(first posted 9/27/2013) Is there is a more forgotten sedan of the late 1970s and early 1980s than the Fiat Brava? As a replacement for the more well known 124 it sold only briefly from 1978 to 1982 the Brava was the North American version of the 131 Mirafiori. Despite sporting a twin cam engine and a range that included coupe, sedan and wagon body styles there a few survivors today.
The 131 had a much longer and more successful life in Europe than North America. Introduced to Europe in 1974 the 131 was a relatively conventional, yet advanced in many respects, three box design with rear wheel drive. On the conventional side it featured a live rear axle but it was unusually well located to give respectable handling.The rear suspension was a neat multi link affair rather than a leaf sprung cart axle. Initial engines were carried over from the 124 but still featured aluminum heads with double overhead valves available which was still quite a novelty especially in its price class. A five speed manual gearbox could also be had and was an uncommon treat compared to most of the 131’s still four speed equipped contemporaries.
Although Volvo, Saab and Mercedes got more of the safety related press at the time Fiat was very committed to the safety of its cars. The body shells were uncommonly strong (the Fiat X1/9 is as well) with front and rear crumble zones built in. Rear seat belts even offered shoulder straps. In an era known for (somewhat inaccurately) flaming Ford Pintos the 131 had its gas tank right up against the rear seat out of harms way. As a further nod to safety the 131/Brava was tuned for mild and safe under-steer at the limit.
The rest of the world name of Mirafiori came from the factory’s location in Turin, Italy. Perhaps Fiat figured Brava would be easier to pronounce for us North Americans as the car dropped the 131 and changed its name on its way over the ocean. North American cars were generally higher specification than what could be found over in Europe. There was actually a model dubbed SuperBrava offered briefly before the base specification was dropped altogether.
We also got a smaller selection of engines to choose from as the smaller OHV engines were not available but instead we only got the lovely 1,756 cc or 1,995 cc twin cam four. Both carburetor equipped 1,756 cc and 1995 cc made 86hp except in California where extra smog equipment strangled the smaller motor to only 80hp. Fuel injection optionally arrived in 1980 and bumped the larger motor thus equipped to 102hp. The injected motor was then standardized on for 1981.
We can tell this example is at least a 1980 model since a badge in the tail light tells us it features fuel injection. North American sales ended in 1982.
Like many European cars of the era the big, North American specification impact bumpers don’t do the cars any favors in the looks department. The Brava’s over all boxy shape means they look better integrated than something like a BMW 3-series though.
You don’t see nice airy greenhouses like this on modern cars. With such a thin rear pillar I suspect the visibility is excellent.
Nothing but straight lines back here unless you count the trunk key hole.
The interior of the Brava was generally trimmed quite nicely for the era. Comparably reviews praised the logical layout and easy to use controls.
People will often assume because a car is Italian, French or British it is automatically an unreliable pile of crap. It might be different but that doesn’t make it automatically bad as Gil Cormaci’s 500k mile Brava coupe proves. His story made the rounds a few years back as it still wears original paint and runs the original drive-train minus an automatic to manual gearbox swap. The fact that his car lives in the Sun Belt rather than the Rust Belt certainly helps too.
Any Fiat 131 article would be sorely incomplete without mentioning its very successful rally racing career. With twenty WRC event wins and three championships the Abath 131 was one of the most successful racing cars between 1976 and 1981.
This ad shows one of the Brava’s most novel features, the glove box. Unusually it featured two top mounted sliding panels rather than the conventional drop down door arrangement. The payoff was a compartment that was 24 inches long, 6 inches wide and a depth of 4 inches. Probably bigger than the trunks in some mid engined exotic machinery.
A last look at the rear of the Brava shows off its large glass area with no blind spots which contrary to the gun slit style windows and massive pillars on many moderns designs. The 13″ rims are again a throw back to a different era as even humble cars these days seem to come with 18″ and 19″ chromed artillery wheels.