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Fiat Home Country: Italy
Fiat’s rally heritage is big, but not as big as most would believe. They did get involved properly pretty late. But first to the brand itself: Fiat stands for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino - why two references to their home location in different places in this abbreviation I do not know. However proud of their home there are even cases of Fiat Group showing a third locality reference in the model name. The Fiat 131 Mirafiori for example, Mirafiori (on the outskirts of Torino) is the town of its factory as well as the home town of tuner Abarth (as a business, Carlo Abarth is actually born in Vienna/Austria). Or the Alfasud being produced in the Alfa Sud (South) factory. Alfa Romeo, Lancia and Abarth are all part of the Fiat Group "Fiat SpA", but Alfa Romeo seemed to be able to operate more independent (see also registrations). Still it is difficult to name one of these companies without the other, as i.e. Fiat and Lancia swapped works drivers, Abarth prepared and ran cars for Fiat as well as Lancia, Jolly Club did the same for Lancia as well as Alfa....
(Small update: Fiat SpA took 100% ownership of Chrysler Group and therefore since January 2014 Fiat SpA does no more exist and is now FCA = Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. However this only happened in 2014, so I hope to be excused if I don't change the Fiat SpA name from the many stories concerning Fiat, Lancia & Alfa.)
Here however we talk of the mother company. Fiat was founded in 1899. A proper works effort in rallying however didn’t start until 1970 and ironically was a reply to Lancia’s successes in this sport. It is truly ironic as normally every make tries to avoid in house competition (with the exception being Peugeot/Citroën). So the irony is that already in 1970 Fiat owned the Lancia brand. Lancia was quite into racing and when they started to be successful in rallies as well, all praise has to go for the mother company Fiat not to say “you can’t do that” but rather go out and prove on the stages who had the better car. In fact, the rivalry was most likely less friendly than that of Peugeot vs Citroën in 1999-2005, at least when you see Fiat's reaction and interference on the Lancia Stratos.
Interestingly Fiat’s first full rally car was even taken from the same market segment as that of Lancia. When Lancia was rallying with their Fulvia, Fiat prepared the 124, which were two straight competing cars for road car market shares. The only distinct difference is that the Fiat 124 is RWD and based on a hardtop convertible, while the Lancia Fulvia is a FWD coupé. Both these cars were closely matched. There were previous efforts with i.e. the little Fiat 850, but these were purely private.
But in the mid 1970s Fiat’s attitude changed. Fiat didn’t like the fact that Lancia created a specialised rally super car (Stratos) and indeed at times Fiat interfered with the Lancia project (see as well the Beta Coupé story). Meanwhile Fiat brought out a new rally car themselves, which this time was not referring to a Lancia rally car but more orientated towards the successful Ford Escort RS: the Fiat 131 Mirafiori. Indeed you could find similarities in layout between the 131 and the Escort, even surprisingly identical dimensions between 131 & Escort, but only the 131 used composite materials. However, despite all this the 131 was still the heavier and less powerful car in this comparison. Still, the package of the Fiat 131 simply must have been superb: between 1976 and 1981 the Fiat 131 won 18 WRC events without seeing a major change to the car. Although in these days the Lancia Stratos and the Ford Escort managed 17 WRC event wins each, for basically having the same evolution of car winning 18 WRC events the Fiat 131 holds a record that seems impossible to crack nowadays!
Only at the end of the 131 project Fiat changed their attitude about in house competition completely. The whole team with drivers and the Fiat owned preparation business Abarth changed hands over to Lancia. For the Rally 037 Lancia for the first time had full backing by their mother company Fiat and Fiat promised to no longer interfere with Lancia and let Lancia be Fiat’s distinct rallying brand. Well, similar has been the case earlier when official drivers swapped between Lancia Stratos and Fiat 131, but the way Fiat 131 team and drivers became Lancia 037 team and drivers made it all look so much melted together as if Fiat and Lancia is the same brand. At Fiat we have since then seen small scale, amateur drivers aimed projects as the Fiat Uno Turbo, the Fiat Cinquecento or the S1600 Fiat Punto, but Fiat’s full scale rally involvement was finished after the 131 in 1981. They did stretch the 131 project to the max and the successes were no doubt super impressive.
