Tuesday November 27, 2018
‘I've had 131s for 31 years, and I was 19 when I purchased my first 131, a 1982 2000TC Supermirafiori’. Today, Simon Ryle owns no fewer than six examples of this now extremely rare Fiat, a car that once provided an entertaining and well-appointed alternative to the Ford Cortina -
The 131 Mirafiori was introduced in 1974 as the successor to the 124, its smart but formal styling reflecting the taste of the home market for low-key four-door saloons. Here, Richard Hudson-Evans tests the 1600 version for Thames Television’s Drive In programme, describing the Fiat as an ‘Italian Marina’ for the benefit of the viewers -
However, for the press-on driver, there was the Abarth Rally homologation special version of 1976 which famously won the World Rally Championship three times.
A 1978 facelift saw the introduction of twin-cam plants – the 131 was initially planned around both OHV and DOHC engines, but finances dictated that only the former was available at first and the “Supermirafiori” badge -
There was also the extremely desirable 110 mph Mirafiori Sport – ‘the Fiat represents another step up the sporty saloon’s scale of evolution’ thought Car in 1979 when comparing the Fiat with the Escort RS2000.
There was a final upgrade in 1981 before production in Turin ceased three years later - but this was not quite the end of the narrative.
As with the 124, the 131 was a “World Car” – indeed the estate versions were re-badged SEATS from Spain – with the examples made by Tofaş of Turkey lasting until 2002. Mirafiori derivatives were also built in Egypt until 2009 and Ethiopia until 2010. In the UK, a Fiat that once was a fairly common sight seemed to vanish circa 1989, but Simon remembers buying his first 131 ‘it was a question of the amount of power and equipment for your pound. I purchased a four-year-old 113bhp Supermirafiori for £1,300! It was a no-brainer’.
Some enthusiasts collect a particular model as it was a car they recall from their youth but Simon’s father’ had all sorts of cars as I was growing up - Mk 1 and 2 Vivas, a Humber Sceptre, a Mk 3 Cortina GXL, a BMW E3 2500, a Dolomite 1850 HL, an Opel Manta Coupe 1.8S, a Saab 900 GLE 4-dr and now he drives Mercs, so no, we weren't a Fiat family’. Simon regards the 131 as ‘great cars to throw about too and easy to fix if they wore out. They rarely go wrong if they're properly sorted to start with’ and the current Ryle Fleet comprises:
1976 1600 Special 4-dr (green) - my spares car.
1976 1300 Special 4-dr (metallic blue) - known as my “Special Special”. This is now fitted with the 2000 Twin Cam engine, running gear, suspension and brakes from a 1980 131 Racing and has a genuine 131 Abarth Stradale interior!!
1976 1600 Special 4-dr (orange) - owned since Feb '99, only 15000 miles from new. Not currently road legal.
1976 Fiat Abarth 131 Rally Stradale (red). Owned since 2004. Rested since 2015. Awaiting a major restoration.
1978 1600 Special (yellow) - saved about six years by me from being stood on axle stands (!). About 50k miles from new and used last year for a trip to Austria. Not currently road legal.
1979 131 Mirafiori Sport 2000TC (orange) - just about to start recommissioning after being laid up for a number of years in Northern Ireland. I've owned her since Aug '17
And – for those of an age to recall this television commercial – none of them need to be caged:
With thanks to Simon Ryle for his time and the use of his photographs.