Vintage Road & Track Review: 1976 Fiat 128 3P – Lots of Good Qualities; Not a Lot of Sales

Pity poor Fiat. The 128 was a game changing car when it came out in 1969; its space efficiency and driving dynamics put it heads and shoulders above anything else. The VW Golf was essentially a slightly larger 128 with a hatchback, and the Golf was hardly the only European car chasing the 128 or influenced by it. But in the US, the 128 just never got any serious traction against the inroads of rather dull but dead reliable cars like the Corolla and company.

The 128 3P was a hatchback version of the previous 128SL, the sporty coupe of the family. With its hatchback and roomy cargo area, the 128 3P might well have been serious competition for the Rabbit, Corolla Liftback and such.  And it had some great qualities; it tied for the fastest slalom time R&T had ever recorded. The transmission was a joy, as was the steering and handling. The ride was excellent sor such a small and light car. But then there were of course shadow sides too…


The little 1290cc engine was geared too low for America’s freeways. The catalytic converter robbed leg room of the front passenger. The engine droned at certain speeds. Power and acceleration were not up to snuff anymore.


The driving position still had a bit of that Italian short-leg long-arm orientation. But these were fairly minor issues. The real problem is that the 128 was a Fiat, and although it was fundamentally a fairly robust car, like so many European cars of the 70s they were hobbled by many minor quality glitches that a generally indifferent and weak dealer network didn’t or couldn’t attend to properly. If you could do your own work, and didn’t live in the Rust belt, these could be great fun and reasonably reliable. But if not, the Fix It Again Tony reputation had became widespread. And then there were all these reliable Japanese cars. Care to compare this to the new Accord?