26 April 2016

UNSUNG HEROES: Fiat Tipo

Largely forgotten today. But Fiat's Golf-Astra-Escort rival was a great car in its day, and was a major step forward for its maker.





IN the 1980s, Fiat was gaining a reputation for making cars that rusted right in front of their owners' eyes. The Strada was the worst offender by a long chalk. Rampant rust problems of its mid-range hatchback also put Fiat into dispute over warranty claims.

Keen to shift this problem and restore consumer confidence in their cars. Fiat addressed the issue by swiftly replacing the Strada with the all-new Tipo. An all-new car was needed anyway, because the Strada was terribly outdated by then besides its tin-worm troubles.

To tackle the problem and challenge the perception of Fiats being rot prone, the Italian outfit used steel panels on the bodyshell that were galvanised on the all new Tipo. To ensure the car's longevity with protection on the bodywork from rust. The first car from Fiat to do so, and became a common practice for cars from them that followed on.

Being a durable car that can survive without a garage wasn't the only reason the Tipo gets recognition. It did a great job of challenging the perception of Fiats (and to a larger extent, Italian cars) going brittle overnight. Prior to this, the Tipo had its own merits. It was somewhat, a quirkier alternative to the conventional Escort, Golf and Astra of the day.

The Tipo range grew with the saloon and estates that Fiat sold under the Tempra nameplate.

At launch in June 1988, the Tipo was initially available as a five-door hatchback.  It was an all-new car that sat on an all-new floorpan, and had a batch of brand new twin-cam fuel injected engines across the range.

During its production lifespan, Fiat expanded the Tipo range with the saloon and Weekend estate variants sold under the Tempra nameplate which arrived in 1990. It was the replacement for the old Regata, and also for the larger Croma. In 1992, Fiat updated the Tipo with some mild revisions, and a three-door hatchback was also added to the range.

The Tipo was designed by Ercole Spada of I.DE.A Institute, which looked like an up-scaled Uno and also stood out from its rivals. It was very much a Fiat in appearance that followed the design language pioneered by Giorgetto Giugiaro of ItalDesign. Who also designed the Uno, Panda and the Croma.

Earlier Tipos and Tempras (depending on trim level) came with digital (DGT) dashboards.

The boxy shape concealed a very spacious and practical family hatchback. It was rated by road testers and reviewers for having class leading interior space. With having as much room as bigger and more expensive cars like the Vauxhall Cavalier and the Ford Sierra.

Another quirky feature Tipos and Tempras had were the DGT digital dashboards on some models. Very much a period feature, and one that divided opinion amongst buyers. One that became an object of derision amongst some road testers and journalists, the DGT dashboard was soon canned by Fiat.

As well as being a roomy and practical hatchback. All Tipos got a batch of new engines that Fiat specifically designed and developed for the car. With peppy petrol engines available in 1.1, 1.4, 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0 litre guises. There was also two frugal (and noisy) 1.7 and 1.9 diesels in the range. All models had five speed gearboxes.

The understated Sedicivalvoe conceals an exuberant Hot Hatch packed with Latin brio.

Whilst Fiat didn't make an exotic Abarth Tipo like they did with the Strada. But the market for Hot Hatches upon its arrival was falling out of favour due to sky high insurance premiums. As many fell victim to joyriders, being crashed and written off. So the absence of a Scorpion-badged Tipo was justified because it would have been too high profile.

However, they did make a performance Tipo with the 2.0 litre i.e. 16V model - also known as the Sedicivalvole that arrived in 1992. Deliberately keeping the car low profile in appearance. Only large alloy wheels, subtle bodykit and exterior touches like: fog lights, headlamp wipers, red stripes on the bumpers, along with the Sedicivalvloe badging on the tailgate - which is Sixteen Valves in Italian - set it apart from the cooking Tipos.

Whilst the Sedicivalvole wasn't a fully blown Hot Hatch in the truest sense. It's discreet appearance kept it under the radar from Hot Hatch buyers (and thieves). The Tipo's low profile found favour with insurance companies. But also for those who wanted a quick car without drawing too much attention to themselves. Or not wanting to fork out too much on insurance of having a quick car, made the Sedicivalvoe a sensible and appealing proposition.

Despite not having the kerbside appeal or badge-kudos of most Hot Hatches. The Tipo Sedicivalvoe was more than a match for the Volkswagen Golf GTi and Ford Escort XR3i of the day. For Fiat fans and those in the know, the Sedicivalvoes are the most sought after of Tipos.

On the whole, the Tipo got glowing reviews from the press and buyers in general. Many liked the car's spirited engines and keen handling. As well as being a car that was roomy, practical and competitively priced. These qualities alone were enough for the panel to choose Fiat's Golf-Escort-Astra rival to become European Car of the Year in 1989.

The beautiful Alfa Romeo GTV. A Tipo descendant like the Audi TT is from the Volkswagen Golf.

Fiat utilized the Tipo platform (also known as the Type Two platform), which was also used to develop new cars that arrived in the following. As well as the Tempra, there was the sharp-suited Pininfarina and Chris bangle-styled Fiat Coupe that descended from the Tipo.

It was also widely used from car manufacturers within the Fiat family. As a number of cars from Alfa Romeo (155, 145, 146, GTV and Spider) and Lancia (Delta and Dedra) also used the Tipo platform as a starting base. Funny how everyone bangs about Volkswagen's use of platform sharing. In fact, Fiat beaten ze Germans to that, and pioneered this practice which is the industry norm today.

The Tipo was successful and much loved in its home market in Italy. Whilst it wasn't as popular as the Golf, Astra, Escort and the Rover 200 in the UK. The Tipo was moderately successful. It sold reasonably well on British soil, and continued to do until it was phased out in 1995, and replaced by the Bravo/Brava pair.

Today, the Tipo may not be regarded as a classic. But it was an important car for Fiat. With the car being better built and a lot more durable thanks to the galvanised steel bodies. It must remembered though, that it was the car that did a great job in challenging and changing the public's brand perception of Fiat - and Italian cars to a larger extent.

Since then and still to this day, Fiat has galvanised the bodyshells on their cars that has tackled the tinworm troubles that plagued their cars (and their reputation) in the past. Alfa Romeo and Lancia also followed suit and adapted this practice. Which in turn has helped shift the problem (and perception) of Italian cars becoming rust buckets overnight.

The Tipo was the start of Fiat cleaning up its act, and getting them on the road to recovery. They're well aware of how important it was to them in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It's easy to see why Fiat have revived the Tipo moniker in recent times for their new C-segment hatchback. A reminder, that it was one of the cars to help the company progress, move and look forward.

Along with the 500, Panda and the 124, the Tipo is another name from Fiat's past to make a comeback.

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