Fiat 132

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Fiat 132 1800 GLS

1972 - 1981
4 cyl.
see below
4/5 spd. man
Top Speed:
108 mph
Number Built:
678,700 (All Markets)
1 star
Fiat 132 1800 GLS
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1


Unfortunately many believed the Fiat 132 was a somewhat backward step, particularly given that the car, as a replacement for the Fiat 125, retained both rear-wheel-drive and a live back-axle. The new and lower line met with a mixed reception, some people considering that the 132's shape was Japanese-inspired.

The 132 was released in April 1972, and with its twin-cam engine and optional 5-speed gearbox it promised to be competitive with both Japanese and British cars, including the new British Leyland six-cylinder f.w.d. 2200 model, and with the single-o.h.c. 2-litre Datsun and Toyota offerings.

Once behind the wheel, it would take a little while for the 132 to show its real talent. The engine would tend to hunt and stall in traffic, and there were plenty of shortcomings evident. For instance, while the accelerator was much too heavy and its cranked stalk seemed all too likely to snap off, the disc brakes were over-servoed. This made the right leg tired and the left leg flustered, and the high-set accelerator pedal made heel-and-toeing impossible.

The throttle also tended to stick, ruining a decent tick-over. The central handbrake, which was often used by owners to prevent the engine from stalling when stuck in traffic-jams, was incredibly heavy to pull up. The facia-mounted hand-throttle-cum-choke was equally stiff, and owners often reported that a stong petrol smell was all too evident.

Although the instruments - speedometer, tachometer, oil-pressure gauge, electric clock, and combined heat/fuel gauge, by Veglia - were recessed in the imitation wood panel, they were sometimes difficult if not impossible to read, due to reflected light. They were also of three different sizes, but neatly spaced.

The steering wheel had an uncomfortably thick rim and parking called for considerable effort. Although a facia shelf and door pockets were provided, the under-scuttle cubby had a very awkward catch and one that tended to claw any hands that were thrust into the invisible well. The lid of the very spacious boot flew up when released, hoping to smack you on the chin, the rear doors were often difficult to open (although this varied car to car), and the engine was not a particularly prompt commencer from cold.

If you switched-off the ignition the brakes almost immediately became ineffective, because there was no reasonable vacuum reserve. It would seem, therefore, that the Fiat 132 was a below average offering - but that would not be telling the whole story. Out on the open road, the 1,756 c.c. twin-cam 104 m.p.h. Fiat got along very well. The suspension was apt to lurch laterally to some extent and the gearbox was inclined to be baulky. But this was a comfortable way of driving quickly and by judicious use of the fifth gear it was possible to achieve impressive fuel ecomony approaching 30 m.p.g. on a long run.

If you didn't mind the Fiat triple-stalk levers on the steering column, most of the controls were well contrived, and items like a heated rear window, red light on the door extremities, flush-fitting door handles, dual headlamps, cigarette lighter, etc. were included. The comfortable seats were cloth-upholstered, and the ventilating system worked extremely well. Standard kit included an adjustable steering column, thermo-electric fan, all-disc dual-circuit brakes, single-speed wipers with electric washers and an intermediate action for light rain, etc.

The Fiat 132 2 Litre

The two litre Fiat 132 first appeared in Australia in 1973. The twin overhead cam two litre engine had a longer stroke with the bore remaining the same - improved torque resulting from a modified cam design, as well as altered timing, and electronic ignition was standard. The basic transmission was a five speed manual but you could option an Opel derived three speed auto, which was not such a bad box given that all three of its ratios could be selected at will on the move. Final drive ratio was raised by 20% in order to reduce engine revs, but this resulted in some fall off in initial acceleration. Despite the increase in capacity, engine performance on Australian iterations really only kept up with pre ADR 27a days.

