Fiat Coupe 20v Turbo: PH Heroes

As only the second ever Fiat to be inducted into the PH Heroes Hall of Fame (don't forget the X1/9 too), the turbocharged 20-valve Fiat Coupe Turbo is pretty significant: it boasts some mad Bangle styling, potent performance from its readily tuneable five-cylinder engine and sharp handling with a standard limited-slip diff. And despite having never been replaced by Fiat, the Coupe remains an affordable route into classic Italian motoring.

The front-wheel drive Fiat Coupe was launched in 1993 at the Brussels motor show and despite possessing a humble badge it turned heads everywhere it went - thanks mainly to Chris Bangle's innovative but controversial sharp-edged design. Incorporating numerous special touches, including those arresting side panels, deep-set quad tail-lights, unique slashed alloys and bulging headlamp clusters, it really was like nothing else. And it's the 20v Turbo model seen here that will be gracing most collectors' climate-controlled garages in ten years' time.

Pininfarina's interior design was one of the best and included striking body-coloured dash trim, while the unique turbocharged 1998cc in-line five-cylinder powerplant delivered a healthy 220hp and 229lb ft of torque. A Viscodrive limited-slip differential helped traction while the reinforced bodyshell, independent suspension and anti-roll bars front and rear ensured that the Coupe handled sweetly.

Surprisingly, at the moment a good Turbo will set you back just Β£4,000, making Fiat's unique two-door one of the best value performance cars you can buy. And values of the best-kept examples are rising, making Fiat's Coupe Turbo 20v a shoo-in as our latest PH Hero.

True blue
Launched in 1996 to replace the original four-cylinder Turbo, the 20-valve five-cylinder model boasted a Garret turbocharger enabling the five-speed manual Coupe to reach 60mph in just 6.3 seconds and top out at 149mph. That made it the fastest front-wheel drive production car for a while, and the last true performance car Fiat has produced.

The most desirable Sprint Blue colour (as seen on this car) was initially only available on the Turbo version, which quickly became the most successful model of the range in the UK. In the rest of Europe however punitive taxes made it a rare sight, with the normally-aspirated version a much bigger seller.

A new six-speed manual gearbox arrived in 1998, along with a few other tweaks including a satin gloss starter button, body-coloured sills and new eight-spoke alloys, whilst the car's top speed was elevated to 155mph. This six-speed transmission was first fitted to Fiat's LE (Limited Edition) model which featured front Brembo brake calipers, a distinctive bodykit, a strut brace and a pair of front Recaros with red leather inserts. A badge located by the rear-view mirror showed each car's unique number. Approximately 300 Limited Editions were originally planned, but the final production figure was much higher - with some estimating that as many as 1,400 may have been made. Fiat also released a Turbo Plus version that came with virtually the same equipment the LE.

Recaro seats with side airbags were introduced in early 2000 as part of a number of other minor revisions, before Fiat Coupe production finally came to an end in September of that year. By then UK buyers had snapped up over 3,500 examples of the 20-valve Turbo, and around 800 of those are still registered today.

Light the blue touch paper
Despite its age the Fiat's set-up is actually pretty contemporary, with that sharp-edged design backed up by a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine driving the front wheels via a limited-slip diff. Fire up the 20v Turbo and - as with more modern cars - the engine note is initially rather muted. In fact, off-boost the Coupe delivers a surprisingly benign drive. Get on the throttle however, wait for the turbo to kick in and the Coupe really comes alive, with urgent in-gear thrust and an unmistakable five-cylinder sound that acquires an angry rasp at high revs.

If you're not expecting it, the surge can momentarily take your breath away - a feeling that old-school Impreza drivers will find reassuringly familiar. You'll need to take a little more care when the heavens open though, as the front-wheel Coupe struggles to maintain traction. The diff does its best of course, but torque steer makes the Fiat a little boisterous. With decent rubber the grip levels are quite high though.

On corners the Coupe feels nimble and agile, with light but responsive steering - and body roll is minimal, with a comfortable ride too. Braking too is good, although track day enthusiasts will soon feel the need for something a little stronger, and in tight spaces you'll need to watch that rear end - the Coupe's turning circle is quite large and not always easy to judge. Slick gear changes are possible, in spite of the longish gear lever, and practically-minded PHers will be pleased with the two rear seats - which can accommodate younger children.

The 20v Turbo also provides a good platform for further tuning, with tuners like FC Performance able to provide anything from a simple Stage 1 remap (which can provide around 240hp) right up to a 400hp-plus Stage 5 rebuild. Most buyers at the moment, however, will be seeking a car as close to standard as possible.

