi 80 – some genius decided to stick on huge plastic bumpers which totally destroyed the light, elegant look of the original car. DTW has previously run articles on the cackhandedness of the huge majority of car facelifts – perhaps it is time to rerun it / them?
    Many thanks for an unfailingly interesting read.

    1. Good evening, Charles, and thank you for your comment and kind words. I also thought it was ‘Rallye’, but not so, apparently: take a look at the badge on the leading edge of the bonnet of this nice example:

      No excuse needed to post a nice picture of a 128, of course!

      Regarding the Passat Mk1 facelift, it was well executed but it’s a moot point as to whether or not it improved the car’s looks. Personally, I think it did the job of modernising the car’s looks, if not actually improving them.

      We’ll I think you might be misremembering the Audi 80 Mk1 (B1) facelift. It went from this:

      To this, still with chromed steel bumpers, albeit deeper than the originals:

    2. Both the B1 Passat/80-twins looked very “tinny” and insubstantial in my eyes, almost fragile even. The facelift rectified this somewhat and gave the cars a more hefty look, improving the so called perceived quality, because I have no idea about their real merits.

    3. To my eyes the Passat facelift caused a disjunction between the dechromed front end and the still highly-chromed bodysides. Perhaps if they’d removed the mid-body strip? Nobody else was doing that by the end of the seventies (except the Americans), surely…?

    4. In the mid Seventies nearly all German cars had rubber strips along the widest part of their body, most of them at the beltline, BMWs at bumper level. These were meant to protect the car against dents from dents caused by careless opening of the doors of the car parking next to you.

      The facelift of the 80 B1 started Audi’s tradition of brining the smaller model in line with the larger which started a new design direction. The 100 C2 had rectangular headlights and enormous rear lights and the 80 B1 just mimicked them. Following the 100 C3’s aero look with the shoebox B2 was difficult but they tried. Audi’s worst facelift surely was from B6 to B7 until they ruined their design completely with the current nonsense.

  9. I think you are right: I must have confused the Passat with the Audi 80. Oh well, it was a long time ago!

  10. How nice to see this series of articles on the Fiat 128.  Typically well-researched and written and I echo many of the comments too. My sense is that the early cars were somehow more appealing than the revised (post 1976) versions. I recall that there was a pre-facelift 1300 Special version which may have been the sweet spot of the whole saloon range.

    I have many happy memories of the 128. My parents had two of them while we were growing up and I then had three after I passed my driving test. They served as excellent family cars for us through the 1970s and were also great fun for me as a novice driver in the 1980s.

    Taken in turn:-

    1. an early two door 1100 in navy blue with a red vinyl interior, which looked really quite smart. This one was bought new in early 1971 from the local dealer in Surrey. This franchise must have closed shortly afterwards as they then had the car serviced regularly at the next closest Fiat dealer (a Fiat/Lancia franchise owned by no less a name than Tony Brooks of Formula 1 fame).  This car was generally reliable but seemed to get through clutch cables and head gaskets a little more frequently than expected. Towards the end of its time with us it also developed an issue with the carburettor flooding, which left us stranded a couple of times. Nevertheless it served us well overall for 8 years and 80,000 miles, the bodywork held up well apart from some paint fade on the bootlid and my parents felt confident enough to replace it with another.

    2. this was a late 1300CL four door in light metallic blue with a dark blue corduroy-type cloth interior. Again quite a smart colour combination. By the time they picked this one up new in March 1979 the Strada/Ritmo was already on sale in the UK and 128 production in Italy had finished a few months before (production of RHD 128s continued in the Republic of Ireland for a couple more years, some of them in a lurid green and badged “Verde”). I echo some of the other comments about the second generation 128. Although they seemed more modern at the time, the overall feel of the car was somehow cheapened and the higher gearing made them more economical but less sporting. The flimsy plastic (or fibreglass ?) bumpers looked awful and I remember that the indicator/sidelight units in the front bumpers and the new larger rear light units were secured with clear plastic screws, presumably as a result of cost-cutting in Turin. You can imagine how long those lasted ! As already mentioned the dashboard on these revised models was a cheap-looking and flimsy evolution of the original. We kept this car for about 5 years and 50,000 trouble-free miles at which point the bodywork was essentially unmarked. The interior was OK but the stitching along the seams of the cloth seats had started to give up the ghost. I cut my teeth in this car post driving test and all I can say is that I can’t recall having driven another car (before or since) with a more willing engine and safer and more predictable handling. Enough said on that…

