production of the 131 ‘mirafiori’ spanned more than a decade, with two
‘facelifts’ and three different body styles, (two door saloon, four door
saloon and five door estate), not to mention the various engine types and
sizes, I have decided to write its history in three parts. They will deal
with each of the models running from 1974 to ‘78, ‘78 to ‘82, and ‘82 to
Much has been
written of Fiat’s sporting heritage and achievements, and links with such
companies as Abarth. Whilst I recognise these I shall not be repeating the
words of others in the telling of their story, only to outline the
technical specs and differences to the standard production models.
‘mirafiori’ was produced in several countries, by different manufacturers
using different designations, most notably in Spain and Turkey. Within
this text I shall detail only the vehicle as manufactured in Italy by Fiat
‘mirafiori’ was introduced in Italy in the Autumn of 1974, to replace the
124 which had entered production in 1966, and was generally available
across Europe from early 1975.
This was a
difficult time for the car producers of the World, as we were entering the
first of the many Petrol Crises of the period, when leaded 4 star was
approaching £1 Sterling per GALLON! Therefore Fiat’s new car had to be
spacious and economical without losing performance.
‘standard’ 124 cars had been available with 1197cc over head valve (ohv)
engines developing 65 bhp, whilst the ‘Special’ was fitted with a 1438cc
ohv engine developing 75 bhp. The first generation of engines installed in
the 131 were derived from these, albeit of larger capacities.
This is a
fairly simple question to answer:
Each of the
new projects passing through Fiat’s design office during the late ‘60’s
were, and still are, given a designation number so as to identify it from
the others running in parallel. These designations always related to the
prefix on the chassis numbers and usually to the order in which they
entered production. However as if to be the exception to the rule, the 131
was launched some two years after its bigger sister, the 132.
were often known by their engine sizes, for example 500, 600, 850, etc.,
but as cars of similar engine capacities were being produced (i.e. the
1100 of the 50’s and the 1100 128), this could have lead to confusion.
‘mirafiori’ name came from the suburb of Turin in which the model was to
be manufactured. Fiat had set up a manufacturing plant here early in the
Company’s life, and some great vehicles have been assembled here,
including the Topolino, the 1100 of the 1920’s, the 850, and the Uno. I
believe that the Punto is currently produced here.
The use of a
name instead of numbers was to be Fiat's future. Indeed the next new model
from Fiat was the Ritmo/Strada of 1979, which, had numbers still been the
order of the day, would have been the Fiat 138!
‘mirafiori’ ‘Mark 1’ (1974 to
It is fairly
easy to identify a Mark 1 from other 131s. From the front it has either
two small rectangular headlights each mounted in a chrome surround
(Standard trim), or four round headlights all of the same size, arranged
in groups of two (Special trim). The bonnet has an indentation formed in
it, approximately two inches from either edge, running front to back, as
does the boot lid. The rear lights are a sideways ‘T’ arrangement, and
both bumpers are chrome plated, the Special having rubber inserts.
131s were available with either 1297cc or 1585cc ohv powerplants
developing 65 bhp and 75 bhp respectively. It is interesting to note that
there was a ‘low octane’ version of the 1297cc unit available for the
German market, having a lower compression ratio (7.8 to 1 compared with
9.2 to 1 for other markets), and developing only 55 bhp! Not a lot of power
to pull a fully laden estate car weighing up to 1460kg (only 37.7bhp per
the car was similar to the 124 in as much as it was front engine, rear
wheel drive, and was of the ‘three box’ body design. However where the 124
had discs all round, the 131 had rear drums. The 131 also had MacPherson
front suspension and rack-and-pinion steering, when the 124 had
worm-and-roller. Further, the 131 had a ‘live’ rear axle, located by four
cushioned trailing arms and a Panhard rod.
The ‘1300’ was available as a 2 door, 4 door or 5 door estate,
Standard and Special trim levels, with the estate being in Standard form
only. The ‘1600’ was available as a 2 door, 4 door or estate , Standard
and Special trim levels, and could be ordered with optional 5 speed or
automatic gearbox. The 1600 Special could also be fitted with optional air
interesting point is that the estate car was 1/2 an inch shorter than the
saloon in sales literature of the day, but Fiat’s own Workshop Manual has
them both the same length, albeit the Special is longer than the Standard
model due to the rubber bumper inserts.
Other options available on the earlier 131 range included
tinted glass, heated rear window, radio, steering lock
ignition switch, vinyl roof (very ‘70s!) and seat belts! Most of these
considered ‘essential’ to modern motoring, some of them being law! The
1600 Special saloons were also available with a limited-slip differential,
which I can only assume was thought necessary in icy or muddy conditions,
or where tyres with no tread were fitted!
Not all of
the models and options mentioned above were available in Great Britain in
early 1975, however by November of that year the heated rear window was
standard on all models!
was not considered in terms of 0 to 60 times in 1975, and therefore there
are no figures (that I know of) currently available for the ‘Mark 1’ 131.
However in November 1978, when the ‘Mark 2’ 131 (CL) saloon was launched,
basically the same car (same 1300 and 1600 ohv engines) was said to reach
60mph in ‘less than 16 seconds’ and ‘under 13 seconds’ respectively.
