In March 1969 Fiat replaced the old 1100 model with an all new design.
From the late fifties they had been experimenting with a series of prototypes,
some of which had transverse engine layouts – with front and rear
wheel drive configurations.
Much of the delay was caused by reservations about the acceptability
of small to mid range saloons with front wheel drive to the Italian
home market. Fiat had tested the market by launching the Autobianchi
Primula a few years earlier with the same engine configuration. So with
production and market lessons learned, and many of the other European
manufacturers also exploiting the cost advantages possible with transverse
engine layouts, Fiat produced the 128 saloon.
I was surprised at the first launch date for the 128. Because it looks
essentially a car – and a Fiat car of the late seventies. There’s
something just so well proportioned about its glass, cabin and main
panel areas that gives it a more modern look.
Really the only common characteristic it shared with the 1100 model
it replaced was the engine capacity of 1116cc. And 2 door, 4 door and
3 door station wagon variants were available from the launch date. More
models were planned – including the X1/9 that Fiat intended to
be badged as the 128 range sports car. It was to be a couple of years
before Bertone himself won the debate to keep the X1/9 name distinct
from the rest of the 128 range.
An outstanding feature of the 128 was its engine. The Twin Cam engine
principles had been extended to provide a lower capacity engine with
a single overhead cam driven by a toothed belt. This engine has proved
to have exceptional revving and breathing properties. I seem to have
grown up with variants of this engine around. For me it would have to
be up there with the greatest of all the European production engines
– alongside the Coventry Climax inspired Imp unit. Only the 128.000
Fiat engine has no nasty or difficult habits. As demonstrated again
when it was turbo charged in the eighties and nineties on later generations
It was only when I looked a-fresh at the 128 and drove one again before
writing this page that the heritage of my beloved Strada Abarth became
clear. The McPherson strut, coil spring front suspension design, and
the transverse rear leaf spring axle is all here. The Ritmo/ Strada
was simply an evolution of this 128 design. And the 130TC was an Abarth
evolution of the Ritmo.
What a compact and 'together' drive this 128 saloon provides. The one
I tried had 70,000 miles on the clock. It was suffering from the Strada
weaknesses at this mileage. (I know historically it should be expressed
the other way round.) The rear leaf springs need to be re-tempered and
all the suspension bushes renewed and have the carburettor completely
over-hauled if you want to recover the 128’s true poise. I cannot
under stress this to anyone about to own or drive an old driver’s
car like these. It’s the worst form of sensory depravation. It’s
like trying to view your favourite prettiest girl friend from inside
a paper bag. Sort out the suspension bushes, take the paper bag off
– only real fun awaits.
First launched March 1969. 2 door, 3 door and 3 door station wagon.
55bhp 1116cc single overhead cam engine. Series amended in 1972. Front
1971 128 Rally introduced in March at Geneva. 2 door 128 used
with 1290cc engine variant. Gearbox ratios, brake servo added, alternator
replaces dynamo. 67bhp DIN output (engine type 128 AR.000). Discontinued
early 1973. Spot lights and instruments also added.
1971 – 1975 The 128 Sport Coupe was available in 4 different
versions. The coupe uses both the 1100 and 1300 variants of the 128
s.o.h.c engine (coded 128 AC 5.00 in the 1116cc). And the coupe body
options are S (standard) or SL (standard deluxe). The coupe’s
top speed is 93mph or 100mph depending on the engine chosen. It’s
wheelbase is 9inches/ 225mm less than the saloon at 7ft 3 1/2ins or
2.223 metres. The 128 coupes replaced the 850 Sport Coupe in production.
1972 Saloon versions receive Rally brake servo. Grill and bumpers
revised. Rally spotlights are provided with covers. Grill and bumper
layouts retained until 1974.
1974 – 1976 128 Special. The 128 range was extended to
the Special. It had a new front grill and rectangular headlights, side
rubbing strips, new dash and steering wheel, and a revised 1300 engine
(86 x 55.5mm – 1290cc). Fuel consumption and torque was improved
across the 1100cc range with carb. mods.
1975 – 1978 128 3P. In June 1975, a new version of the
128 Coupe was introduced with 3 doors. As a result of the oil crisis
this was to be Fiat’s only new car for all of 1975. It is easily
identified by twin round headlights and slatted front grill, and the
tail-gated rear window. The rear seat also folds down to provide a decent
storage compartment. The 1300 engine was amended to cope with US emissions
regulations – including a loss of power and increase in compression
ratio to 9.2:1. Many of the UK owners have remained very loyal to this
little gem of a coupe.
1976 Perhaps the most numerous of the 128s in the UK is the
last series launched in May 1976. The same year Fiat celebrated the
production of the 2.5 millionth 128. The new 128 was face-lifted with
larger rectangular head lights and black slatted plastic grill. Three
levels of interior were offered, along with revised instrumentation.
Mechanically the cars were offered compliant to the new EEC emissions
regulations. The gears were modified and revised synchros used on 1st
and 2nd gear. The differential and half shafts were strengthened and
the braking system upgraded. Fuel consumption on both the 1300 (39.5mpg)
and 1100 (42.5mpg) was improved. The estate version was re-named ‘Panorama’.
1978 On the launch of the new Ritmo / Strada in April, production
of the 128 was limited to the 1100 saloon only. Production was discontinued
at the end of June 1982.
Spares and Advice
• Deep in the heart
of Detmold Germany is part of the Holtmann Niedergerke Group. For the
Fiat 125 to 128 range of cars they carry excellent stocks of new reconditioned
and second hand spares. They should be on your shopping list. H&N
Online Shop they are in the process of extending the online spares
list here. Local retail outlet is Gettingman & Niedergerke on +49
(0)5231/6179-0. Spares for 124s, all the Dinos and many earlier Fiats
are carried too.
• Bielstein also supply
tuning and performance items for these cars. The Bielstein brothers
can still be seen occasionally pedaling their race cars - including
a 125. Bielstein products include very nice supportive reclining and
They're spares one of the
reasons for the resurgence in 124 Spider ownership in Germany too. However
they part of the Recambi Group - who are wholesale suppliers. Recambi
will probably only supply you direct with Abarth and Volumex parts.
You will need to find the Bielstein part of the organisation. Telephone
+49 (0)5066/3074. Email firstname.lastname@example.org