Illustration for article titled Now That Fiats Out Of The Small Car Game, Its Time To Look Back At The 130
Screenshot: Youtube

With the merger with Peugeot-Citroen looming, plans for Fiat’s own small cars are coming to an end. The 500, Panda, and others will be replaced by PSA-based models once the merger is complete. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to look at how Fiat built bigger cars once upon a time, don’t you think?

Back in the late ‘60s, Fiat was on a roll. Its small cars had put the nation of Italy on the road after World War II and everything seemed to be looking up. The natural thing to do in that case would be to think bigger and build a luxury sedan and GT. And that’s what they did.

This video from our friend car designer Matteo Licata traces the development and legacy of Fiat’s attempt to break into the luxury car market in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s with the 130 sedan and coupe.

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Even then, the general consensus was that Fiat built small cars. Sure, the brand also built trucks, buses, and even railcars back then, but the tiny Cinquecento was still Fiat’s bread and butter.

But Fiat’s management thought the brand could go bigger and challenge the German competition on their own turf. The result was the 130, a car from a manufacturer used to building small economy cars that was purported to rival the best from Mercedes. Fiat painstakingly over-engineered as much of the car as possible. If the Italian giant was going to take on Mercedes and the rest, everything needed to be just a little bit better. Almost like a late-’60s Volkswagen Phaeton.

The 130 sedan was an attractive, if derivative, design.
The 130 sedan was an attractive, if derivative, design.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Alongside the sedan, a GT was introduced in 1972. The higher-powered motor in the coupe also found its way into the sedan that year, bringing some much-needed horsepower to a carr that couldn’t compete with the Germans despite Fiat’s best wishes.

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The new motor in both cars might have been the bigger news, but the styling of the GT has always been more important to me. Its crisp lines make it look impossibly wide, and the interior has always been one of my favorites.

Despite the added power and the new body style, sales of either version of the 130 never took off and, like the Phaeton decades later, it would be considered a real sales flop. A combination of market preference for established players and Italian taxation that made engine sizes over two liters uneconomical, even for wealthy buyers of full-sized cars.

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Today, looking back the 130 seemed like a poor management choice (and it probably was) but today’s Fiat can’t afford to ignore it. If PSA is determined to take the lead on small car development for the forthcoming PSA-FCA, Fiat will need to look back on its stable of larger car models as inspiration for the next generation of vehicles. Though the marketing and packaging of the 130 is probably a lesson in what not to do, let me humbly suggest that its styling might be worth another look.

Max Finkel is a Weekend Contributor at Jalopnik.

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