In the United States, motorists tend to view Italian cars with starry-eyed romanticism. It's an understandable phenomenon, given the fact that only the most lust-worthy vehicles from Italy can be purchased new in the U.S. Weak American sales of cheap Italian cars drove out the affordable family sedans and commuter capsules of Italy years ago, leaving behind only the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini as Italian representatives to the American marketplace. The United States has become a land where Italian is car-speak for fast, sexy, and expensive, and only a handful of people still remember the humble econo-mobiles that Italy was struggling to sell in the U.S. just a few decades ago.
To anyone accustomed to the impassioned styling of Italy's prancing horses and charging bulls, the dowdy face of the Fiat Uno may seem surprising. The Fiat Uno's shape comes much closer to that of a toaster than to the aggressive lines of contemporary Ferraris. Italian supercars are designed to be stylish and stimulating road warriors. As strict tools of transportation, they make about as much sense as a Learjet. The Fiat Uno, though, is the antithesis of the Italian supercar. It is an appliance. It is practical, sensible, and tame. The Uno conforms to Americans' views of the Japanese car archetype much better than it represents the ideals of Italian cars as understood in the U.S., yet the Uno's importance to Italy and to Europe in general cannot be ignored.
All of the European countries involved with car production developed their own takes on the 'People's Car' theme popularized the world over by the postwar Volkswagen. In Italy, affordable mobility was provided by the Fiat 500 and 600, and it was the Fiat 600 that launched a series of cars that would eventually lead to the Uno.
Launched in 1955, the Fiat 600 was a small car with two doors, four seats, and all of 21.5bhp. Nearly 2.7 million Fiat 600s were produced, and the affordable transporter was succeeded by the Fiat 850 from 1964. The 850 kept the 600's legacy alive, and retained the old model's rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive layout. When the 850 came due for replacement, the 127 was introduced. A more modern design than the 850, the front-engined and front-wheel-drive 127 became the direct predecessor of the Uno.
After decades of building cheap transportation to compete with the rest of Europe's 'superminis,' Fiat had a wealth of experience in the small car segment by the time the Uno was released in January of 1983. The Uno may have been downright conventional, but it was also eminently affordable and practical. It was the perfect vehicle to continue Fiat's legacy of staid People's Car production.
The Uno was styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro, a genius designer who showed that a successful car should have styling that reflects its purpose. Hence the supremely speedy Maserati Ghibli, which was also styled by Giugiaro, looked fast standing still while the Uno looked like a fridge. Giugiaro, while capable of generating as much excitement as any car designer before or since, understood that a good design need not be flashy. The Uno looked boring, but its buyers hardly cared. Its 3- and 5-door hatchback shape was practical and accommodating, and its low coefficient of drag aided speed and fuel mileage. The Uno's styling may not have been exciting, but it was perfectly suited to the car's purpose and helped create a cohesive and enduring package.
Beneath its staid skin, the Fiat Uno's mechanicals were also ordinary but competent. Brakes were typical front discs with rear drums, and suspension was by MacPherson struts up front and a coil sprung beam axle out back. Manual gearboxes with 4 and 5 ratios were offered, as was a CVT on some models. Unos came equipped with a wide range of gas and diesel four-cylinder engines. A 903cc pushrod four with 45bhp represented the least sophisticated of these engines, while a 1372cc turbo four with 118bhp was the most impressive.
Myriad engine and trim options added great versatility to the Uno range. The base model Uno provided excellent value as a strict means of transportation, while the Uno Turbo, introduced in 1985, could be ordered by anyone seeking a fun car on a tight budget. A constantly changing options list helped keep the Uno fresh until it was replaced by the Fiat Punto in 1995.
The Fiat Uno was successful throughout Europe, and it realized some of the highest sales figures of any of its contemporaries. By March of 1985, one million Unos had been produced. By October of 1986, the figure was up to two million, and a third million had been produced by March of 1988. In total, there were 6,032,911 Unos built. The Uno didn't have the flair of an Italian sports car, but, by providing affordable, competent transportation to millions of drivers, it accomplished a feat that no Ferrari could ever hope to match.Sources:
Crouch , Jonathan. 'Fiat Uno (1983 - 1994) : Fiat's Supermini Success Story.' Yahoo Cars n. pag. Web. 31 May 2010.
'Fiat Uno.' CarsfromItaly.net n. pag. Web. 31 May 2010..By Evan Acuña