As for fuel
economy, again I can only quote from the data available for the 1978 CL
saloon. The 1300 had a combined economy of 30.7mpg, whereas the 1600 5
speed manual was 32.7mpg! Perhaps this explains why so few 1300s were
1977 the range was ‘updated’. There were changes to the trim, both in
terms of fabric type and colour, and the ‘1600’ Special received front
head rests, a rev counter and a 5 speed manual gearbox as standard
In the mid 1970s Fiat were extremely keen to
promote the sporting nature of their otherwise run-of-the-mill cars. To do
this they outsourced expertise in rallying by procuring the services of
the Abarth Company in Turin.
already had great success with Fiat (124 Spider) and were looking to
strengthen the relationship. Of course it must be mentioned that by this
time Abarth were already part of the Fiat Empire, and it may well be
considered ‘jobs for the boys’, but in any case this is now all part of
to continue their good fortune in rallying, but as the 124 was being
replaced by a somewhat less sporting model, Fiat saw the ideal marketing
opportunity. They asked Bertone to spruce up the bodywork and Abarth to
breathe on the mechanicals.
Abarth took a
standard 2 door saloon and threw away the mechanicals. The pushrod engine
was replaced with a 1995cc 16 valve twin cam unit, developing up to 210bhp
in carburettored form. The live rear axle was replaced by one with fully
independent suspension. The front suspension was uprated, and the gearbox
away the doors, boot lid and bonnet and replaced them with fibreglass or
aluminium. The glass was replaced with perspex to save further weight.
Large extended arches were bolted on to accommodate the 10 x 15 (front)
and 11 x 15 (rear) Cromodoras. The interior was stripped, and in an effort
to more evenly distribute the weight of the occupants, the co-driver was
positioned centrally in the back seat over the axle!
experience of the Mark 1
131s is a ‘Burnt Orange’ 4 door 1600 Special, which I have owned for seven
years. Registered 1st August 1976, it was purchased new for the list
price of £1,879 plus £156.58 car tax, and a £45 delivery charge. The
optional 5 speed gearbox was £80 plus car tax, with £7.50 for number
plates, and £20 for front seat belts. All plus 8% VAT of course. Road tax
for a year (£40) and a full tank of petrol (£14.50) bringing the total ‘on
the road’ price to £2,425.99.
extremely lucky as my Special is virtually unmarked, having been garaged
all of its life and covering only 13,500 miles, but most were scrapped
early as a result of rust and their poor market values.
taking over ownership of the Special, the head gasket gave way. The cause
of this turned out to be a sheared off head bolt, that I could only assume
had been like it from the factory! Anyway it was a relatively simple
repair, without the need to reset the valve timing.
other work to be carried out has been routine (every 12 months) servicing,
and the replacement of a steering rack gaiter and trackrod end. I’ve also
had to fit a centre section of exhaust, and for todays motorway driving, I
also fitted a new set of tyres, although the originals (factory fitted)
still had plenty of tread!
I have owned
131s virtually all of my driving life, and I love them! They may be
quirky, but show me an Italian car that isn’t.
What to look
for if buying a Mark 1
The biggest ‘killer’ of the 1970’s Fiat is rust. There’s no
denying it. The 131 is no exception and will rust anywhere! Unfortunately
few 131 survive, the majority being Sports (Mk 2) and 2000TC Supers (Mk
3), with a tiny number being Mark 1s. Most have succumbed to the ravages
of British winters, the freeze-thaw effect, salted and gritted roads,
coupled with poor quality steel and almost non-existent rust protection
from the factory.
131s are of
the monocoque construction, and as such they have no separate chassis. The
strength is in the pillars and the floor, and they are prone to rust.
Particular attention must be paid to the underside of the car. Check
carefully sills, outriggers, jacking points, the bottom of A and B pillars
and rear wheel arches. Front arches were fitted with plastic liners, so
check to see whether they are still in place. If they are missing this
could indicate that the wings have been replaced.
Doors are a
weak point, as they are designed to allow water to flow through them! If
the drain holes are blocked they will disappear from the bottom up. Boot
lids and bonnets will corrode along their edges, and folded seams can
unfold! Particularly check where the bonnet rubber ‘stops’ rest on the top
of the wing/scuttle as water collects here, and it is common to see the
road through the metalwork!
I have seen
panels rust in the middle for no apparent reason! Check all panels and
channels, and pay attention to the screen surround, front and rear, as
these too can rot. A particularly prone area is around the fuel filler
cap. Water collects here every time it rains or a car is washed. Fiat’s
solution was to insert a plastic liner, that only helped trap water
underneath, as there was no drain!
are generally pretty tough, however the seats often wear thin and can
become saggy if the car has covered high mileage. Generally though seats
and door cards can be interchanged between 131s with the same number of
on the Mark 1 are fairly bomb proof. Even if the body is tired, the
chances are the engine and drive train will be serviceable. The engine,
gearbox and rear axle are all prone to leaks, and if there aren’t any you
probably need to ask why!
To my mind
the early 131 remains a good prospect for the enthusiast DIY restorer.
Remember that the newest Mark 1 is now approaching 30 years old, and
is entitled to show signs of age. Overall though, the early Mark 1 is
a joy to own, with all the systems being simple and easy to work on,
particularly by modern standards.
The 4 door
and estates are the most practical, with many a 2 door machine being used
as a donor car for the more desirable Sport, which is a shame.
I still get a
buzz out of driving mine, and it’ll be in the family for a while yet!
Written January 2001
Revised January 2007