Wednesday April 18, 2018
In the 1970s when the world was young, Valerie Singleton, John Noakes and Peter Purves were the stars of Blue Peter, and when kipper ties were still in the vanguard of fashion, cars such as the Fiat 132 occupied that strange middle-ground between the Cortina and the Granada markets.
Fiat introduced the 132 in May 1972 and it would not only act as a replacement for the highly respected 125, but also bridge the gap between the forthcoming 131, which was due to be launched in 1974, and the 130 saloon. Turin had not offered a model in this ‘executive’ sector of the market since the demise of the 1800/2300 in 1968, and the 132 certainly looked smart enough for the corporate world. There was a choice of 1.6 litre and 1.8 litre DOHC power plants, the option of a fifth gear and a nicely trimmed cabin that resembled the office of a go-ahead firm of chartered accountants. One vintage detail was that the list of fittings included a hand throttle.
Unfortunately, the early models suffered from criticism of their road manners, an issue that Fiat worked to rectify. In June 1973 the often-acerbic Car magazine evaluated a 132 against two equally fascinating “Euro Boxes”, the Volkswagen K70 (the first VW with front-wheel drive) and the Series D Opel Rekord. Their conclusions were not entirely glowing – ‘the steering is too heavy', ‘the driving position is positively awful’ and ‘the handling is weird’ - but they did praise the ride, the engine and the Fiat’s ability as a motorway cruiser.
The last-mentioned probably represented its primary appeal to its intended customer base as anyone who wanted a high-performance five-seater would have opted for an Alfa Romeo, Audi, BMW or Triumph. In the UK its main rivals were the Wolseley Six "Landcrab", the Vauxhall FE Victor 2300, the Chrysler 2-Litre or such Japanese imports as the Datsun 240K Skyline or the Toyota Corona. All vehicles that positively exuded ‘managerial status’ in the company car park – and had sufficient power to make that sales conference in Croydon on time. There was a facelift in 1974, and Motor Sport thought that the 132 was ‘a car with a dual personality’ and as a ‘sporting saloon and well contrived family coach combined, it merits attention’.
April 1977 marked another upgrade and a new flagship version in the form of the 2000 GLS, with a new 1,995cc engine all-velour trim, translucent sun visors in dark orange, PAS and electric front windows. This was a Fiat as quintessentially ‘Late 1970s Middle Manager' as the menu at your local Berni Inn and, best of all, at a price of just £3,950, it was cheaper than the Ford Cortina 2.0 Ghia Mk. IV. Two years later Fiat offered the limited edition Bellini – ‘in black only with alloy wheels, check upholstery, radio, sun-roof and remote-controlled door mirror. Beautiful, si?’ In other words, it was a 132 that was just right for those suburban poseurs who liked think of themselves as the next Marcello Mastroianni, even if they bore more of a resemblance to Terry Scott.
In late 1981 the 132 was face lifted as the Argenta, with enhanced levels of equipment. Fiat claimed that ‘at the weekend it’s a sports car’, which was hyperbole to say the least and the new frontal treatment did not quite mask the now-dated lines. However, the supercharged VX model certainly did not lack for technical interest, according to this Italian television commercial, all versions were ideal for chain-smokers - . British drivers were told that a ‘luxury car doesn’t have to be boring’ and nor did it have to be predictable. Indeed, if you or your fleet buyer ordered an Argenta, you stood a very good chance of driving the only example in your town.
The Croma replaced the Argenta in 1985 and 33 years later the sighting of one of these fine Fiats, or its 132 predecessor, is the cause of much excitement for those of us who appreciate offbeat saloons. On a personal note when a family member took delivery of an 1800ES, I had never experienced such motoring decadence. The younger me saw that metallic gold Fiat with alloy wheels struck as an entrée to a world of glamour, high living and wearing sunglasses to visit the local VG Stores. And that is why I still crave a 132 today.