The Alitalia name probably conjures up images of Sandro Munari dancing a Lancia Stratos hairpin to hairpin on the Monte Carlo cols. Or maybe the Stratos’s slightly underwhelming foray into Group 5 racing. But after a string of World Rally Championships in the mid 1970s, the Fiat group decided that the Alitalia colours might look better on its 131 – a three-box family saloon with precisely zero sex appeal. These things mattered in the 70s, after all.
Just like Ford’s move to the Puma body for the new Rally1 regs, the Fiat group’s factory support switch from the Stratos to the 131 was purely a marketing exercise. After all, with the sport’s popularity beginning to climb, wouldn’t it make more sense to use the world rally stage to show that Fiats are tough and definitely could be trusted not to break down all the time?
At first glance it all sounds a bit sad and familiar. But the 131 rally car would be no tarted-up saloon. Instead, Fiat called on the services of Abarth and Bertone to create a purpose-built rally machine that shared precious little with the road car. For starters, it was based on the sleeker two-door model, only some body panels were formed of fibreglass while the doors were made of aluminium to save on weight. Bertone also added massive flared arches, turning the dinky 131 into a bit of a beefcake, and topped it off with a small rear spoiler for extra downforce. Seems a little ironic, given the front end is about as aerodynamic as a brick, but it looked ace – especially in Alitalia colours.
Of course, this was a time where you needed to build a few road-going versions to be considered for homologation, and the 131 is no different. Some 400 examples of the 131 Abarth Rally Stadale were built and they were closely linked to their rally counterparts. The 2.0-litre inline four-cylinder engine gets a double-barrel Weber carburettor and is good for around 140hp. True, the rally versions were delivering around 100hp more, but these early homologation specials can typically be cranked up with little effort. Likely at the cost of reliability, mind.
The chassis was heavily revised, too. There’s independent suspension all round with Bilstein struts, a limited-slip differential and a five-speed manual gearbox with no synchromesh. Group 4 rally rules stipulated that the gearbox on competition cars must match those of their road-going counterparts, so expect a choppy ride when you’re not driving flat out. The brakes, meanwhile, were adopted from the tiny Fiat 124 and, allegedly, aren’t the best at stopping the considerably larger 131. But nothing worth having is easy, right?
Well, if you’re as sold on the 131 as we are then you’re in luck. This one appears to be an absolute belter. Unlike the blue Lancia 037 we featured the other day, this 131 has been blue since rolling out of the factory in 1976. And although these early homologation cars were exceptionally basic, there’s an element of, er, luxury with this 131 as it gains matching blue stripes on the seats. It’s also a four-seater, with some of the comfiest looking rear seats we’ve seen on a rally-inspired car – let alone one that’s nearly 50 years old.
Of course, this level of 70s cool doesn’t come cheap. It’s listed at £180,000, which is about the same as a highly original Lancia Delta HF Integrale Evo II. Sure, the Lancia may have slightly greater kerb appeal, but the 131 is the kind of car that’ll get picked up by people really know their rally history. Or those who avidly played Sega Rally Championship 2 on the Dreamcast as kids...
1 / 8