It cost more than a Porsche 911 when new, won a Style Auto award, as judged by a jury of international automotive stylists, and influenced car design for an entire decade. Meet the Fiat 130 Coupe, a graceful, dignified even, grand tourer in every sense of the word.
The design was the work of Paolo Martin at Pininfarina and was as far removed from the Fiat 130 sedan at the time as the Moon is from Earth.
Where the 130 sedan - Fiat's play for the executive saloon market - looked like a Fiat 125 Saloon that had been pulled and stretched in every direction, the Coupe’s exacting and elegant proportions were enhanced by its clean lines, and perfect planes accented by a sculpted shoulder line running the length of the car to the exquisitely angled leading edge of the bonnet.
The headlight and tail-light treatment mirrored the rest of the 130’s angularity, perfect shapes that lent the Coupe a commanding presence on the road.
Under that gorgeous bonnet, lived a 3.2-litre V6 putting out 123kW and 250Nm. A three-speed Borg-Warner automatic transmission sent drive to the rear wheels. A five-speed ZF manual was an option. Top speed was a claimed 120mph (193km/h) while the dash to triple figures was completed in 10 seconds.
Inside, the 130 Coupe’s prestige aspirations were evident, with velour trim and generous seating for five. The instrumentation and – adjustable – steering wheel added a sporting vibe while features like electric windows – a rarity at the time – underscored its luxury aspirations.
Just 4491 Coupes were produced between 1971 and 1977 with around 500 of them making it to Australia. They weren’t cheap either, costing $14,090 locally when new in 1973. In the same year, a new Porsche 911 T could be yours for $12,933.
As rare it was in the 1970s, it is rarer still today for Fiat’s use of the poor quality Russian steel, which had a propensity for rust. Fiat had received the steel as payment for its collaboration with Russian automaker AvtoVAZ, helping to construct the factory in the city of Tolyatti on the Volga river and sharing its intellectual property.
The resulting VAZ-2101 was essentially a Fiat 124, albeit with heavier steel and strengthened components to better cope with Russia's harsh climate. You might know VAZ creations better under their export badges – Lada.
The influence of the 130 Coupe can’t be underestimated, its beautiful proportions and angular yet elegant design ushering a renaissance for styling house Pininfarina which had, until the reveal of the Coupe, been in the design doldrums.
But, following the 130 Coupe, the styling house hit a purple patch, with the Ferrari 365 GT4, Rolls-Royce Camargue and Peugeot 604 all rolling off the pen at Pininfarina, their respective design cues unmistakably and unashamedly borrowed from the 130 Coupe progenitor.
Further afield, the three-box coupe shape could be seen on a raft of models from European and US manufacturers, while its angular design influenced designers for a decade. Even our own XD Ford Falcon benefited from the 130 Coupe’s styling, most notably at the rear where the tail-light assembly and boot treatment borrowed heavily from the Ford Granada, itself influenced by the 130 Coupe.
Pininfarina, buoyed by the positive reaction to the 130 Coupe, penned a couple of further prototypes using its Coupe design as a base. But while the bloodlines are unmistakable, the four-door 'Opera' and shooting brake 'Maremma' would never see the production line.
Despite the passage of almost 50 years since its debut in 1971, the Fiat 130 Coupe remains a majestic and elegant car, desirable not just for its scarcity, but for the unadulterated purity of its design.
Local 130 Coupes are – unsurprisingly – rare in today’s market. A quick search of popular classified sites found a couple of examples, one an award-winning original unrestored, albeit mint, condition MY1974. Asking price is a cool $60k. A second unmolested 1975 130 Coupe is asking for an enticingly low $17,999. Tempted? I know I am.