3ma 2016

  131 story






By Kevin Doyle

The Series 3

Seven years after the launch of the 131 Mirafiori in 1974, Fiat revised the range for the second time creating the series 3 version. Nowadays car manufacturers generally launch a completely new model at this stage of a car’s life. In the case of the 131 this would have meant that the Regata would have been launched in 1981 rather than 1984.

Instead the third version of the 131 was launched in March of that year with changes and improvements across the range. Whether the decision to create a third series was made on the back of perceived continuing commercial success or the lack of the required funds to invest in a new car is unknown to the author. As the development of the VW Golf is often described, the series 3, 131 represented evolution rather than revolution. This version of the 131 was manufactured from 1981 to 1984.


Body Styles

These were carried over directly from the series 1 and 2 cars with the notable deletion of the 2 door body style. In fact the biggest change of direction with the new range was the dropping of a sporting variant to be replaced by a model which combined features from both the performance and luxury versions of the series 2 range, namely the Supermirafiori and Sport (aka Racing) models. This model was again called the Supermirafiori and was at launch, the most powerful 4 door version of the 131 ever produced. 



Exterior Styling

The cosmetic changes between the series 2 and series 3 cars are very obvious to an enthusiast but perhaps less so to a casual observer. The primary differences were the grill, bumpers, rear light clusters, side protection, wheels, badges and door mirrors. The changes were mostly driven by a desire to keep the car’s appearance contemporary as well as to distinguish the model from its predecessor.

Interior Styling and Equipment

The series 3 interior enjoyed significant improvements over the previous version. Seat material coverings were upgraded, new dash colours were available and the steering wheel that was standard on the Sport model was standardised across the new range. The dash also underwent some re-design. The designer inspired, twin sliding glove box door design introduced on the series 2 version was replaced with a single front hinged lockable door which provided easier access but was no more commodious. The instrument binnacle lost its 3 window design originally introduced on the Series 1 S version – now having a single Perspex cover for all gauges. Otherwise it was much the same as the series 2.


The big news over the older version was the introduction of a list of luxury equipment that lifted the top of the range model significantly ahead of its competitors in the showroom battles it would have to face. Features such as power steering, electric front windows, central door locking (excl boot) and interior adjustable door mirrors grabbed the headlines in marketing material at the time. Even the lower models were now all fitted with 5 speed gearboxes, rev counters (excl 1400 CL) and cloth upholstery as standard.

Model and Engine Range 

For the third incarnation of the Fiat 131, the range was consolidated to just 2 models, the CL and the Supermirafiori, the basic L and Sport models being deleted. Both were available in 4 door saloon and estate (Panorama) body styles but engine availability was largely dictated by trim version. The following table shows the engine capacity and power output figures.




Power Output

Max Speed (Fiat claimed)

1400 CL


Single OHC

70 bhp

150 km/h

1600 CL


Single OHC

85 bhp

160 km/h

2000 CL (D)



60 bhp

140 km/h

1400 Super


Twin Cam

75 bhp

155 km/h

1600 Super


Twin Cam

97 bhp

170 km/h

2000 Super


Twin Cam

113 bhp

175 mph

2500 Super (D)



70 bhp

150 km/h

2000 Volumex



Twin Cam Supercharged

140 bhp

190 km/h

The smaller petrol engines in the new 131 range enjoyed small gains in power and economy compared with the earlier versions. For example the 1400 and 1600 single OHC engines increased their power outputs from 65bhp to 70bhp and from 75bhp to 85bhp respectively. Conversely the 2000TC version suffered a 2bhp loss compared with the earlier Sport version of this engine capacity. Research indicates that these changes may have been driven by future emission requirements.

The gear lever is sited differently between the two models. The CL version is angled at near 45 degrees similar to all earlier versions of the car, except for the Sport and the Abarth models. The series 3 Supermirafiori however has a vertical and shorter gear lever very similar both in positioning and use to the Sport model.

* The Volumetrico version was a low volume model produced at Abarth Corse by converting production 2000TC Supermirafioris and is covered in more depth by the sister article in this series, called Supercharged 131s by Albert Brouwer.


The following table details the main equipment fitted to the 2 versions. 

Comfort Lusso (CL)

Supermirafiori (additional)

5 Speed Gearbox

Cloth Upholstery

Front seat headrests

Rev Counter (Not 1400 CL)

Rear fog lights

Interior adjustable drivers door mirror

Rear headrests

Electric front windows

Power Steering on 2000/2500 versions

Central Door locking

Velour upholstery

Sports wheels with chrome embellishers

Lower door plastic protectors.

