Fiat 132

Poland has an odd affinity for Fiats. The Communists struck up a fair few deals with the Italians post-war to build the 125 saloon and 126 city-car, and prior to that had built the Fiat 508 under licence in 1932. It still continues to make the modern Fiat 500 in the old FSM factory down in Bielsko-Biala.

And these cars have a certain pride of place for the Polish driver. The FSO models Warszawa and Syrena may be 'proper' Polish cars, but it was the ubiquitous nature of the 125p and 126p (that "p" is important) that endears them to the heart of most. Your father, or his father, had one, or you had one at university, and have fond memories of rebuilding the engine at the side of the road, or of near-accidents, or of having the windscreen wipers stolen. Despite being Italian, the Polski Fiats were as Polish as shipyard strikes.

In the homeland of the 125, however, they weren't that gratefully received. The Italians considered them as little more than a stopgap between the rapidly aging Fiat 1500, and this, the Fiat 132. It was supposed to be the flagship model, encorporating all the wonderful features of Fiat's sports heritage in a 4-door saloon that can carry the wife, kids and the weekly shop. Some sort of representative of Fiats as a whole - stylish yet lightweight, practical but cheeky with it. In the Fiat 132 though, that just isn't there.

Putting the 132 alongside the model it was intended to replace, it's not too easy to see the differences. Sure, the rake of the nose is sharper, lending a BMW E21-style aggressiveness to the image, but this is subsequently stolen by the almost fairy-light size of the headlamps, which were blanked altogether in 1981 into faceless square units. A range of sporty wheels may help visually, but those wheels were steel heavy pressed steel, maintaining the large unsprung weight of the car and not doing the standard three-box saloon any favours in terms of handling. In fact, considering all the promises made with the Fiat 125, the 132 comes across as a bit of a let-down.

The beauty of the 132, then, must be more than skin-deep. Put aside your dislike for harsh square lines for a moment, and take a look at the mechanical aspects, and you'll start to get more of a feeling as to what Fiat intended with this model. Engine-wise, twin cams came as standard, starting off with the 98hp 1.6 as the base model (the one in this particular car) all the way up to a 2.0 injected monster with 122 on tap, pumping out to the same live axle rear drive that the 125 had. Combined with safety features like impact-collapsable steering columns, for Fiat it seemed like a step in the right direction. For Poles, though, who already had things like four-wheel disc brakes, the 132 was a step backwards, and for overseas buyers who had the option of the Ford Cortina/Taunus or other, cheaper, Japanese equivalents, the Fiat was never going to be a serious competitor.

It's not exactly easy to enthuse over the 132 - it certainly doesn't hold a place in the heart of the average Pole as much as the 125p did. But then again, it was the first Fiat partially assembled by robots, so one can forgive its lack of emotion. So where did they go so wrong? What is it that the 125p had in spades that the 132 lacked so much? Maybe it's that one word that pops into your head when you talk about Italian cars: passion. The 125, somehow, had it. The 508 had it. Even the new 500 has it, but the 132 didn't, and without that little spark, what sort of foreign romance would it be?