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  • Writer's pictureMatteo Licata

Why The Original Fiat 127 Is A Cool Italian Classic

The 127’s introduction, in 1971, is one of the most significant chapters of Fiat’s history, as it finally brought the company’s superminis into the modern era.

Fiat’s engineering supremo, Dante Giacosa, had long been advocating for front-wheel-drive on the company’s mainstream cars. Still, it took the successful experiment with the relatively low-volume Autobianchi Primula to finally win over Fiat’s management.

Work on the project X1/4 started in 1968, around the mechanical layout already developed for the smaller X1/2, the Autobianchi A112.

Front-wheel-drive with the engine and transmission mounted transversely, and independent suspensions on all four wheels.

While the Autobianchi was positioned as a direct Mini competitor, the 127 was expected to become the family car of choice for many Italian households, so it received a longer (+365mm), wider (+45mm) body with a longer wheelbase (+187mm), whose design is the legacy of Italian designer Pio Manzù.

Despite his young age, by the late ’60s, Pio had already left his mark in product design, thanks to pieces like the “Chronotime” clock and the “Parentesi” lamp, design icons that can still be bought today.

For the “127” project, Pio Manzù devised a shape that’s simple yet endearing in its presentation, thanks to well-balanced proportions and charming touches, like the gentle upward swing of the beltline towards the rear. The front end of the 127, with its friendly, almost human-like “face,” saw its bonnet line slightly lowered by the Fiat Centro Stile before production, the only change made to Manzu’s design after his untimely death in 1969 in a road accident.

The Fiat 127 was a runaway hit for the Turinese automaker, breaking the one million units mark in late 1974 and becoming the best-selling automobile in Europe for several years.

The only thing the 127 carried over from the past was its 903cc inline-four engine, taken from the 850 Sport Coupé but slightly detuned to 47HP through a single-choke Weber 32 IBA 20 carburetor and a milder camshaft profile.

The hatchback body style became available in March ’72, the same year in which the 127 was awarded the “Car Of The Year” prize, the third Fiat model to win such accolade until then (after the 124 and the 128 had won it in 1967 and 1970 respectively).

The Fiat 127 was a runaway hit for the Turinese automaker, breaking the one million units mark in late 1974 and becoming the best-selling automobile in Europe for several years.

Meanwhile, the Spanish national automaker Seat started manufacturing the 127 for its home market in 1972, to great success: the Barcelona factory alone would produce over a million 127s in 10 years.

Some of these were four-door cars, a variant developed by Seat and built exclusively at the Barcelona facility, but exported under Fiat badges on several markets, including Italy.

The original 127 design from Pio Manzù stayed on the market until 1977.

That year, Fiat launched a quite extensively redesigned model (most of the body was retooled, as most of the exterior panels were changed) designed in collaboration with renowned Italian designer Rodolfo Bonetto. While that refresh kept sales of the 127 buoyant, in my view, it also lost much of the original’s charm.

From 1976, the 903cc engine lost some of its verve to comply with new emission regulations, and the front grille sported the newer Fiat logo previously seen only on the Special trim level introduced in 1974.

The 127 would play a crucial role in establishing Fiat’s successful operation in Brazil from 1976 onwards. But that’s a story for another time…



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