Fiat (Italian Automobile Factory of Turin) released the 131 to little fanfare in 1974. It was aimed at the family demographic, offering sedan, avant, and coupe layout. They were modestly powered and featured nothing truly ground breaking. So why bother featuring it? In all honesty, I think the 131 was one of the better looking economy cars of the day. It nearly stole the 3-series’ thunder, with a very evolved and elegant design for a mid-seventies car. Its proportions are pleasing, it has geometric, minimal shapes between the pillars, and anything with fog lights framed in a boxy fascia, I’m a fanb0i of.
While a lot of the cars I feature in my posts have some sort of tie-in with rally racing, I’m more a fan of european car design from the 70’s and 80’s in general, and in those days the WRC was a cost effective way for carmakers to achieve a global presence in motorsport. BMW has M Sport, Mercedes-Daimlers has AMG, Nissan has NISMO; Fiat’s tuning division was called Abarth. And in 1976, Abarth turned this mellow grocery-getter into one of the last great carbureted, rear-wheel driven rally cars. It took the World Rally Championship 3 times in ’77, ’78, and after a 2 year drought again in 1980, with a total of 18 victories over 5 years.
As good as the road-going model was, the Abarth 131 is truly a work of purpose-built art, everything from the bespoke brake ducts and flared wheel wells to the subtle spoiler lip added to the boot lid puts this particular variant in my top 10 list of best looking cars ever produced. Whenever I look at an E30 M3, I can’t help but think it looks a little sterile compared to the Abarth.