Despite the success of the 127 and 128, the front-wheel drive cars were voted car of the year, Fiat sticks to the classic architecture for the 131, replacing the 124 family. So it’s a rigid rear axle powerplant, a solution that starts to grow old when it comes out in November 1974 .
To be sure, the Ford Taunus, Opel Ascona and other Morris Marinas are built on the same formula, but in France the Citroën GS, Peugeot 304 and Renault 12 are all traction. One way or another, 131 Mirafiori (from the name of the plant where it is produced) plays the card of durability and solidity to tempt, the manufacturer announces in advertising that it is designed for ten years, clearly strengthening its anti-corrosion treatment. .
Commercially, it works, as the Italian sedan has a good initial success. It was originally offered with two overhead-cylinder engines, a 1.3-litre with 65 hp. and 1.6-liter 75 hp, as well as in two finishes: regular and special.
The first one, at only 1.3 liters, stands out with its rectangular headlights and simplified equipment, even if clocks, reversing lights or even adjustable seats (these elements were not taken for granted at the time!) are connected in series. The Special adds round headlights, the ones in the center, long range, velvet upholstery complete with headrests or even a tachometer.
Three body styles are offered: 2-door, 4-door and station wagon. Prices, very well placed, range from 18,745 francs (current 13,700 euros according to INSEE) for a base 1300 to 24,105 francs for a 1600 Special wagon (currently 17,600 euros according to INSEE).
Soon, if the press appreciated it well when it was released, the 131 found itself in competition with more modern rivals such as the 1975 Simca 1307/1308 duo. So Fiat made it evolve from 1977. The Mirafiori (specifically the large rectangular headlights) are trimmed with new designations (Luxe and Confort Luxe) while the top Supermirafiori line is launched.
After restyling (plastic bumpers, horizontal taillights, larger wheels, new interior), it finally sports blocks with double overhead camshafts. So, 1.3 l increases to 78 hp, and 1.6 l – up to 98 hp, while box 5 is installed automatically. Alas, this one is too long, if it lowers the sound level, it seriously interferes with time.
As compensation, in 1977 a new Racing variant appeared, a 2-door with sporty decor called Racing. Under the hood, it has a 2.0-liter engine with 115 hp, which accelerates it to almost 180 km/h. However, this is more of a road GT than a true sports car like the Opel Kadett GT/E.
In addition, in 1978, the 131 was equipped with diesel versions: one 2.0 L with 60 hp, the other 2.4 L with 72 hp. These blocks, called Sofim, were developed by Renault, who used them in their trucks and then in Safrane. Interestingly, the 2.0 has exactly the same ratings as the French mechanical unit found on the R20 TS.
Fiat planned a dynamic production plan (not forgetting good rally support, where the 131 won the world championship three times in 1977, 1978 and 1980), and a new series of improvements was made in 1981. 1.3 liters goes to 1.4 liters. (70 hp in Mirafiori, 78 hp in Supermirafiori), 1.6L up to 85 hp in Mirafiori, and in the upper range it is replaced by 2.0 l 113 hp. Racing, the latter fades into the background.
Other cosmetic tweaks are coming in, such as thicker side guards, slimmer taillights on the Supermirafiori, which also benefit from the new rims. At the end of 1983, Regatta was released – a three-volume sedan derived from Ritmo. It gradually replaced the 131, which disappeared in 1984, not without receiving a new Fiat logo with 5 slashes.
How much does it cost ?
At first the problem will be to find 131 for sale. A Mirafiori in good condition will cost €4,000 in good condition, regardless of its engine, compared to €5,000 for a Supermirafiori. This one, with a volume of 2.0 liters, can go up to 6,000 euros. As for the Racing, no more economical than the 2.0L sedan, it already claims 15,000 €.
Which version to choose?
Still not too expensive, but very well motorized Supermirafiori 2.0L represents the best compromise.
Any 131 in excellent original condition is a purely collectible item, very hard to find, but the most sought after is Racing. Even rarer is the 131 Volumex compressor (135 hp) released in 1983, but it is almost impossible to find. Excluding the exceptional racing Abarth (400 pieces)…
What to monitor?
Despite what the ad says, the 131 is extremely prone to rust that attacks everywhere. It starts with the body, then corrodes the base (sills, floors), and then, finally, the structure. It is clear that Fiat rusts honestly (unlike Mercedes or BMW), but sometimes with guilty glee. Why ? Because after the endless social conflicts shaking Italy in general and Fiat in particular, the 131 was often produced without considering the recommendations of engineers, avoiding anti-corrosion baths … It’s a pity, because otherwise it’s a question of a reliable car without any problems if the maintenance was done well . Therefore, it will be checked in the classical way. Be careful, despite the ease of maintenance, specific parts (cabin, upholstery, bumpers) are very difficult to find.
I got behind the wheel of a very rare 1975 base 131 1300. On board, we were pleasantly surprised by the availability of space, the full atmosphere of the seventies, a laconic picture, but with a pleasant design and good quality finishes. . If the direction remains very firm in the maneuver, then once you roll it is quite pleasant and precise, and the box is a pleasure to steer. Engine ? Flexible and docile, it is not without good will, but it turns out to be too small to carry this sedan weighing about 1000 kg with dignity.
Also, even if the transmission seems well placed, the performance is very good, even if the Fiat flirts at 150 km/h on the bottom. In doing so, it benefits from healthy and balanced handling. We will not praise its dynamic liveliness, but without unpleasant surprises, especially since the suspension is quite stiff and limits rolls. The comfort is nothing like the French of the time, but the rough edges are properly filtered out and the seats are pretty well worked out. In short, a very homogeneous car, pleasant to walk in a vintage atmosphere, not too voracious (7.5 l / 100 km), but not lacking in vivacity. To do this, we will rather look for 1600.
Young man’s alternative
Fiat Regatta (1983-1990)
Replacing 131, Regata is derived from Ritmo. It features a more elegant 3-volume body and, above all, contains a huge trunk. It is also available as a Week-end station wagon, whose rear bumper folds down to lower the boot sill. Initially available in 1.3L (70), 1.5L (85S) and 1.6L (100S) versions, it quickly accommodates two diesels: a 1.7L with 58 hp. and 1.9 liters with a capacity of 65 hp. In early 1986, the Regatta was restyled in the Croma style. The 1.6-liter engine gets an injection system (100 Sie), and a very powerful turbodiesel (80 hp) joins the lineup. Regata left the market in 1990, after the launch of Tempra.
Fiat 131 Mirafiori 1300 (1975) specifications
- Engine: 4-cylinder in-line, 1297 cc
- Fuel supply: Dual chamber carburetor
- Suspension: McPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar (AV); rigid axle, pushrods, coil springs, anti-roll bar (rear)
- Transmission: mechanical 4 or 5 box, power plant
- Power: 65 HP at 5400 rpm.
- Torque: 102 Nm at 3000 rpm
- Weight: 965 kg
- Maximum speed: 150 km/h (manufacturer’s data)
To find an advertisement for the Fiat 131, go to the La Centrale website.