3ma 2016

  131 story






By Willem Pretorius





In the beginning of 1978 Fiat South Africa decided to enter motor racing for Standard Production Cars.


The series was called Group One racing for standard production cars with very limited modifications. At that stage the series was dominated by the Mazda Capella Rotaries with the odd win also from the 3L Ford XR6 Cortina and 2L Alfa GTV’s.


Gigi Fincati, who was employed at Fiat South Africa Local Motorsport department, was given the task of developing a racing car to compete in Group One Racing and so the Fiat 131 Racing was born.


Gigi went to Italy and sourced around in the Abarth spare’s buckets. At that specific stage spares from the Fiat 124 Spider Abarth’s were still available. He came back with enough spares to complete 16 cars. The SA rules stipulated that 100 cars were to be produced to qualify for Group One Racing. An order was placed with Italy for the remainder of the extra spares but the cargo ship with all the spares sank at the coast of Kenia and that is the reason why only 16 of these cars were ever produced.


Three cars campaigned in 1978 and were driven by Pop Diedericks, Tony Viana and Brian von Hage. They won just about all the races that they entered that year. Because of the homologation rules that stipulated that a 100 cars had to be produced, they were barred from racing at the end of 1978.


Group 1 racing flourished in South Africa in the late seventies. Fiat made news in '78 when its 131 Racing homologation special thrashed the standard production Group 1 opposition. The until-then invincible Mazda RS - another homologation special - was so thoroughly trounced that many eyebrows were raised.

During the hour-and-a-half Kyalami Asseng 200 Enduro, Pop Diedericks' 131 Racing pulled out a lead of over a minute in a flag-to-flag win over Dave 'Charlton and Willie Hepburn's Mazdas - with which Tony Viana also dominated sprint races. So convincing was the Fiat's dominance that within a few months it was excluded on a technicality - the prescribed 100 models for homologation purposes were deemed not to have been produced in the required time frame...




Kassie Coetzee won the Production Car class with his Fiat 131 200 Racing in 1978 in the South African National Rally Championship.





The 131 Racing is a special model in limited – volume production and double as both street and competition model.  It is based on the familiar Fiat 131 Mirafiori two door sedan, but with wholesale revision of the features which made it go, made it handle and made it stop, principally by Abarth,  Italy’s maestro for the quick car.  Fiat wanted to build a car for the race track, they also wanted to give the enthusiast something to rave about.  Many stories were told of potential customers nearly comes to blows on showroom floors, each vying to buy the only 131 Racing available on the floor.  At the time all Fiat 131 models available is SA were fitted with either the 1600 pushrod or 1600 D.O.H.C. engines. It was decided to fit Fiat’s legendary Aurelio Lampredi – designed 2 litre DOHC engine.  High compression pistons with a compression ratio of 10.2 were fitted.  Fuel supply was via twin 40mm Weber IDF carburetors mounted on a special inlet manifold.  Then two road/race Abarth 068 cams were fitted with a top mount distributor.  On the opposite side a special and intricate full banana branch exhaust looked after the extraction department. 


The suspension was lowered about 30mm all round and heavy duty coils and shock absorbers are fitted.  The car has a heavier front stabilizer bar and revised wheel camber for stability.  That took care of the handling and performance. 


Next came the interior.  Inertia reel seat belts were fitted and the brushed velvet seats were gainly striped.  An Abarth leather rimmed steering wheel came next.  Gauges were standard and on some cars an oil pressure gauge were fitted.  Very light 13” Abarth mags were fitted with 185/70 x 13 tires.  A limited slip Borg Warner diff was fitted to some cars.  The bonnet is a glass fibre unit incorporating a power bulge and air intake for the carburetors. The result of all this –  a sports car to compete with the best of them




At the time it was the quickest production car available in South Africa.  Streaking away from standstill leaves two parallel black rubber marks on the tar.  Changing from first to second indulges a squeal of burning tyres.  Due to wheel spin 80 km/h comes up fractional late at 5,7 seconds with 100km/h coming up in 8,5 seconds.  The one kilometer sprint was done in 29,8 seconds!  To quote a motoring magazine who tested the car at the time ”with its big radials, limited slip diff, close ratio five speed gearbox (although standard 131) and abundance of power, it rewrote the test performance record book – particularly as far as four  cylinder production models go!”  Maximum speed is approximately 200 km/h.  Even at maximum speed the 131 racing is as steady as a rock with only a slight window vibration and the air intake roar of the two Webers as testimony to the extreme speed.  The tappets are of course quite audible but so it has to be for a speed machine.






Sadly the motorsport career of the 131 Racing was cut short by circumstances which meant its homologation requirements could not be met.  By the end of 1980 Fiat in South Africa was history.  The 131 Racing epitomised the “anything goes” mentality of South African Motorsport in the 1970’s.





By Willem Pretorius

South Africa