Chassis-wise, the front springs were softened off, this being offset by stiffening the dampers a little. At the rear the strut bushes were revised to give less compliance and this improved stability to the coil-spring four link live axle layout. Variable assistance power steering became standard. Upping wheel sizes from 13 inches to 14 inches permitted the fitting of larger diameter front discs than before. It was just as well too, as the one time all round disc braked 132 was dropped in favour of a front disc/rear drum configuration. Improvements were made to brake pedal pressure. On the car's interior, a great deal of attention was paid to updating the luxury and safety side of things with liberal application of thicker foam padding on the facia, around the instrument panel and on the interior door trims. Even the steering wheel had a foam PVC rim that was "sweat free' for better grip.

The front seats were redesigned too, being trimmed with a fireproof velour material. Carpeting throughout, including the boot, was also fireproof. There was far more sound insulation within the car too, while the adoption of a much strengthened front engine bag, designed for the diesel engined cars, assisted in the suppression of vibration and road noise from that area. As an added comfort item, electrical windows were standard, but only for the front windows. On the exterior of the body cosmetic changes enhanced the looks while the addition of thick rubber coated steel strips along either side improved protection, along with flexible resin fabricated bumpers front and rear, strengthened by steel strip inserts. These were good for 4 km/h impacts.

Behind the wheel you would find the usual Italian seating position was pure Italian, which meant finding a comfortable posture was difficult – but in the 132 it was not impossible – provided you moved the seat fully back. The speedo and tacho needles passed through a quarter sweep instead of the normal full or semi-circle – which looked a little awkward. To the right of these main instruments were gauges for oil pressure, fuel level and water temperature. Everything else, other than the quartz clock, being monitored by a panel of warning lights in red, orange, blue and green.

There were three steering column stalk controls. To the right there was a two speed, plus intermittent, wiper/washer lever. To the left there was a longer lever to select light high beam or low, plus a shorter one for the direction indicators. The main lighting control was a rocker switch to the right of the instruments. Enclosed in the wide instrument binnacle was an AM/FM pushbutton radio, combined with a stereo cassette system. This featured an electric aerial, the control for which tucked away under the facia to the right of the steering column. A centre vertical console contained outlets for the ventilation, heating and air-conditioning systems. And immediately below were located the two electric window rocker switches.

Interior storage space was not overly generous. There was a small glove box in the normal position, together with pockets in the backs of the front seats - and that was it apart from the quite spacious boot. With the petrol tank mounted in the right hand wall though, there was some reduction in luggage space. But it was still quite a deep box which went forward a long way. It could easily handle five large suitcases. There was a useful little tool kit as standard too. Passenger carrying space was remarkably good for such a relatively small car. Despite the exterior size, the ratio between this and the area actually set aside for passengers was well in favour of the latter. Front leg room was good, but the driver was a little restricted as regards space for the left foot when not in use. The space between the side of the centre console and the edge of the wide brake pedal really wasn't adequate. Rear seat passengers got a good deal. Three could be carried with ease when the central armrest was up. With it down there was a ton of shoulder room, and leg room was ok unless you were particularly tall.

The engine was a gem, smooth to 3000 rpm or so is the engine. On starting it almost sounded like a rotary, being well muffled, with mechanical noise at a minimum. This was helped by the fact that the twin overhead camshafts were tooth belt driven rather than by the noisier chain method. After 3000 rpm though, and especially between 5000 and 6000 rpm, the unit was quite noisy. Low down power wasn't especially startling, but as soon as the engine got to its best torque range it would pick up well. This lack of low down power on the test car went a long way to explaining the rather disappointing zero to 60 km/h times. Thereafter it was as good as the 132 ever was, and certainly acceptable for a two litre automatic with power steering, air-conditioning and all the extra weight of luxury.

The automatic gearbox was also very good. Held in "D" the changes were smooth, and change points well selected. Better still, "2" or even "1" could be selected at will on the move rather than having to come almost to a standstill before the first ratio connects. Ride comfort was well up with more expensive cars. Particularly good was the suppression of road noise and general harshness. But the suppression of impact harshness was very good too. None of this was achieved at the cost of handling or road holding either. Variable power assistance to the recirculating ball steering provided finger tip control at parking speeds, but with maximum feeling and response at higher speeds as the assistance cancelled itself out. The car could be moved in and out of traffic easily and accurately at all times - even in the wet.

