Despite the success of the front-wheel drive 127 and 128, which were voted Cars of the Year, Fiat sticks to a classic architecture with the 131, replacing the 124 family. It is therefore a rigid rear axle drive system, a solution that is beginning to age, when it comes out in November 1974.
Certainly the Ford Taunus, Opel Ascona and other Morris Marinas are established under the same formula, but in France the Citroën GS, Peugeot 304 and Renault 12 are all tractions. Anyway, the 131 Mirafiori (after the name of the factory where it is made) plays the card of durability and solidity to seduce, with the manufacturer announcing in the advertising that it is designed to last ten years , after having significantly increased its anti-corrosion treatment.
Commercially it works, since the Italian sedan meets good initial success. It was originally offered with two overhead cylinder engines, a 65 hp 1.3 liter and a 75 hp 1.6 liter, and two trims, Normal and Special.
The first, only in 1.3 L, stands out for its rectangular headlights and its simplified equipment, even if the clock, the reversing lights or even the adjustable seats (these elements were not yet taken for granted at the time!) are connected in series. The Special adds circular headlights, with those in the center being long-haul, velvet upholstery with headrests, or even the tachometer.
Three bodies are offered: 2-door, 4-door and station wagon. The very well placed prices range from 18,745 F (currently 13,700 euros according to INSEE) for the basic 1300 to 24,105 F for the 1600 Special station wagon (currently 17,600 euros according to INSEE).
If well received by the press upon its release, the 131 quickly found itself in competition with more modern competitors such as the 1975 Simca 1307/1308 duo. Fiat therefore had it further developed from 1977 onwards. Changes have been made to the Mirafiori (large rectangular headlights in particular) have the finishes with new denominations (Luxe and Confort Luxe), while an upper Supermirafiori range is introduced.
Restyled (plastic bumpers, horizontal taillights, larger rims, new interior), it features – finally – double overhead cam blocks. The 1.3 l increases to 78 hp and the 1.6 l to 98 hp, while the box 5 is installed automatically. Unfortunately, this too long, when lowering the sound level, seriously hinders the time.
To compensate, a new racing variant also appeared in 1977, a two-door with sporty decoration called Racing. Under the bonnet it houses a 2.0 liter engine with 115 hp, which takes it to almost 180 km/h. However, it is more of a highway GT than a real sports car like an Opel Kadett GT/E.
In addition, in 1978 the 131 was equipped with diesel versions, one in 2.0 L with 60 hp, the other in 2.4 L with 72 hp. Called Sofim, these blocks were developed with Renault, which used them in its commercial vehicles and then in the Safrane. Interestingly, the 2.0 has exactly the same ratings as the French mechanical block fitted to the R20 TS.
After Fiat planned a dynamic product plan (without forgetting good support in rallying, where the 131 won the world championship three times, in 1977, 1978 and 1980), a new series of improvements took place in 1981. The 1.3L goes to 1.4L (70hp in the Mirafiori, 78hp in the Supermirafiori), the 1.6L to 85hp in the Mirafiori, while at the top end it’s replaced by the 2.0L 113hp of the Racing will, with the latter falling by the wayside.
Other cosmetic touch-ups appear, such as thickened side guards, thinned taillights on the Supermirafiori, which also benefit from new rims. In late 1983, the Regata was launched, a three-box sedan derived from the Ritmo. It gradually replaced the 131, which disappeared in 1984, not without receiving Fiat’s new 5 slash logo.
How much is it ?
The problem will initially be finding a 131 for sale. A Mirafiori in good condition, regardless of its engine, costs €4,000 in good condition compared to €5,000 for a Super Mirafiori. This can climb up to €6,000 in 2.0 l. The Racing, no more economical than the 2.0-liter sedan, already costs €15,000.
Which version to choose?
Not too expensive, but very well motorized, the Supermirafiori 2.0 l represents the best compromise.
Any 131 in perfect original condition is a collectors item only, it’s so hard to find, but the Racing is the most desirable. Even rarer is the compressor 131 Volumex (135 hp) which was launched in 1983 but is almost impossible to find. If we exclude the exceptional racing Abarth (400 units)…
What to monitor
Contrary to advertising, the 131 is extremely susceptible to rust, which attacks everywhere. It starts with the body before gnawing at the foundations (sills, floors) and finally the structure. Sure, the Fiat rusts honestly (unlike a Mercedes or a BMW), but sometimes with a guilty glee. Why ? Because after the endless social conflicts that shook Italy in general and Fiat in particular, the 131s were often made without taking into account the recommendations of the engineers and avoiding anti-corrosion baths … Too bad because for the rest it is a question of a robust car without particular problems if the maintenance has been done well. It is therefore tested in a very classic way. Be careful, although maintenance is easy, certain parts (cabin, upholstery, bumpers) are very difficult to find.
I was able to take the wheel of a very rare 131 1300 socket, built in 1975. On board we were pleasantly surprised by the space offered, the total seventies atmosphere, the concise image but with a pleasant design and good quality finishes . Keeps the direction very taut when maneuvering, it rolls rather comfortably and precisely, while the box is comfortable to handle. Engine ? Flexible and docile, he does not lack goodwill, but proves too small to carry this 1,000kg sedan with dignity.
Even if the gearbox looks well staged, the performance is very fair, even if the Fiat flirts at 150 km/h at the bottom. He benefits from healthy and balanced driving behavior. We won’t praise its dynamic liveliness, but it doesn’t come with any nasty surprises, especially given that the suspension is quite firm and limits body roll. The comfort is not comparable to that of a French woman of the time, but the rough edges are properly filtered and the seats are fairly well studied. In short, a very homogeneous car, pleasant to drive around in a vintage atmosphere, not too greedy (7.5 l/100 km) but lacking some momentum. We’re more likely to look for the 1600 for that.
The youngtimer alternative
Fiat Regata (1983 – 1990)
The Regata replaces the 131 and is derived from the Ritmo. It has a more elegant 3-volume body and, most importantly, contains a huge trunk. It is also available as a weekend station wagon, with the rear bumper folding down to lower the loading sill. Initially available in 1.3L (70), 1.5L (85S) and 1.6L (100S), it quickly picked up two diesel engines, a 1.7L with 58hp and a 1.9L with 65 hp In early 1986, the regata was redesigned in the style of the Croma. The 1.6 liter gets fuel injection (100 Sie), while a very powerful turbo diesel (80 hp) joins the range. The Regata left the market in 1990, after the introduction of the Tempra.
Specifications of the Fiat 131 Mirafiori 1300 (1975).
- Engine: 4-cylinder in-line, 1297cc
- Fuel supply: twin carburettors
- Suspension: McPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar (AV); Live axle, push rods, coil springs, anti-roll bar (rear)
- Transmission: manual 4 or 5 box, drive
- Power: 65 hp at 5,400 rpm
- Torque: 102 Nm at 3,000 rpm
- Weight: 965 kg
- Top speed: 150 km/h (manufacturer information)
To find Fiat 131 advertisements, visit La Centrale’s website.