The birth of the FIAT 131 was marked by the Oil Crisis. A historical event that significantly hit motorsports, starting to seriously think about the importance of consumption. In this way, even high-end sports cars were the subject of experiments by brands in order to improve the efficiency of their engines. A situation little seen before more than in times of forced scarcity Through the rigors of war However, the truth is that engineering offered very effective responses very quickly.
Proof of this is the FIAT 131 itself. Compromised in its last phase of evolution due to the outbreak of shortages. But successful when it was presented in 1974 with some adjusted consumption and an undeniable practicality that raised it to be a worthy successor to the 124. Thus, under its wide range of versions -up to eleven in the beginning- and bodies -three, including the Familiare station wagon. - it was hiding a proven scheme of front longitudinal engine, rear wheel drive and rigid axle rear suspension. For this reason, without intending to, the 131 maintained the essences of sports cars with a rear touch. Resisting the universalization of front-wheel drive in mass production vehicles.
Characteristic to which the FIAT Group was passing with models like the 1972 Lancia Beta. A precise and intelligent design. With which sportiness was not renounced -especially in the HPE version- despite being a practical and easy-to-use vehicle. Just what the FIAT 131 Racing achieved when it was introduced alongside the rest of the second series models in 1978. Although, yes, the reasons for this model come more from taking advantage of the advertising boost given by the victories of the 131 Abarth than from the need to cover a certain market niche.
THE UNION BETWEEN ABARTH AND FIAT SUCCESSFUL IN THE RALLYES
After a close relationship matured during the 1971s, FIAT finally took over Abarth in 112 to become its racing department. A wise decision for the Agnelli's company. Since beyond series models such as the AXNUMX Abarth engineers from the scorpion workshop created machines like the 131 Abarth Rallye. One of the greatest legends in the world of gravel racing. Appeared in 1976 with a small circulation of 400 units for homologation purposes in the World Rally Championship.
Based on the street version as mandated by the FIA regulations, this competition model increased its power to 140CV in the first versions. Much less than the 240CV that came to give in 1980. When it was the mount with which Walter Röhrl was crowned world rally champion for the first time. One of the greatest successes of the FIAT 131 Abarth. Which also won in 1977, 1978 and 1980 the constructors' title in the World Rally Championship. Facts achieved thanks to its effectiveness, but also to being carried by such significant names as Timo Salonen, Sandro Murani or Röhrl himself.
Obviously, with all this baggage behind him The FIAT 131 could count on an advertising campaign similar to the one Ford had done with its victorious Escorts. One of the main purposes of the competition, serving as a technological showcase for brands. Of course, there was still a problem to save. And, although we all know that between a series car and its racing derivatives there is a huge gulf, in the case of the 131 street and its rabid Abarth variant it was really insurmountable.
FIAT 131 RACING. THE MARKETING PRODUCT
At this point, what FIAT needed with its 131 was a sporty street version. Something like what Ford did with its RS. In this way, a fully standard model would be established. But with a credible sporty touch with which to take advantage of the publicity boost given by the constructors' title in 1977. The prelude to the appearance in 1978 of FIAT 131 Racing taking advantage of the renewal of the range with the start of the second series, in which news also appeared such as diesel version with SOFIM motor. Regarding 131 Racing, the engine block with four cylinders in line and eight valves continued to be used as a base. Adjusted here to a displacement of two liters to make 116CV.
Good power for a two-door sedan at just 1.070 kilos. Without giving up a cabin almost as spacious and comfortable as that of the saloon. In the aesthetic section, certain details on the bumpers and side provided a greater rudeness to recall the reminiscences of the competition. Regarding the brakes, these had discs on the front axle and a drum on the rear, with the transmission falling on a manual gearbox with five relationships.
FIAT 131 Racing mechanical details. One of the rarest and most disputed versions of the model among collectors, which had two rare series variants. The one in tribute to Walter Röhrl - just like Racing except for certain commemorative elements - and the Abarth Volumetric. A strange variant in which Abarth incorporated a compressor to increase top speed to 190 km / h with an eye on semi-professional teams. And, although it was born as a comfortable family sedan, the FIAT 131 is one of the brand's cars with the most and best participation in gravel races.
Photographs: FIAT / Veloce Classic
P.D. The unit that we have used to illustrate this article is one of the few that can be found for sale. In this case, it is offered by the classic seller Veloce Classic. Sporting an orange color that was very typical of FIAT 131 Racing.