On the Road

Road holding was impeccable, the characteristics remaining fairly neutral right up to the limit. Then understeer started to make an appearance, providing a very good primary safety valve for drivers who pushed a little too hard. It was the same in the wet - it was hard to get breakaway either front or rear under pretty much any conditions. Only on gravel did the 132 feel skittish, but because of the steering and suspension characteristics, the Fiat remained in full control at all times. The brakes would take a little getting used to – seemingly spongy when cold, after a short time they would improve to become excellent. Heat is always the enemy of brake systems, but on the 132 it seemed they needed to at least be a little warm. But, whether cold or hot, they would always stop the car in a dead straight line with little wheel lock up.

The 132 2 litre was fitted with four quartz iodine headlamps up front, which provided very good illumination. The headlight switch was a rocker on-the facia. Once this was turned on, the lighting mode had to be selected with the steering column mounted stalk. We have no idea why the Fiat designers used a 2 stage approach to such a simple operation. In the wet the windshield wipers covered plenty of windscreen. It all went to make you feel very safe behind the wheel.

At release the 2 litre 132 sold for A$11,280 plus on road costs - which was on the high side, but when you considered what you got for the money it was good value – particularly when judged against the Italian competition. Its level of equipment made it compare well with the Alfetta 2000L, even if it didn’t quite have the same performance in terms of speed and acceleration. Lancia's Beta series was more sporty, but if you wanted a luxury feel and rear-wheel drive the 132 was the go. Francophiles would have argued that Peugeot's 504, suitably optioned, was a better option, having better interior room, but the 504 didn’t handle as well. Much the same could be said about the SAAB 99 and Volvo's 244 GLE – but these cost way more. For sheer space efficiency, ride and a touch of European luxury, the 132 put forward a compelling case.

The Fiat 132 came with 7 different engine combinations:

  • 1.6 litre petrol producing 98 hp (73 kW) 1592 cc (later 1585 cc after 1977)
  • 1.8 litre petrol with 107 hp (80 kW) 1756 cc
  • 1.8 litre petrol with 111 hp (83 kW) 1756 cc
  • 2.0 litre petrol 112 hp (84 kW) 1995 cc (from 1977)
  • 2.0 litre petrol with fuel injection producing 122 hp (91 kW) 1995 cc (from 1977)
  • 2.5 litre diesel with 60 hp (45 kW) 2435 cc
  • 2.5 litre diesel with 72 hp (54 kW) 2435 cc
The second major facelift of Fiat 132 came in 1981, along with a new name, the Fiat Argenta. Other changes included new trim, wheels, dashboard, mirrors and rectangular headlights. The Argenta came with a choice of 4 different engines (market dependent):
  • 1.6 litre petrol producing 90 hp (67 kW) 1585 cc
  • 2.0 litre petrol with 113 hp (84 kW) 1995 cc
  • 2.0 litre petrol with Bosch L-jetronic fuel injection producing 122 hp (91 kW) 1995 cc
  • 2.5 litre diesel with 75 hp (56 kW) 2435 cc

Digiplex electronic ignition was fitted to some 2.0i models. In 1984, the Argenta was face-lifted. The grille was renewed with the then corporate 5-bar grille, and an anti-roll-bar was mounted on the rear axle. The front axle was widened by 40 mm (1.6 in), and new wheels with flat wheel trims & chrome embelishers used. Some minor changes were made inside the car, most notably to the style and colour of seat trim. The Argenta also had two new engines: Fiat's first turbo-diesel, 2.5 litre producing 90 hp (67 kW), and for the Argenta VX a supercharged engine with 135 hp (101 kW), derived from the Lancia Volumex models. The car remained in production until 1986 when it was replaced by the Croma.

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Also see:

Fiat Brochures
Fiat Specifications
Fiat History
Fiat Argenta
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