Sometimes one remembers that regular people spend much more time at work than at their own homes. The automotive analogy to that goes like this: we may spend more time driving a company vehicle than our own automobiles (that may be a simple fact of life for traveler salesmen or truck/bus/taxi drivers, but probably not so obvious for non professional drivers). That’s what happened to me some 20 years ago. This is the story of how I got a nice experience at the wheel of two tiny Fiats: 1995 Uno Mille EP and Palio 1.0 ED.
Around 1996 I was in my last year of Secondary Technical School and working as an intern at a small company specialized on sales and maintenance of foreign industrial machinery. I worked almost exclusively with PET blowing compressor units sourced by Compresores ABC from Spain. About three or four days a week I worked at the office helping sales of replacement parts and maintenance services. Our customers were soda bottlers located all over the major Estate capitals, so most of the services we used to sell were outsourced to partners. But for customers within like 300 km of São Paulo we usually did field services ourselves: mainly startups of new compressors and preventive and corrective (read urgent) maintenance services.
That’s what lets me to this COAL: in order to get to our clients we had to drive there and most of the times I used to do it. For about almost one year we had available two identical 1996 red Fiat Uno Mille EP. For those not familiar with the Fiat Uno I’ll summarize it’s origins in Italy and it’s remarkable story at Brazilian soil.
The Uno was designed by Giorgio Giugiaro to replace the Fiat 127. In Europe it was launched in 1983 and awarded “Car of the Year” in Europe. It had several different engines like a 903cc pushrod (45hp), 1116cc sohc (55hp) and 1301cc sohc (70hp) and a diesel 1.3l with 45hp. In 1985 the Uno Turbo was introduced with a 1.3l engine producing 105hp. The standard transmission of the Uno was 5 speed manual but in 1987 Fiat presented one of the first CVT transmissions of the world with the Uno Selecta. The car was offered with three and five doors bodystyles.
Its measurements were uncommon: 3,64m (143,3in) long, 1,55m (61 in) wide, 1,44m (56,7in) high with a relatively long 2,4m (94,5in) wheelbase. It was acclaimed for it’s huge interior space and low fuel consumption, helped by low weight 896kg (1975 pounds) and sleek style with a drag coefficient of just 0.34.
Then Fiat brought the Uno to Brazil, beginning assembly in 1984. It’s important to stress that back then Fiat was a small and relatively new player in the Brazilian market, with a small lineup consisting of the 147 family (better known as 127 in Europe) of a hatchback, a 2 door sedan, a 3 door wagon, a van and a pick-up.
The 147 family cars were really wonderfully spacious for such small size and economical, among other qualities. But the Uno and the rest of its family (also consisting of a hatchback, a sedan, a wagon, a van and a pick-up) was a major step from Fiat. It later grew in sales and reputation in the Brazilian market.
But the Uno really went big in the 1990’s when Fiat launched the 1.0l engine version of it, taking the opportunity created by a new reduced tax level for cars with that engine size. Other automakers took to long to follow Fiat and didn’t have the know-how on that kind of car. They also didn’t have the combination of cars of the appropriate size and lightness and a 1.0l engine able to move then properly (ask Ford with Escort Hobby 1.0 and VW with the first generation Gol 1000, both awfully sluggish). The Uno Mille sure was slow but was much less slow than the competition and with many improvements on engines and comfort amenities it made a lot of success bringing new customers to Fiat.
Many got to know Fiats could not only be economical and space efficient but also sufficiently rugged to face the terrible Brazilian roads. That’s not all. Fiat was the major responsible to really popularize the 5 door hatchback and was the first to offer a decently appointed 1.0l car in Brazil (the Uno ELX with air conditioning, power windows and locks, and some other equipment never before seen that kind of car around here), a smart move to fight the new Chevrolet Corsa launched in 1994.
Back at work, someday the pair of Uno were replaced by two blue 1996 FIAT Palio ED, again with an 1.0L engine. The history of the Palio is different from the Uno because It was designed to be sold only on developing/underdeveloped markets and not in Europe (where the Uno had already been replaced by the Punto). So although the basic chassis was a development of the Uno the structure and suspension were significantly stronger, suitable for rougher roads than the European ones. The body and interior were designed by the IDEA studio of Turin/Italy. It measured 3,73m (146,8in) long, 1,61m (63,4in) wide, 1,44m (56,7in) high with a 2,36m (92,9in) wheelbase, and weighting 890 kg (1962 pounds). Production begun in 1996 in Brasil. Between 1997 and 2002 it production also begun in Argentina, Venezuela, Poland, Morocco, Turkey, India, South Africa, Egypt and China.
The design of the original Palio is characterized by a very steep hood and a distinctive pair of rear lights. It’s odd that despite a rounded shape, in terms of aerodynamics it was very close to the “square” and 13 year old Uno: drag coefficient of 0.33 compared to 0.34 of the Uno. I still consider the (original non facelifted) Uno more harmonic and gracious than the Palio. I don’t know about the other markets where Fiat built Palio but for the Brazilian ones the car suffered three facelifts and all of then made the car look worse and less cohesive than the original, at least in my opinion. The same thing happened to the dash of which I prefer the first to the later ones.
The little Fiats were all too different from the 1985 VW Gol BX I owned at the time. Not only for being new but because they had air conditioning, power windows, power locks, rear window defrogger, etc., unlike the old and ultra spartan Gol. Above all that, both Fiats had very good ergonomics with a clever dash panel, wheel drive and pedals position, and a “smart” engine with 5 speed manual. Of course they would only be “smart” if you worked very well on the shifts and gas, but it was a learning curve process.
Both cars did very well the job of running in the smaller spaces on the streets of Sao Paulo with good power. At the highways the challenge was to make them get above 60 mph, but then it was really nice. One could make 120km/h (75 mph) averages relatively easy (we used to travel in two people and a just a toolbox). The Uno and Palio of those years had the Fiasa engine designed by the famous italian engineer Aurelio Lampredi, whose engines equipped many Fiats, Alfas, Lancias and Ferraris. It was an oversquared engine with high rpm peak power (58hp and at 61hp in the Palio, both at 6000 rpm). The sound of that engine was very nice, even being a 1.0l.
When I left that company sometime later to enter college, it was the end of a nice experience with those tiny Fiats which used to run faster than many more powerful and fancier cars.