Curbside Classic: 1980-86 Fiat Panorama – The 127’s South American Larger Sibling

Time for one more look at the alternative reality of South American variants of known models. This time, the Fiat Panorama, an offshoot of the 147, itself based on the influential FWD 127 of 1971. As expected, the Panorama belongs to what was a growing roster of models by Fiat of Brazil, as it strived to gain ground in what had become a rather competitive market. In the end, the model wasn’t a firestorm seller but did allow Fiat to gain a foothold in the 2-door wagon segment, a relevant market in Brazil at the time.

For those of you with access to maps, you must have noticed that South America is kind of a large place. Mostly developing nations, but with enough folk living there to justify automotive endeavors. As such, foreign players toyed with the idea of installing themselves in the region from very early on. Being the largest economies, Argentina and Brazil were the first targets, with Ford and GM starting assembly lines in both back in the 1920s.

With large Italian and German communities residing in Argentina and Brazil, it was natural carmakers from those nations would eventually show up. In the case of Brazil, that didn’t occur until after WWII, with VW arriving in 1953, Mercedes in 1956, and in the case of Fiat, in the ’70s. Contruction of their Brazilian factory started in 1973 in the town of Betim, in Minas Gerais (above). Three years later, in 1976, Fiat’s first Brazilian-built models appeared.

1980 Fiat 147, in Brazil. Photo from the Cohort, by Alberto Simon.


Now, Fiat was arriving late to the South American party, as various major players had already a significant presence in the Brazilian market. But Fiat was still a huge global player at the time, with a roster of cost-efficient vehicles filled with advanced technology. As such, their trendsetting FWD 127 -European car of the year in 1971- served as the foundation for Fiat of Brazil’s aspirations and appeared in the local market as the 147.

The new model arrived with some changes to cope with local conditions; mostly to deal with Brazil’s lower octane fuels. Thus, a slightly larger 1049cc engine came as standard, with a low compression ratio of 7.2 to 1. Press reports from the time felt that these mods provided a smoother and quieter drive, as well as additional torque. Indeed, the 147’s 1.05L engine would eventually appear in Europe, on the Series 2 127.

Attributes such as fuel economy and FWD traction were much touted in the Brazilian market at the 147’s launch. In a typical stunt-ad of the period, the model is put to the test, covering the 14 kilometers of Ponte Rio Niteroi in Rio de Janeiro, using only 1 liter of fuel.

In 1980, the 147-derived Panorama would arrive, ready to satisfy Brazil’s 2-door wagon market. A segment already crowded, locally known as ‘peruas’, with established players from the competition: Chevrolet’s Caravan, VW’s Variant II, and Ford’s Belina.

Besides the 1.05L engine, an additional 1.3L with 61 HP was offered in the Panorama. The additional mill could work either with regular petrol or ethanol. As for the rest of the mechanicals, the 127’s legacy still felt very modern for the time; Mc Phersons upfront with stabilizer bars, independent rear suspension, and front discs. A 4-speed manual was the sole transmission available. In period ads, the interior’s accommodations and space served as its main attraction. On the latter, it offered more than competitors of similar size.

From brochure photos, one can see the Panorama benefitted from rather efficient and distinctive ergonomics. Plasticky too, but it was the start of the ’80s, so very in keeping with expectations. Regardless, it all looked attractively arranged and designed, topped by an ample greenhouse with good visibility. By 1983, a 5-speed would become available, and interior and exterior would get slight updates.

About 115K units of the Panorama were built from 1980-86, with about half of them sent to other markets like Argentina and Chile. A small number also crossed the Atlantic and were sold in a few European nations. With the Panorama’s stint over, the Uno-derived Elva arrived in ’87.

Meanwhile, 147-derived models would remain on offer for some time. Like this pickup ‘City’ being promoted in a Salvadorian newspaper from 1988. I actually saw one of these rare pickups a couple of years ago in San Salvador’s streets, but it hasn’t appeared since. Will I ever come across it again, or has it finally gone to Italian automotive heaven?

Let’s check out today’s find in San Salvador. Previous posts of mine might give the wrong idea that Fiats are a common sight in this city, but quite the contrary. They’re awfully rare. In reality, the story of Fiat in this Central American nation follows the brand’s global fate. At some point, it was a common player in the low-cost segment during the ’70s, quickly vanishing through the ’80s, and being all but unknown nowadays to the locals.

So this is the only Panorama I’ve ever seen. In my whole life. How does it keep running? To begin with, the owner seems to be a construction handyman who also delves into mechanical work. As will be clear in some of these shots, it’s someone who knows his way around tools and cheap repairs.

We’ll start with this makeshift roof rack, nicely painted in white. I’ll have to say, it’s the one add-on that almost looks like a factory accessory. Relatively speaking.

If you need help with the Spanish stickers, they read: “Honking less, feels super good” and “Keep your distance.” By the way, I believe those tail lights are Nissan or Toyota in origin.

The grille shows a good deal of handiwork with a makeshift Fiat logo, where some spray-painted rebars serve in lieu. This owner may not know his way around eBay to order Fiat parts, but he certainly does his best to keep this old Panorama looking as good as he can.

The clamshell hood and its vent slots just say ‘European’ to me. Meanwhile, the papers on the dashboard say ‘Salvadorian worker with bills to pay and much red tape to deal with.’ (Trust me, I know!)

Showing less effort, a water bottle cap covers the gas reservoir. The black-painted surrounding makes me believe that this cap isn’t a tight fit. What do you think? Finesse may be beyond this owner’s capabilities, but this is Curbside Classics, not Showroom Classics; right?

Talking about shoddy work, some could make the argument that the Panorama had some even from the factory. That all too-obvious added panel by Fiat of Brazil to build the little wagon’s body is not exactly seamless. If you wonder, it’s on both sides and it came as such when new.

As usual, being a car with tinted windows, I owe you some interior shots. Although I sort of have some…

You see, I knew of this car for some time as I had seen it a few times around town. Once, its driver came to pick up some relative at the local mall (I swear I wasn’t following him. My car-stalking is purely accidental)…

And I got this one shot then. One image, sure, but it does look like the interior is faring worse than the exterior. A few seconds later, the little Panorama parted, pulling away in what seemed like slow motion.

Keeping in mind the logic of the Brazilian market, the Panorama was a pretty good deal when it appeared in 1980. However, competitors didn’t remain still and by 1982, VW of Brazil released the Parati. The 2-door wagon was a variant of VW’s new FWD Gol and took off in the local market. The Parati should be familiar to US eyes, as it was sold in the States as the Fox.

The Gol line would remain a mainstay of VW in the region, until finally fading away in December 2022.

For all effects and purposes, Fiat remains doing generally well in South America; the only region where it does so outside of Italy. It’s fairly easy to find Fiat clubs and fans of Italian brands in the region, and even obscure models get glowing commentary on local websites. Meanwhile, Fiat’s South American factories keep humming along, and their products are considered competitive.

It’s honestly hard to imagine a future when Italian carmakers gain the global prominence they once had in the low-cost market. But stranger things have occurred, right? For the time being, their legacy seems solid and well-remembered in South America.


Further reading:

Curbside Classic: Fiat 127 – A Tad Over The 50 Mark

Automotive History: Volkswagen Gol – The Difficult Mission To Replace a Legend

Curbside Classic: 1987 Volkswagen Fox – This German Fox Has A Brazilian Accent