Despite the success of the 127 and 128, front-wheel drive voted cars of the year, Fiat maintains a classic architecture for the 131, replacing the 124 family. It is therefore a propulsion system with a rigid rear axle, a solution that begins grow old when it comes out in November 1974.
Certainly the Ford Taunus, Opel Ascona and other Morris Marinas are set to the same formula, but in France the Citroën GS, Peugeot 304 and Renault 12 are all wheel drive. In any case, the 131 Mirafiori (by the name of the factory where it is manufactured) plays the card of durability and solidity to seduce, the manufacturer announcing in the advertisement that it is designed to last ten years, having clearly reinforced its anti-corrosion treatment. . .
Commercially it works, since the Italian sedan meets with a good initial success. It was first offered with two roof engines, a 65 hp 1.3 l and a 75 hp 1.6 l, and two finishes, normal and special.
The first, only in 1.3 l, stands out for its rectangular headlights and its simplified equipment, even if the clock, the reversing lights or even the adjustable seats (at the time, these elements were not obvious!) are connected serially. . The Special adds circular headlamps, the ones in the center are far-reaching, velor upholstery complete with headrests, or even the tachometer.
Three body styles are offered: 2-door, 4-door and station wagon. Prices, very well located, range from F18,745 (currently €13,700 according to INSEE) for the basic 1300 to F24,105 for the 1600 Special family (currently €17,600 according to INSEE).
Quickly, if it was judged right by the press when it was launched, the 131 found itself competing with more modern rivals, such as the Simca 1307/1308 duo from 1975. Fiat therefore evolved it from 1977. Modifications were made in The Mirafiori (mainly the large rectangular headlights) have the finishes that adopt new names (Luxe and Comfort Luxe) while a superior Supermirafiori range is launched.
Restyled (synthetic bumpers, horizontal taillights, larger wheels, new interior), it finally sports double overhead cam blocks. Thus, the 1.3 l increases to 78 hp and the 1.6 l to 98 hp, while the box 5 mounts automatically. Unfortunately, this too long, if it lowers the sound level, it seriously harms the times.
In compensation, a new Racing variant also appeared in 1977, a 2-door with sports decoration called Racing. Under the hood, it houses a 2.0 liter 115 hp that takes it to almost 180 km / h. That said, it’s more of a road-going GT than a true sports car like an Opel Kadett GT/E.
Also, in 1978, the 131 was equipped with diesel versions, one in 2.0 liter 60 hp, the other in 2.4 liter 72 hp. These blocks, called Sofim, were developed with Renault, which used them in its utility vehicles and later in the Safrane. Interestingly, the 2.0 has exactly the same ratings as the French mechanical block fitted to the R20 TS.
After Fiat had planned a dynamic product plan (not to mention good support in rallying, where the 131 won the world championship three times, in 1977, 1978 and 1980), a new series of improvements took place in 1981. The 1.3 l passes to 1.4 l (70 hp in Mirafiori, 78 hp in Supermirafiori), the 1.6 l with 85 hp in Mirafiori, while in the top range it is replaced by the 2.0 l with 113 hp from Racing, the latter falling by the wayside .
Other cosmetic tweaks appear, such as thicker side guards, slimmer taillights on the Supermirafiori that also benefit from new wheels. In late 1983, the Regata, a three-box saloon derived from the Ritmo, was launched. It gradually replaced the 131, which disappeared in 1984, not without receiving Fiat’s new 5-bar logo.
How much is it ?
The problem will first be to find a 131 for sale. A Mirafiori in good condition will claim €4,000 in good condition, whatever its engine, compared to €5,000 for a Supermirafiori. This one, in 2.0 l, can go up to €6,000. As for the Racing, no more efficient than the 2.0-litre sedan, it already claims €15,000.
Which version to choose?
Still not too expensive but very well motorized, the 2.0 l Supermirafiori represents the best compromise.
Any 131 in perfect original condition is a pure collector’s item, it is very difficult to find, but the Racing is the most sought after. Rarer still is the 131 Volumex compressor (135 hp), released in 1983, but almost impossible to find. If we exclude the exceptional Abarth competition (400 units)…
What to monitor?
Despite what the advertising says, 131 is extremely susceptible to rust, which attacks everywhere. It starts with the bodywork before abrading the foundations (sills, floors) and finally the structure. Clearly, the Fiat rusts honestly (unlike a Mercedes or a BMW) but sometimes with guilty joy. Why ? Because after the endless social conflicts that shake Italy in general and Fiat in particular, the 131s were often built without taking into account the recommendations of the engineers, and they avoided anti-corrosion baths… Too bad, because otherwise, it is a question of a robust car without any particular problem, if the maintenance has been done well. Therefore, it will be inspected in the classic way. Be careful, although maintenance is easy, the specific parts (cabin, upholstery, bumpers) are very difficult to find.
At the wheel
I was able to get behind the wheel of a very rare 131 1300 base, manufactured in 1975. On board we were pleasantly surprised by the available space, the totally seventies atmosphere, the succinct but pleasantly designed look and the good quality finishes. . If the direction is very firm in the maneuver, it is quite pleasant and precise just to roll, while the box is a pleasure to handle. The motor ? Flexible and docile, it is not lacking in will but is too small to carry this sedan with dignity, which weighs close to 1,000 kg.
In addition, although the transmission seems well staged, the benefits are very fair, although deep down, the Fiat is close to 150 km/h. In doing so, you benefit from healthy and balanced handling. We won’t praise its dynamic liveliness, but it holds up without any nasty surprises, not least because the suspension is fairly firm and limits roll. The comfort is nothing like that of a French of the time, but the rough edges are correctly filtered and the seats are well studied. In short, a very homogeneous car, pleasant to drive in a vintage atmosphere, not too sweet (7.5 l/100 km) but lacking a bit of vitality. For that, we will rather look for the 1600.
The young alternative
Fiat Regatta (1983 – 1990)
Replacing the 131, the Regatta derives from the Rhythm. It sports a more elegant 3-volume body and above all it contains a huge trunk. It’s also available as a weekender, whose rear bumper folds down to lower the loading sill. Initially available in 1.3 liter (70), 1.5 liter (85S) and 1.6 (100S), it quickly welcomed two diesels, a 58PS 1.7 liter and a 65PS 1.9 liter . In early 1986, the Regata was restyled in the style of the Croma. The 1.6 l wins in injection (100 Sie) while a very powerful turbodiesel (80 hp) is added to the range. The Regata came onto the market in 1990, after the launch of the Tempra.
Fiat 131 Mirafiori 1300 (1975) technical specifications
- Engine: 4 cylinders in line, 1297 cc
- Fuel Supply: Dual Barrel Carburetor
- Suspension: McPherson struts, coil springs, stabilizer bar (AV); Rigid axle, pushrods, coil springs, stabilizer bar (rear)
- Transmission: manual gearbox 4 or 5, propulsion
- Power: 65 hp at 5,400 rpm
- Torque: 102Nm at 3,000rpm
- Weight: 965kg
- Maximum speed: 150 km/h (manufacturer’s data)
To find Fiat 131 ads, go to the La Centrale website.
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