Some of you may have wondered what happened to Volume 3 of the 100 Years of FIAT 1899 to 1999 series, with volumes 1 and 2 already published in 2019. Well…..from March 2020 my printers were shut down for virtually a whole year, and my principal research source, the National Motor Museum Library, was also shut down and is yet to fully reopen. I was therefore forced to knock back the publication date from late 2020 to this year. Volume 3 has now been delivered from my printers and is now available from the shop, price £28.
This last volume covers twenty years from 1980 to 1999, a period when many social conflicts occurred throughout Europe and Italy, where industrial relations between management and workers at Fiat and their supporters, the Italian unions, were at their lowest ebb. “People did anything in there except work” said Cesare Romiti, Gianni Agnelli’s hit-man, who fired 61 workers involved in terrorist activities, thus precipitating a 3-week strike which Romiti feared could bankrupt the company. Thankfully the unions backed down and the worst was avoided.
The early 1980s saw the introduction of a number of iconic Fiat models, notably the Mk. 1 Fiat Panda, designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro of ItalDesign. It became a hugely popular car worldwide and is still in production in Mk. 3 guise. The last of the rear-wheel drive Fiats ended their production careers; the 131 and Argenta (derived from the 132 series cars) bowed out and Fiat’s entire range became front-wheel drive only. Other models gradually faded out – the mid-engined X1/9 and Ritmo/Strada ended their careers in the early 1980s.
One new model created a whole new market sector – the Panda 4×4, renowned as a go-anywhere car – “…somewhere up the rocky, dusty or snowy tracks that worm their way close to the top of almost every mountain in Europe, you’ll find either a first or second-generation Panda 4×4, and not far away the gnarled owner and very likely his dog.” (Paul Horrell, Top Gear, December 2012) Panda 4x4s were adopted by jet-setters who found their all-singing all-dancing mega-expensive off-roaders weren’t that ideal in icy conditions.
New model introductions were frequent, with the Uno of 1983, the Croma of 1985 and Tipo of 1988 setting many trends in automobile design, such as upright seating in tall bodies to keep overall lengths down to a minimum. The Tipo was built on an all-new floorpan and won Car Of The Year award in 1989. Fiat’s new city car, the Cinquecento (harking back to the success of the Nuovo Cinquecento of the mid-1950s) was launched in 1991 and made entirely in Poland at the FSM factory, where the 126 and old 1500 models were once assembled.
1993 saw the introduction of a new sportscar, the Coupé, based on the Tipo platform. A new engine came along in 1996, the fabled turbo-charged five-cylinder 20VT, with 220 bhp – Fiat’s rocket-ship, now much prized by collectors. Two closely-associated models, the Bravo and Brava, were launched in 1995, they were aimed at two different markets, the family man (Brava) and younger couples who wanted a more sporting saloon (Bravo). A new open-top Fiat was launched, a model missing from Fiat’s line-up since the demise of the X1/9, the Barchetta, in 1995. Based on a shortened Uno platform and with a new 1,747cc twin-cam engine, it proved a worthy competitor to the dominant Mazda MX-5.
This two-decade period ended with Fiat’s “world car”, the Palio, designed to be able to be made in countries without an indigenous automobile manufacturing base, and finally the “ugly duckling” Multipla voted repeatedly as the “Ugliest Car” by motoring journalists. It was far better than its looks and incorporated many novel details and construction techniques. The Multipla was available with various power units using different fuels, from petrol to natural gas and one version was a pure electric car.
Gianni Agnelli retired from running the family firm in 1995, though succession didn’t fall to his only son Edoardo, who proved to be unsuited to such a role. A number of care-taker managers were appointed until Gianni died in 2003, when his brother Umberto took over before he in turn died. Sergio Marchione and John Elkann succeeded Umberto. They turned the Fiat company into a major conglomerate by taking over Chrysler in the USA, then concluding a deal with PSA Group in France (Peugeot/Citroën) to form Stellantis, a major pan-European business.
FIAT -Twenty More Years 1980-1999, A4 format, soft colour covers, 125 pages, muliple colour or b/w images per page, with Introduction, four chapters covering 1980-1984, 1985-1990, 1991-1995 and 1996-1999. Includes bibliography, image credits, quoted references and an Index covering all three volumes of 100 years of FIAT.