Go on, admit it – you’d completely forgotten about the Fiat Argenta, hadn’t you? Maybe you weren’t even aware of its existence. Which is hardly surprising, given that – according to How Many Left? – the last Fiat Argenta disappeared off the streets of Britain in 2010.
A victim of Scrappage? Who knows, but if so, the big Fiat would have suffered the indignity of being sacrificed in the name of something like the Hyundai i10. What a crushing blow. Literally.
First introduced in Italy in 1981, the Fiat Argenta was a replacement for the ageing Fiat 132 (shown below) and it arrived in the UK in 1982. Fiat’s timing couldn’t have been worse.
The collective heads of the British buying public had already been turned by more practical hatchbacks, with the beamed-down-from-outer-space styling of the Ford Sierra arriving later in 1982. The saloon car was a fusty relic of the 1970s, no longer an object of desire in the UK. But that wasn’t Fiat’s only problem.
You see, the name Argenta sounds remarkably like the name of a country Britain was at war with in 1982. And no amount of marketing could get around that sort of issue. No, the Fiat Argenta was doomed from the start. The “luxury car” would sink without a trace.
Much like a 1980s Italian car on a damp morning in Basingstoke, sales of the Fiat Argenta would stutter. And much like a 1980s Italian car stood in the same damp air for a number of weeks, sales would eventually disintegrate. Unwanted, unloved, but certainly not unforgettable.
Not that it wasn’t well equipped. For £6,345, the Fiat Argenta offered power steering, a stereo radio, central locking, a multifunction control panel, dimming interior lights, electric front wheels, deep pile carpeting and hand-trimmed cloth seats. Hand-trimmed seats – ooh, the luxury.
UK buyers were limited to one engine, Fiat’s familiar 2.0-litre overhead twin-cam. Producing 113bhp, it would help to propel the Argenta to 62mph in 11.6 seconds, before going on to a top speed of 105.6mph. Not that Mr Argenta Man would want to travel too fast in his “luxury car”.
Fiat claimed that a “luxury car doesn’t have to be boring”, suggesting “at weekends it’s a sports car”. Which was a little like suggesting Colin from accounts likes to go bog snorkelling at the weekend.
Nobody was convinced, with most buyers seeing through the marketing waffle and realising the Fiat Argenta was little more than an updated Fiat 132, a car which itself stemmed from as far back as 1972. By the time the Fiat 132 badge died in 1981, the car had had more facelifts than Joan Rivers.
And a new interior and revised front and rear ends wasn’t going to be enough for the Argenta. Sales limped on until 1984, by which time it had received a facelift of its own, with the corporate front grille managing to strip away any character the Argenta once had.
Let’s not forget the original Argenta had the look of a larger, plusher version of the Fiat 131 Mirafiori, and that’s never a bad thing. It also benefited from a set of superb door handles and the best steel wheels we’ve ever seen. You could never describe the Fiat Argenta as pretty or elegant, but in much the same way as the Lancia 2000 Sedan, it had charm. Sadly the facelift simply made it charmless.
It was replaced by the Fiat Croma and immediately started its decline, leading to its extinction in 2005. Not that all is lost, because whilst How Many Left? suggests there are none on the road, there appears to be four cars listed as SORN. If you happen to own one of these cars, please get in touch.
So in the words of Eva Peron, “don’t cry for the Fiat Argenta”. It won’t be easy, you’ll think it’s strange, when we try to explain how we feel. You couldn’t stay all your life toe and heel. Looking out of the electric windows, staying out of the sun.
Have we said too much, there’s nothing more we can think of to say to you. So we’ll leave you with this Italian TV ad for the Fiat Argenta. If you love smoking two cigarettes at once, this is the car for you.