I spotted the orange glow of the Fiat 131 Racing front wing long before I could say for certain what I was looking at. It was a tantalising glimpse of the Italian three-box performance minx peering out from behind the other cars for sale on Automobile Huber’s forecourt. Needless to say, I was already preparing to stop and take a closer look at this Italian Sunny Delight
I was driving back to Munich, having tested the new Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe on the roads of Bavaria and Austria. Up until that point, the most PetrolBloggy spot had been a Fiat Strada languishing in the shadows near Lake Tegernsee. But this 131 Racing had the Strada well and truly tangoed.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the GLE Coupe probably won’t appeal to you.
The Fiat 131 Racing – or Mirafiori Sport in the UK – was only available in four colours. Naturally, Racing Orange is the best colour, but you could also order your sporting Fiat in black, silver or gunmetal grey. But regardless of the colour, the Fiat 131 Racing is one of the coolest cars ever to emerge from Italy.
Look at those racing door mirrors. And the (non standard) rear spoiler, the shape of the rear side windows, and the grille. Goodness, I need to go for a lie down.
Launched in 1978, the Fiat 131 Racing featured a 2.0-litre twin-cam engine developing 114bhp. The Racing offered considerable more than the standard Fiat 131, with a list including the trademark quad headlights, bib spoiler, wheel arch extensions, cheese-grater grille, matt black trim, air horn, top tint on the windscreen, short-throw five-speed gearbox, Abarth shifter and alloy wheels. Find a better looking compact saloon of the era.
Top speed was a tame-by-today’s-standards 110mph, while the 0-60mph time could be eclipsed in around 10 seconds.
If the stunning three-box styling, meaty twin-cam engine and orange paint wasn’t enough to tempt you out of a Ford Escort RS, then maybe the Fiat 131 Racing’s considerable success on the world’s rally stages could. Markku Alén and Walter Röhrl et al could be seeing taking a 131 sideways on the likes of the 1000 Lakes and Acropolis rallies.
This must have left an impression on me, as one of my favourite toy cars of the 1980s was the Fiat 131 Abarth, either in evocative Alitalia colours or orange and red Matchbox livery. Three lights on either side of the grille, if my memory serves me correctly.
The link to Walter Röhrl is significant, as a limited edition Fiat 131 Racing Walter Röhrl was available in Germany. The car featured two rear spoilers, side decals, different alloy wheels, extra driving lights and Walter Röhrl’s signature. Quite frankly, it looks the business, especially in Racing Orange. Here’s a photo of three Walter Röhrl special editions. You may need to grab a damp cloth and take a deep breath before clicking the link. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The Fiat 131 Racing for sale in Germany features the Walter Röhrl signatures and the boot lid spoiler, but none of the other extras. My guess is that they were added during the restoration, which was completed this year having started in 2012. The car has covered just shy of 70,000km and is available for €19,900 (£14,000). Strong money for a 131 Rally, but the chances of finding a good one are growing slimmer every day.
Rust has killed off many of the UK-registered Fiat Mirafiori Sports and at the last count there were just two on the road. Fortunately there’s a further 36 off the road, but goodness knows what condition they’re in. So maybe a German-registered left-hand drive 131 Racing wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. What a shame you can’t treat it to a set of period Italian number plates. The cup of joy would then runneth over.
Needless to say, the first thing I did when I found some wifi at Munich airport was to hunt down the garage in question. You can check out the car for yourself here. If you’re tempted to head south to Bavaria, I’d be more than happy to provide some directions. Or, better still, I would happily make a few sacrifices and drive the Fiat 131 Racing back to Blighty for you. You won’t get a service like that from superior motoring blogs.
Thanks to 131mirafiori.com for being a font of all knowledge on the Fiat 131.