The Carchive: The Fiat Berlinetta

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Hey, it’s time for The Carchive! For one last time this week you have an opportunity to gaze with wonder at aged promotional material for a car that probably never had much impact on your life anyway.

Today, we’re off to 1970’s Italy, a point in the time/space continuum that The Hooniverse holds in some esteem. So, just like when Dorothy Hawkins took her daughter for a vacation in Germany, Let’s go see Berlin,Etta.

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“A car which really stands out from the crowd. Stylish, modern and individual, with smooth,sleek lines”

Berlinetta was the name that was adopted as a more elegant and appealing moniker than the originally used “3P”, or Tres-Porte, literally Three-Door. 3P was, incidentally, the exact cash value (£0.03)that such a car would command in post-decimalisation UK by the time it was a few years old. Yes, at that point Fiats reputation for rust was not much better than Lancia’s.

This Brochure dates from August 1978, by which time the Berlinetta was nearing the end of the line; the 128 on which it was based would be replaced by the legendary Ritmo/Strada any minute now. Ritmo also brought with it an amount of range rationalisation; until the Regata arrived in the ’80s, Strada would be a three and five door hatchback and nothing else.

Berlinetta, though, was always the exciting, sporty one. Or that’s what they wanted you to think, anyway.

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“A car with the exciting performance of a sports car, without sports car expense”

This was all the rage across Europe at the time; the idea that everything was somehow a sports car, without actually being anything like a sports car at all. At least the Berlinetta did wear a bodystyle all of its own. The 3P was, in fact the 1975 replacement for the Sport Coupe, which also sat on the 128 mechanical package, albeit on a shortened version of that platform.

There was no doubt, though, that through clever styling the 3P definitely had more glamour about it than the regular version. Stylistically there were elements of Golf and Scirocco, as well as other Italian stuff, and possibly a bit of Audi Avant in the “C” Posts. Those tail-lights were lovely, too. In 1978 all models came on pressed steel “sports” wheels, which can have cost no more to produce than regular ones, and to be honest the sports element was a bit mysterious, too. They’re just wheels, right?

Who am I kidding. Steel wheels without hubcaps look great.

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Furthermore, just check the hell out of the Tartan-style cloth and brown leatherette in that interior!

Seriously, the current Italian car industry owes us a small car with seat fabric that awesome.

“The Fiat Berlinetta. An all-purpose car offering style, liveliness and versatility.”

 Yep. Liveliness was a good phrase to use. We weren’t talking giant-killing performance here; that wasn’t really on the menu with what was basically still a 128 under the skin.

The engine was the 73bhp 1290cc “Rally” engine, top of the 128 tree, as also found in the X1/9. It was enough to bring a top speed of around 100mph with 60mph arriving 12.6 seconds after setting off.

And, with an 833kg kerbweight, the trim front-wheel-drive 3P was a pretty crisp drive, dynamically comparable with any Alfasud or little Lancia. Actually, speaking of Lancias, don’t you think that the Berlinetta is more than a bit like a scaled down Beta HPE?

I like the HPE.

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“In fact, probably the only way you’d know the Berlinetta from a sports car is by its economy”

Economy was all the rage everywhere in the post-fuel-crisis world, and a 1290cc engine ought to be able to provide plenty of that. Indeed, in 1978 a measured  41.5 miles per Imp gallon at an average 56mph was pretty good going. 

That said, the way that figure dropped to 32.5mpg at 75mph would seem to indicate that the Berlinetta wasn’t really a 75mph+ cruiser. Let’s say they were right to use the phrase liveliness, rather than speed.

Of course, the vast majority of these have now disappeared from the face of the Earth, probably turning into orange dust before they even got the chance to be made into Chinese washing machines.

(Disclaimer, all images are of original manufacturer publicity material, photographed by me. Copyright belongs to Fiat SpA, who, now they’ve swept Chrysler up, absolutely promise to start building interesting cars again, and not just cater to the imagination-free with lots of different sizes of 500…)

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