Maybe also the handing over from Fiat 131 Abarth straight to to Lancia 037 Abarth made it all look much longer. But Fiat as a brand name itself was only in front line rallying for 1 decade, then has disappeared for over 2 decades. Still, at the moment it looks like history is continued. Abarth now is a brand name and was the first make to commit to the IRC with an S2000 car, the Grande Punto, which is a Fiat model for everybody. Indeed about half of the Grande Puntos in IRC are even badged as Fiat, so I see no issue having them as Fiat in the database rather than creating Abarth as a new manufacturer.
COLOURS & TYRES:
It is interesting that in early days Fiat did not have a clear works colour identification. So were the 124 Spider seen in a red paint job with black wheel arches, then red with yellow wheel arches, which looked very distinct, but later the red made way for dark blue while the wheel arches stayed yellow (Olio Fiat). This last Olio Fiat scheme was as well seen on the early 131 but soon made way for a nice, distinct Alitalia (white with “A”-shaped green-white-red symbols) sponsorship that interestingly they "stole" of Lancia: Alitalia colours featured on the Stratos in 1976-1977 and on the Fiat 131 in 1978-1979. The French importer entered Jean-Claude Andruet and Michèle Mouton on selected events with Total (blue and red stripes) sponsorship. Only in 1980 & 1981 the 131 came in white with 3 shades of blue (very much like Ford indeed) which was then meant to be Fiat’s house colour. Fiat always was on Pirelli.
After the long break the start of the IRC series in 2007 sees many new things. Not simply a Grande Punto S2000 that may be badged Abarth as well as Fiat. From 2007 the Fiat badge changed background colour from blue to red even on the road and their rally colour is a distinct shade of dark red on white cars. Curiously the Punto S2000 works team uses BFGoodrich tyres rather than home made Pirelli's.
All works cars are based and registered with the factory in Torino. All reg plates therefore start with "TO", with the following combination of 5 numbers and 1 letter being simply sequential. In fact here we see one hint that Alfa Romeo may be more independent from mother Fiat than Lancia. I note with huge interest that Alfa works rally cars are registered on Alfa in Milano "MI" or in France. But Lancia works rally cars carry without a single exception "TO" reg plates, and I found on closer examination that indeed all Lancia works rally cars are registered in the name of "Fiat SpA". Since the return with Abarth as a brand name and the S2000 car, Italy's registration system has sadly changed to the new EU system, so you can't identify the home town any more unless you look on the blue reg plate stripes with magnifying glasses.
|Fiat 124 Spider||Group 4|
|Fiat 126 Polski||Group 2|
|Fiat 127||Group 2|
|Fiat 131 Mirafiori||Group 4|
|Fiat Grande Punto||Super 2000|
|Fiat Grande Punto||Group A|
|Fiat Punto||Super 1600|
|Fiat Ritmo||Group 2|
|Fiat Uno||Group A|
|2011 IRC||Super 2000||8th.||Fiat (15pts)||11|
|2010 IRC||Super 2000||6th.||Fiat (6pts)||12|
|2009 IRC||Super 2000||4th.||Fiat (43pts)||11|
|2008 IRC||Super 2000||2nd.||Fiat (74pts)||10|
|2007 IRC||Super 2000||2nd.||Fiat (87pts)||9|
|1980 WRC||Open||66th.||Fiat (36pts)||12|
|1979 WRC||Open||3rd.||Fiat (92pts)||12|
|1978 WRC||Open||1st.||Fiat (134pts)||11|
|1977 WRC||Open||1st.||Fiat (136pts)||11|
|1976 WRC||Open||8th.||Fiat (32pts)||10|
|1975 WRC||Open||3rd.||Fiat (61pts)||10|
|1974 WRC||Open||2nd.||Fiat (69pts)||8|
|1973 WRC||Open||2nd.||Fiat (84pts)||13|