Blue for you
Scour the classifieds and you'll find cars advertised for less than Β£3,000 - but these will require varying degrees of TLC. We reckon at least four grand is a more sensible starting point. "But this can rise to as much as Β£10,000 for an excellent condition example," explains Rob Donaldson at Glass's. "The more sought-after LE models start at Β£6,000 and can go for as much as Β£13,000," he adds. The well-equipped Plus version sits somewhere between the two. Coupes with a long list of modifications tend not to sell too easily and the higher prices are always for near-standard, well cared-for cars.

Galvanised bodies have meant that visible rust is not been much of an issue, but potential buyers must check the wheel arches, around the rear wing badges, the boot seams, sills and floorpan for any signs of corrosion. Aside from this the key issues to watch out for are missing red master keys, incomplete service histories, cracked exhaust manifolds, failing Lambda sensors, worn turbo seals, warped brake discs, perished suspension bushes and worn wheel bearings. "The engines are strong though," claims Leighton Wilson at Coupe experts FC Performance. "Just keep an eye out for a good maintenance record, and stay away from poorly tuned examples."

Service intervals are every 12,000 miles but some owners change their oil every 6,000, and the key cambelt change is due every 72,000 miles, or every six years. Prudent owners get this done more frequently but it can cost around Β£600 at a specialist - Fiat dealers charge more than Β£1,000 as they claim it's an engine out job. A few OE parts are now becoming harder to source and you should budget for new front tyres every 8-10K miles.

When it comes to investment potential almost any mint example with a full service history and few modifications is likely to rise in value, as the number of viable examples on the road is diminishing almost daily. So which models will prove the most desirable future classics? Well low-mileage late-plate LE models are the most likely candidates, but don't ignore a mint Plus model either: "The LE could prove a little too conspicuous for a more discerning owner," Leighton Wilson points out.

One thing's for sure: the Fiat Coupe certainly splits opinion, even in this, the most powerful 20-valve turbocharged guise. It's a classic marmite car and, although a rare sight, it's still one of the most recognisable shapes on UK roads. And certainly one of the more affordable PH Heroes too - what are you waiting for?

Β 1,998cc turbocharged inline-five
Transmission:Β 5-speed manual/6-speed manual, front-wheel drive (1999-on)
Power (hp):Β 220@ 5,750rpm
Torque (lb ft):Β 229@ 2,500rpm
0-60mph:Β 6.3sec
Top speed:Β 149/155mph
Weight:Β 1,310kg (claimed)
On sale:Β 1996-2000
Price new (1998):Β Β£24,224
Price now:Β Β£3,000-Β£13,000







[Many thanks to the Fiat Coupe Club UK, the Fiat Forum, FC Performance, Glass's Guide and PHer David Flanighan for letting us shoot his car. Photos by Chris Teagles]

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Comments (66) Join the discussion on the forum

  • helix402 28 May 2017

    The 20vt shouldn't torque steer. If it does something is worn out. Great cars, just a little annoying to work on. Fundamentally the engine is too big for the engine bay.

  • grumpy52 28 May 2017

    Those that know how can change the belt without removing the engine . It requires tilting and a medium to small mechanic .
    Engine mounts need checking as well as bottom arms and bushes .

  • Mr2Mike 28 May 2017

    helix402 said:
    The 20vt shouldn't torque steer.
    They suffered some torque steer the day they rolled out of the factory. Obviously worn suspension bushes make things much worse, and front wishbones are pretty much a service item (esp. cheap and nasty pattern ones).

    You need to look out for cars that have been messed with as well. The previous owner of mine decided to mess around with a manual boost controller and managed to melt a piston, which i why I picked it up cheap.

    You can do lots of work with the engine still in the car

    Watch out for cracked exhaust manifolds, they are very common

    Repaired with a MIG using stainless wire and big blow lamp to pre-heat the manifold. Still working fine when I sold it 40k later

    Edited by Mr2Mike on Sunday 28th May 13:39

  • helix402 28 May 2017

    When I owned one I left the engine in situ, was still a pain. But I'm not a medium/small mechanic! Mine never torque steered.

  • Mr2Mike 28 May 2017

    helix402 said:
    When I owned one I left the engine in situ, was still a pain. But I'm not a medium/small mechanic! Mine never torque steered.
    Mine didn't torque steer on smooth roads (with new wishbones), but put it on a B road with worn/uneven surface and it would. Biggest pain I had was just getting the timing belt cover off intact, the rest of the job wasn't too bad.

    One thing I do remember, it had by far the worst headlights of any car I have owned in the last 20 years.

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