Tuesday January 21, 2020
2020 sees the 35th anniversary of one of the rarest cars in Britain – just one Turbo I.E. remains on the road: https://www.howmanyleft.co.uk/vehicle/fiat_croma_turbo_ie - and it is a Fiat that is unfairly overlooked.
The Croma is the third member of the “Tipo Quattro” -Type 4 - family, following the Lancia Thema and the Saab 9000, but pre-dating the Alfa Romeo 164.
The project dates back as far as October 1978, with the original plan involving just Lancia and Saab, both of whom planned to develop a new FWD saloon.
Fiat and Alfa Romeo were to eventually join the project, with the Thema and the 9000 making their bows in 1984. The styling for the Saab, Lancia and Fiat was courtesy of Giorgetto Giugiaro’s Ital Design, with the final detailing undertaken by each company.
When Fiat launched the Croma in May 1985, it was envisaged as the virtual entry-level version, appealing to the upper reaches of the Sierra/Cavalier market as much as the lower slopes of the Granada/Carlton managerial class.
British Cromas were initially powered by a 1,995-cc unit and offered as a Super i.e. and the Turbo i.e.
The former was intended as the alternative to the Granada 2.0 Ghia Mk. III, which was both more expensive (£11, 593 as compared with £10, 150 for the Fiat), slightly faster and well-appointed.
Motor complained about the ‘ride quality, engine refinement, trim matching’ but regarded the Croma as the best value of the Type 4 cars.
The same title also compared the Super with its Lancia Thema 2.0 i.e. and Saab 9000i cousins, concluding that ‘Fiat have good reason to be delighted with the Croma’.
However, for almost £1,200, more, the ambitious young barrister or accountant could take the wheel of the Lancia ‘with real charm in place of the Croma’s cheap and cheerful character’.
The Fiat had the misfortune to make its UK debut at a time when buyers were increasingly spurning large saloons from “non-prestige” marques in favour of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
An additional challenge confronting any Fiat dealer was that British drivers rarely associated their brand with executive transport.
As Motor once put it ‘a few years ago, it was beginning to look as though the Italians were incapable of making commercially successful big cars’.
In the 1960s, the 2300 Berlina was well-respected but not a major seller while the 132 was not exactly a commercial hit in the UK.
As for the Argenta, the car succeeded by the Croma, it was about as common a sight as an episode of Grange Hill in which no-one said ‘flippin’ ‘eck’.
Yet, for those not overly concerned with looking like a stereotypical Yuppie (and it was not a good look), the Croma Turbo i.e. was, fast (the top seed was 130 mph), came with power-operated front seats and offered excellent value for money at £13,500.
The Turbo was even given the Abarth treatment, but it was to no avail, and when production ceased in 1996, the majority of British driver had already forgotten the Croma. It deserved better.
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