In the late 1960s and early 1970s Fiat was very successful and ambitious. In an effort to move into the executive market in Europe and compete directly with BMW and Mercedes Benz, Fiat developed an all new luxury sedan, the 130 Berlina introduced in March 1969. Quite advanced engineering featured a new 2.8 liter V6 engine designed by the esteemed Aurelio Lampredi, formerly at Ferrari, who had also designed the Dino V6, the legendary V12s of the the 1950’s and several Formula 1 and 2 racing engines for Ferrari.
The chassis was thoroughly modern as well, incorporating fully independent suspension with torsion bars in front, 4-wheel disc brakes and power steering. Despite the advanced engineering and many favorable reviews, the 130 Berlina did not quite meet the challenge of the German luxury brands. The styling was very conservative for the period and performance was modest.
To address these issues, Fiat developed a stunning coupe version of the 130 introduced at the 1971 Geneva Auto Show. The 130 Coupe was an instant hit. The elegant styling and exceptional interior design was the work of Paolo Martin at Pininfarina, where the 130 Coupe was also manufactured.
The sensational shape won a significant European design award and the 130 Coupe is still regarded as one of the most beautiful cars produced in the modern era. The interior was restyled with a contemporary flair and upgraded from the already luxurious standard of the 130 Berlina. It featured distinctive wood trim, soft illumination via advanced fiber optics, comprehensive instrumentation and a full complement of toggle switches in a state-of-the-art, 007, ‘70s technology motif.
Paolo Martin took a personal interest in all details including the design of the luxurious seats and exclusive upholstery details. Just one of many sexy features is a push button to open the passenger door from the driver’s seat.
Under the hood the V6 was enlarged to 3.2 liters and now developed a lively 165 HP and much improved mid-range torque. In the best Italian fashion the 3.2 V6 is a joy to exercise fully and provides a stirring exhaust note. Both automatic and manual transmissions were available, with the desirable 5-speed manual being a very robust and sporty ZF unit. A true four-passenger GT, the 130 Coupe now had the grace and pace to compete directly with the BMW 3.0 CS and Mercedes-Benz 280 CE. A very generous trunk completes the package defining the 130 Coupe as a grand touring car in the classic tradition.
Premium pricing limited ultimate sales, but the 130 Coupe was a clear success in the market, redefining Fiat as a real player in the European executive market. Produced from 1971 thru 1977, about 4,500 130 Coupes were sold with the five-speed manual version accounting for about 500 of those. The 130 series was never imported to the US and very few clean examples still exist on the continent. The iconic styling is legendary and the unique GT coupe execution has created a devoted following among the cognoscenti.
World-class style, elegant luxury details, true four-passenger GT accommodations and a superb ride/handling balance are combined in this rare and exclusive, iconic design. The design of the 130 set a standard for the 1970s and inspired the styling of many European cars which followed.
None of these caught the magic and perfect balance of line and proportion of Pininfarina’s effort.
Fiat’s momentum of the late 1960s started to wane as labor difficulties and strong competition limited growth. 1970 was to be Fiat’s most successful year. The attempt to move upmarket with the 130 and the Ferrari-engined Dino models was blunted by quality issues. The oil crisis of 1974 and challenging market conditions were just a few factors in Fiat’s decline.
By the end of the decade Fiat had survived and was able to consolidate Italian auto manufacturing by acquiring Lancia in 1978, Alfa Romeo in 1986 and taking a stake in Ferrari along the way. With these premium brands in house, Fiat refocussed on the middle of the market. The Pininfarina 130 coupe remains as the high water mark of Fiat design and engineering.
FIAT 130 Coupe Specifications:
- In production 1971 -1977
- 4,491 total production
- 3.2 liter belt-driven SOHC V6
- 165 HP / 184 lb ft Torque
- 190.6” length
- 69.3” Width
- 107.1” Wheelbase
- 3,428 lbs Curb Weight
- Top Speed 120 mph +