5 Speed gearbox only


Mechanical Changes

The main mechanical changes were in the lower capacity petrol engines. The previous 1300 and 1600 ohv engines were replaced with overhead cam alloy head engines of 1400 and 1600 capacity. The 5th gear ratio was also raised by 3.5%. For later series 3 versions the location of the water reservoir for the windscreen wash system in the engine compartment was intergrated with the engine coolant reservoir. As in the series 2, all petrol powered Supermirafiori versions were fitted with the Lampredi designed twin overhead cam engine indicated by the letters TC mounted on the engine capacity badges. 


Possibly because Fiat were now trying to sell an increasingly outdated car compared with many more mechanically fashionable and modern front wheel drive competitors (notably the GM Ascona/Cavalier – J car) the 131 seemed to enjoy significant marketing spend in its later years. Certainly in the last few years there was a campaign of adverts highlighting the incredible value (on paper at least) that the car offered compared with the market leader in this segment at the time, the Ford Cortina. Probably the most famous advert was “how to make a Supermirafiori out of a Ford Cortina”. The owner would have to add a Twin cam engine, 5 speed gearbox, power steering, electric windows and central locking…or they could just save £850 on the price of a Cortina GL and buy a Fiat 131 instead.



Road Tests 

Road tests of the third series 131 are few and far between. Maybe this is  because the car was becoming dated and the motoring press is likely to have considered the model as a “has been” by this stage of its life cycle. What material is available makes reference to improvements in comfort, engine power, smoothness and equipment. In an Autocar Autotest in June 1982, the 1400 CL saloon was judged as follows: 

  • Performance: Good.
  • Economy: Heavy Going
  • Road Behaviour: Adequate
  • Brakes: Well behaved
  • Behind the wheel: Déjà vu

The model was compared with the Ford Cortina 1.6L, Ford Escort 1.3L, Morris Ital 1.3.HL, Renault 9GTL and VW Jetta C. The verdict was “The Fiat was designed with the typical Italian family in mind, that is why it is the best in this group”. I suppose the result is a positive one but the logic is questionable..? 

Driving Impressions 

This section of the article is more subjective than others and is based on an individual’s opinions and experiences, both in this car and others. The writer is lucky to own a low mileage Supermirafiori 1367 TC model bought when the car was 27 years old. The car is still quite fresh and the owner believes that it drives very much like a new car in many respects. The owner also owns a low mileage 131 Sport and the driving impressions draw heavily on comparisons between the two variants rather than the condition of the cars themselves. 

The series 3 is a quieter and more relaxing car to drive. This is especially evident on longer journeys where the lower engine, transmission and wind noise, lower revs and non sporting seats contribute to a more relaxing driving experience. 

As with all 131s, the very nature of the design is such that it is easy to see out of and the car’s extremities are easily monitored because of the box like shape. Access in and out of the car is adequate with leg and head room in the front sufficient for average sized people. The rear is more cramped especially where leg room is concerned and the car is rather narrow compared with modern cars.

The door mirrors are one of the best improvements bringing measurable gains in visibility and vision stability. The luxury features also add to the enjoyment of the car. 

It is more than capable of cruising at high speeds for hours at a time and responds very well to small or sudden steering inputs. In fact one can sense each tyres road contact independently of each other and the steering overall provides lots of confidence both on the motorway and lesser roads. Brakes have good feel and provide reassurance in their operation. 

Performance for this engine configuration is satisfactory, when the car’s weight and aerodynamics are concerned. The car will easily see an indicated160 km/h (100mph) in an un-fussed manner, in fact the owner has recorded almost 180 km/h (indicated) which is probably a combination of an optimistic speedometer setting and the improvement in Fiat engines as the “bed in”. It accelerates in a lively fashion but obviously not at the same pace as the bigger engined models. The operation of the gearbox is a joy as the movements are precise and intuitive. 

Despite being an old design and one created before ergonomics became the art and science that it is now, the car is very easily adapted to and all of the major controls become second nature after a short time driving. In particular the steering wheel design is very comfortable for long driving sessions.  

The series 3 131 as a classic car 

There are many series 3 cars still available to buy. They are mostly available on the continent in Italy and Germany where they seem to have survived better than in most other countries. What you will be getting is a largely trouble free and simple to maintain vehicle with an illustrious sporting heritage. The car was sold worldwide so sourcing spare parts should not be a problem. From a desirability perspective the Supermirafiori models should be higher up your shopping list especially the 2000 twin cam version. The values of these 4 and 5 door cars is quite low, the best examples achieving not more than €5000. Prices can be as low as €1000 for a mechanically and bodily sound vehicle.

Special Editions

Individual markets would have marketed the series 3 car in their own ways as the model neared the end of its life. The last produced Fiat version was the Panorama which ran until 1984. This continued beyond the date when the replacement Regata saloon was launched as the Weekend (estate) was some way off in the future. In Italy a higher specification version was sold as the Maratea and came with special alloy wheels, chrome roof rails and a unique paint colour. 



Kevin Doyle