    3. time for me to replace my first car (a 127 Special) with my first 128. This one was a late 1100 two door in bright yellow. By 1978 when it was new this was the cheapest 128 on sale (no reversing lights or carpets). Come 1984, when I bought it, this particular example still looked smart despite having already covered 75,000 miles. But the heating didn’t work and the rear shocks were shot. It also had an intermittent issue with the throttle jamming on – at full revs – though this didn’t seem to trouble the engine, which remained near enough turbine-smooth. In those days as a student I couldn’t justify spending money I didn’t have on it and it was sold and replaced in short order by a low mileage 850 Coupé (which I still have incidentally). A couple of years after that it was time for one more 128 and in some ways the most interesting of the lot.

    4. this was a 1974 Rally in a subtle pistachio green/blue which my brother and I bought from an Iranian family in North London who had fled their home country just before the revolution. They had bought the car new for their daughter from Charles Follett, the Fiat dealer in Mayfair, which I think also held the Rolls-Royce franchise. She had used the car for a month each summer when they visited from Iran – so by 1986 when I bought it, the mileage was about 15,000 or so. I can’t recall if that was what induced me to buy it or the fact that it had an electric aerial, which back in 1986 seemed pretty exotic to me. Apart from some rust in the front wings (perhaps this one had been built before Fiat added plastic front wheel-arch liners), it was immaculate but it felt stiff in the sense that it had never really been used to any great extent. I never quite bonded with it and despite the fact that it was faster and I guess handled better than the 850, it felt more upright and less sporting. So it was sold (my brother had a decent return on his investment) and I went on to focus on my 85o.

    5. by way of post-script, a few years after parting with the Rally I picked up an accident-damaged 128 3P in burnt orange for the princely sum of £25 . With the benefit of hindsight I should have put it back on the road as it was in very good shape apart from a dented front wing but for reasons that are now lost to me I chose not to do so. I see that I still have the owner’s handbook for it though. I have sometimes wondered whether, if I had kept the 3P, it would have supplanted the 850 Coupé in my affections. Perhaps not – as the late Graham Robson observed in his excellent 1984 book on Fiat Sportscars “the sporting 128s never had the character and dash of the sporting 850s”. He went on – “in this chapter you may have noticed that I have made no mention of the word “exciting”, for somehow the 128 Coupé and the 128 3P were not cars of that sort. Pleasant, yes, and effective, certainly, but not exciting. But this does not mean that they were boring, or unsuccessful”.

    Could it be that – somewhat counter-intuitively – the Fiat 128 was at its most successful and accomplished as a saloon rather than a coupé ?

    1. Hi Chris. Welcome to Driven To Write! Thank you for your kind words, and for sharing your recollections of the 128. I agree that the pre-facelift version was more appealing. It looked more expensively finished and classier than the facelifted version, notwithstanding the latter’s perceived modernity.

      The final instalment of the 128 series will be published tomorrow.

    2. Hello Chris and thanks for your observations. A thought: If you ever felt like putting your experiences with the 850 Sport into article form, DTW would be very happy to play host to it.

  11. Thanks Eóin (and Daniel too). Re my time with the 850, the challenge would be to distil over 37 years of ownership into something reasonably digestible which would also do justice to an enduringly delightful little car. I will turn my mind to it after looking at the concluding piece on the 128 !

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