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The Carchive: The 1991 Fiat Tempra

Chris Haining September 24, 2018 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 2 Comments

It’s Monday, and as we gather momentum for the charge towards a weekend that seems a distant speck on the horizon, let’s pause for breath with a whimsical look at the past.

In 1991 my parents had a meeting with their mortgage advisor in Frinton-on-sea. I was ten years old and in dire need of entertainment while they were discussing interest rates and insurances, so what I really needed was a car magazine. Probably with money saving in mind, my Dad had the brilliant wheeze to eschew the newsagent at the other end of the street in favour of the Fiat dealer virtually opposite the mortgage office, from whence he would emerge with an armful of brochures for my entertainment. This one has been in my care for 27 years. Welcome back to The Carchive.

(Please click the images to profoundly enhance their legibility)

“The strikingly elegant profile of the Fiat Tempra has a natural balance and purity of line that typifies good aerodynamic design”

The Fiat Tempra was the sedan version of the Fiat Tipo. I’ll admit to having not trawled The Internet for sales figures, but irrespective of how many of these things were sold, there’s little doubt in my mind that the Tempra was way overshadowed by its Fiat Tipo hatchback sister.

You know the Tipo, right? That bluff-fronted, eight-windowed, red-and-black tail-lighted piece of awesomeness that was undoubtedly among the most characterful family cars of the 1990s. It all goes to show that sticking a separate trunk onto the back of a hatchback sucks all the life out of it. Look at the Vauxhall Belmont (Vauxhall Astra / Opel Kadett / Pontiac LeMans sedan), the Ford Orion (Euro Ford Escort sedan), the Fiat Regata (Fiat Ritmo/Strada sedan) or the Lancia Prisma (Lancia Delta sedan). Even though the Tempra had an impressive 0.28 drag coefficient, it just wasn’t as glamorous as the Tipo.

Despite all this, the Fiat Tempra was still an interesting machine, and is all the more so a quarter of a century later.

“The Tempra combines instant response to the driver’s commands with the kind of surefooted stability that inspires complete confidence”

The indispensable “Good Car Guide”, a three-part serial issued in collect-and-keep format in Autocar and Motor magazine during 1993, sums up the handling of the range-topping 1.8i.e SX thus: “There’s a fair amount of body roll on tighter corners and the low-geared steering weights up with speed. Yet the chassis feels taut and the tyres grip well”.  A more low-key verdict than Fiat’s in-house reckoning, then.

Autocar also commented that a “shortfall of top-end verve dulls its edge, while an extremely irritating and intrusive mechanical drone and a clumsy gearshift action further deplete the score”. Three stars out of five, incidentally, and probably because the Tempra’s heart was in the right place.

“With its high roofline, large glass area and handsome good looks, the Tempra S.W. (Station Wagon) is the most stylish load carrier on the road”.

The Tempra S.W. was notable for being even more striking than the sedan, but happened to be a genuinely capable load lugger. Unlike certain estate cars this one wasn’t ashamed of its healthy appetite for cargo, with a near-vertical tailgate that made childsplay of loading a dishwasher or taking old furniture to the dump.

Every version had masses of interior space, too, and material quality inside that was quite a departure from previous Fiats. Yet it wasn’t a case of “pump up the quality and to hell with making it look interesting” — witness the kerrayzee twin-tier digital dashboard boasted by SX models and guaranteed to elicit a “whoa” from uninitiated Tempra passengers. Standard equipment was more generous than in most European family cars of the time, too.

“The beauty of the Tempra S.W. is more than skin deep — it is innovative design achieving genuine versatility”

I’d like to say the same about Fiat’s brochures of the time, too. They all concluded with this triple-page spread of monochrome pictagrams that illustrate all the most interesting standard features of every model, as well as listing all the essential basics of performance, power and efficiency. In 1991 I would pay far more attention to these pages than was healthy, and wondered why all brochures weren’t designed this way.

But then I was an odd child. One that was thoroughly smitten by the Tempra, too, although I’d only ever see them with any frequency in the orbit of our local Fiat dealership. This was part of a dual-franchise dealer that also sold Volvo, and it was not uncommon to see a Fiat Uno sharing driveway space with a Volvo 760, but for some reason Tempras were very thin on the ground indeed. Today, with the Fiat range consisting almost solely of 500 derivatives and the 124 Spider, it’s hard to imagine a family saloon ever rolling out of Turin again.

(All images are of original manufacturer’s publicity materials, photographed by me. Copyright remains property, I suspect, of FCA. I recently treated myself to a nice 35mm prime lens, so I hope the brochure images are clearer than my godawful usual standard)

  • I have to admit that the Tempra is looking rather sharp, and more stately than the Tipo. Quite the opposite from the Jetta/Golf pairing that, by the number of V.I.S.I.T., survived the brown crustification much better.

  • Manic_King

    After selling my Prisma and promising never buy an Italian car again, I still thought Lancia Dedra and Alfa 155, both sisters of this Fiat, looked quite nice. But Tempra was really ugly IMHO. Tipo was ok, but this thing was not, it seemed very clumsy.