The finger of fashion stays fickle even as cars age. One-time street furniture seems to have been lifted high on the tide of ‘unexceptional’ modern classicism, many of the cars that would have barely been worth weighing in for scrap a decade ago are into five figures and still climbing strongly. Conversely, some cars that seemed like nailed-on future classics when they were new are still on the launch pad and waiting for ignition. Okay, for £7,950 our Pill is one of the most expensive Fiat Coupes currently on sale in the country - although the only one in the PH classifieds - but compared to the wider market of nine-grand base Cortinas and the like it looks enticingly priced.
Maybe the Coupe is just too different, an accusation that has been levelled at it since it first appeared back in 1993. In the early 90s, Fiat was best known for its small, cheap models and the sort of build quality that kept low-rent comedians in material. The Panda, Cinquecento and Uno sold well to those in search of inexpensive, characterful transport - and were actually pretty good to drive. But everything the company attempted above them went down in critical flames: cars like the Tipo, Tempra and even half-decent Croma - cousin to the Alfa Romeo 164 and Saab 9000 - were treated as automotive punchlines in the UK.
The Coupe came as part of what was meant to be a transformative onslaught of new products, being launched just after the first Punto - a road-test darling when it first arrived - and ahead of the larger Bravo/ Brava hatchbacks. The Coupe sat on the already crinkly Tipo platform and would be contract built by Pininfarina, although its styling was actually the work of a young and then barely known Fiat designer called Chris Bangle. (Pininfarina’s own passed-over proposal was later recycled as the Peugeot 406 Coupe.) The Fiat Coupe was widely regarded as being the project that won Bangle his role as BMW’s design boss shortly afterwards.
While the Coupe’s slashed-up styling won plenty of headlines, and a fair few Freddy Kruger references, it also managed a neat conjuror’s trick. The look-at-me detailing of the arch creases, raised rump and separate rear lights successfully distracted from the unlikely proportions bequeathed by the Coupe’s handed-down floorpan. At 2,540mm its wheelbase was identical to that of the boxy Tipo, despite the Coupe’s overall length being nearly 300mm longer, resulting in that gurning front overhang.
Although the Coupe didn’t reach the UK until 1995, some determined early adopters brought in left-hookers before then. Fiat’s engineers had given the early four-cylinder turbo a standard limited-slip differential to calm power delivery and cut down on torque steer. The 16V Turbo’s sub-7 second 0-60mph time and 140mph top speed comparing well to rivals like the (more expensive) Volkswagen Corrado VR6 and all-wheel driven Vauxhall Calibra Turbo.
But Fiat wasn’t done yet. In 1996 it upgraded the Coupe to the new five-cylinder engines it had created at considerable expense to power the upper reaches of the Lancia range. This had 20 valves - hence the new name - and although it still displaced 2.0-litres power for the Turbo was increased to 220hp, the top speed rising to 150mph (there was also a naturally aspirated 20V with 147hp.) I got to drive both as a junior road tester, having been too young to experience the 16V, and I remember the new Turbo being impressively disciplined for such a potent front-driver. It was certainly much better lashed-down than the similarly brawny Saab 9-3 Viggen from the same era.
Our Pill is one of the last 20V Turbo Plus models and was first registered in March 2000. The Plus got no more power, but did get a six-speed gearbox which raised the top speed to 155mph and various trim enhancements. It would have had a list price of £23,000 when it was new, with the advert suggesting it may have had only one owner in all that time.
Other details are limited, with ‘20V TURBO PLUS’ is the limit of the description, but with the proviso that it has been shot on gravel which is reflecting in the shiny bodywork it looks pretty tidy in the images: there is a hint of the yellowing that all Fiat coupe headlights seem to suffer from, but otherwise it seems fresh considering the age and 129,000 miles. The dashboard shot offers a reminder of the excellent idea that was the full-width body-coloured strip, but also what I first took to be an old-fashioned minicab fare meter, which seems unlikely for something with two doors. Closer inspection suggests it has been spliced into the electrics through a connector under the glovebox and may well be some kind of turbo boost controller; the 20V was known for its tweakability. Answers on a postcard.
Our Pill has disproved many Fiat build quality jokes simply through continued existence, and while the MOT record makes frequent mention of worn brakes, tyres and suspension components there is no hint at all of structural corrosion, which counts as a definite win given the Coupe’s well-documented tendency to rust. The online record does show that it has been off the road between 2019 and its most recent ticket in February this year, though - possibly parked up in a nice, dry garage.
Despite its lesser-spotted status these days, there still seem to be plenty of Coupes out there. How Many Left reckons there are still 700 taxed and another 1,600 on SORN. Which, if true, means that more than one in every three of the cars originally sold in the UK is still extant - a survival rate that must put every other modern-ish Fiat to shame. Those figures suggest there is still plenty of support and expertise out there, but there will still be an invigorating risk in owning any 23-year-old Fiat.
But with three decades of hindsight, the Coupe is looking like one of the highlights of Chris Bangle’s career. Consider where Alfa Romeo SZ prices were a decade ago versus where they are now and it’s not hard to see a bright future for this compelling oddball.
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