Fiat 130 Coupe

By: John Wright

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Wrighty looks back with fond memories of his Fiat 130 Coupe

Fiat 130 Coupe
Fiat 130 Coupe

 

Fiat 130 Coupe

Selling this gorgeous coupe was a mistake: Oh Italia!

Of my memories of the silver Fiat 130 Coupe I bought from my photographer mate Greg McBean, one in particular stands out. I am in the passenger seat and the car is deftly negotiating a sinuous bitumen road in country New South Wales. Behind the wheel is my then new mate Bob Holden, he of such Bathurst fame.

Bob seemed genuinely impressed with the big Fiat, despite the lack of any real grunt. I think it handled much better than he had expected of such a soft, plush-riding car.

The 130 steered beautifully and always felt balanced. "Seldom have we encountered such excellent handling in a car of this size," said Autocar in a road test of the 2.9-litre 130 sedan in its 20 March 1969 edition. It is said that a good big car shrinks around you and that was how the Fiat behaved when pushed hard, as both Bob Holden and I did that day.

But I hadn’t bought it for the dynamics. Ever since I first set eyes on it in McBean’s so-proud, so-anxious ownership, I coveted it. This was a car of immense presence and genuine charm. Not only did it have that drop-dead gorgeous pillarless Pininfarina bodywork, but it had a velvet and timber interior; pure top-shelf Italy.

My friend Geoffrey Corah had his Dino 246, and I could have the luxurious and equally Italian counterpoint. Both had cost similar money when new, but by 1994 when I finally bought the Fiat, it was worth $6K and the Dino maybe $125K.

The not-quite-Ferrari 3.2-litre V6 (it was developed for the 130 by Ferrari engineer Aurelio Lampredi) was not quite enough. I can’t imagine what the original 1969 130 sedan – a scaled-up 125 in style and character – would have been like with just 2866cc. Maximum power was just 123kW, which might have done the job through a gated Ferrari five-slot manual (sorry, it’s just my imagination) but fell short when backed by a three-speed automatic.

Like so many Fiats I had owned before – including the 1100 103D I owned at 18, of which some unkind acquaintance said, "I thought I heard a Ferrari but then I saw your silly little Fiat with its yellow stripes" – you had to derive part of your sense of speed from the sound. Of course, I had taken my car to Everlast in Darlinghurst for the full sports exhaust treatment.

Greg had spent a small fortune on a bare-metal respray in the hope of banishing all rust, but back it crept. That’s why he eventually agreed to sell it to me. I don’t know how much he missed the 130 Coupe, but I know I do. In the end I sold it for some paltry reason, a mechanical malady that just seemed too tricky or expensive to rectify.



*****


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