COAL: 1973 Fiat 127 – The One That Got Away

For a couple of weeks I (on the left) drove it with a straw bale on the roof. Don’t judge me.


Around 1997 my grandmother was not able to get her license renewed and my dad bought her one-owner, low mileage Fiat 127 for me (and my sister, but she would not have her license for another couple of years). Due to these and other southern European cars’ proclivity to rust, this car was almost already a collector’s item despite these being very, very popular in Denmark when new (it was Car of the Year in both Europe and Denmark in 1972 and was as a result the best selling car in Denmark for a couple of years in the seventies), so it was something to look after.

This is the story of its demise.

In 1997 I was 18 years old and all these things were lost on me. My goals for a car were: go fast, be loud. I knew nothing about engines at the time, so that was not my immediate concern. What I did know about was car audio, so I went down that route with my pristine not-even-prepared-for-a-radio 127.

If you know anything about 127s, you will know that it would be loud with a 15” woofer in the back, a 10” woofer in each door and horn tweeters under the dashboard all fed by 250 real Phoenix Gold watts. And indeed it was: 134dB to be exact. I know this because I took it to a car audio show and got a measurement.

But I did not stop there, I installed an illuminated gear knob, painted parts of the engine half body color, half bright yellow. I used a magic marker to paint the parking lights green (color coded door handles? Pffff, give me color coded lights, baby!). The amber lenses on the rear were painted red to give the car more of a retro look, which I apparently thought went well with the fluorescent interior light and the massive stereo system.

Wiring for the head unit and amplifier and a body/yellow colored air filter housing.

What really killed the car, though, was probably my use of it. I ran it hard all the time – got it up to 90+ mph on the speedometer on several occasions. Once were nine people in it at one time – driving in it, that is.

When I took it for a (fast) beach run and didn’t notice a row of small dunes, the car got structural damage and required new axles and a new used gearbox to run again, but from then on there was always something wrong. It was in the shop when my dad died in 2002 and I must admit I don’t really know what happened to it. It was probably scrapped since you got around 1,000 USD for scrapping your car at the time in a government effort to get rid of some of the dangerously unsafe cars on the roads. At the time that was a good price for one of these in the condition I had left it.

This car was really special, and it is downright embarrassing that I didn’t take care of it. It could have been a collector’s item today. I am not the type of person who thinks cars should necessarily be kept stock. As long as you are passionate about it, do what you want. I can appreciate the silliest modification trends, because I share with all these owners a love of cars. So it is not likely, I would have ever kept it original, but it could have been modified tastefully with a 1.1 liter engine and a bigger carburetor and some suspension upgrades. That would have made it a hoot to drive as these cars are already fun to drive in stock condition – a small, willing four-pot and a a light, nimble car makes for a decent amount of fun even with its stock 45 bhp.

But it was not to be. This is the one that got away.

Not mine, but what it looked like before I got my hands on it.

At this point, I had bought my first car with my own money. It was the obvious choice for me given my budget and preferences at the time.