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Fiat Coupé

A new style to rediscover its original sporty flair.

In the early 1990s, Fiat expanded and differentiated its range, with the Fiat Style Centre drawing from the best existing platforms to design a number of sports cars with a distinct personality and solid functional prowess. Among these, one stood out: Fiat Coupé.


The 1990s were a key moment for Fiat: with Paolo Cantarella at the helm, the winds of creativity blew strong and hard. The Piedmontese engineer pushed the company to differentiate its production even more, and to do this he focused on the Fiat Style Centre, led by architect Ermanno Cressoni, who had already been head of design at Alfa Romeo before coming to Turin. The result was a team that would be able to offer all kinds of cars: from traditional sedans to original multi-spaces, but also brilliant sports coupés and spiders.

To get a snapshot of that creative hub, we spoke to designer Roberto Giolito, who had just joined that team at the time and is now Head of Stellantis Heritage. ‘You might say that the Fiat Style Centre was really born at that time,' says Giolito. 'Having left its external location at the historic Boano body shop, it became a pulsating, multi-ethnic reality, with an increasingly important role to play within the company. The large staff managed by Ermanno Cressoni combined the innovative spirit of Americans Chris Bangle and Mike Robinson, and the creativity of Greek Andreas Zapatinas, with the team of talented young Italians, including Giolito himself.

The ideas of the individual team members were valued, but the final result was always the work of the close-knit team, working together. The creativity that emerged was certainly innovative, sometimes even unconventional, but always extremely usable and functional: the choices made not only had an aesthetic purpose but arose from the need to improve the ergonomics and overall efficiency of the car. Soon, the first computers arrived to support the business, but working with traditional modelling was still commonplace, removing plasticine or building 1:1 scale models by hand with plaster scagliola, in a process that Giolito calls 'digital-manual' as it was also based on form designs sketched using computers.

It was in this context that the group led by Chris Bangle and supervised by Ermanno Cressoni created Fiat Coupé. The car had an innovative shape but at the same time reflected the manufacturer’s ability to exploit industrial economies: the original had been built on the 'Type 2' platform that had already demonstrated its versatility in segment C with the Fiat Tipo and Tempra, as well as the Lancia Dedra and Alfa Romeo 155.

With its ultra-'avant-garde' spirit, the lines were completely brand new, starting with the bonnet that runs into the mudguard: the originality of the solution led to the coining of the term “cofango”, a cross between bonnet (cofano) and mudguard (parafango).

The sides were high, as was the short third volume, which closed the overall shape with a truncated tail. It was reinforced by the ribs which outlined the rear mudguards, following the rise traced by the bonnet that extended the groove over part of the door. The glazed surfaces enclosed the four-seater passenger compartment, which was much larger than it looks from outside: the sporty windscreen followed a sharp incline, while the side windows highlighted the dynamism of the sloping 'scratches' on the mudguards. The rear window was grafted onto the boot lid, generating a typically three-volume silhouette, characterised at the rear by double round recessed lights.

The originality of the new styling cues was matched by evocative racing-inspired details that reinforced the sporty feel: from the aggressive front air intake to the visible metal fuel filler cap with quick-release safety catch, and from the front headlamps with double bubble cover to the four round rear lights. Inside, the dashboard, featuring a transverse band in the same colour as the body, was reminiscent of the sports cars of the past that had their dashboard painted to match the bodywork. As far as the shape was concerned, the focus was on aerodynamics highlighted by the pronounced tapering of the bonnet and the door handles 'embedded' in the pillar.

Giolito relates an anecdote that occurred during the presentation of the final prototype to company management. Regarding the corrugated headlamp fairing, some objected that it did not allow for the installation of headlamp wiper systems. Architect Cressoni responded with eloquence, taking a cloth from his pocket with which he stroked the transparent element, accompanying his gesture with the phrase: "They are cleaned with love”. The fairings protecting the headlights remained to further ennoble the original style of the bonnet.

Introduced in 1993, the Fiat Coupé went into production in the following year and proved to be a brilliant sports car with refined mechanics in constant evolution. Original and with a rather bold style and colour range, it turned a few heads, offering performances designed to deliver thrills.


The official presentation took place at the Brussels Motor Show in 1993, but production would only begin the following year: assembly was entrusted to Pininfarina, who also designed the interior. Only one engine at the launch: 2.0 i.e. turbo 16V, the latest supercharged evolution of the glorious 'Lampredi twin cam', coupled with a 5-speed manual gearbox that sent motion to the front wheels via the sporty 'Viscodrive' viscous coupling differential.

The discontinuity between the Fiat 128 Coupé, which went out of production in 1980, and the newcomer inspired the advertisement that launched the claim: 'Welcome back Coupé'. The video highlighted the flashy pastel yellow launch colour, which would become one of the model’s hallmarks. But it was not the only one: the bouquet of colours on offer included other non-metallic shades such as light blue and the more typical red.

The advert was broadcast when the supercharged version had already been joined by the two-litre naturally aspirated version, respectively generating: 195 hp for 225 km/h and 142 hp for 208 km/h. There were two trims, Comfort and Plus, the former with 15-inch wheels, the latter with 16-inch alloys, leather upholstery and air conditioning.

At the Turin Motor Show in the spring of 1996, the range was renewed, but only mechanically: the four-cylinder two-litre engine was replaced by the five-cylinder 20-valve one, in both the aspirated and supercharged versions. The sophisticated 'Pratola Serra' engine - named after the municipality where the production plant was located- was equipped with a counter balance shaft, variable ignition timing and single coil ignition. The highest-performance version (turbo) reached 220 hp and the top declared speed was 250 km/h: it thus became Fiat's fastest sports car to date.

To extend the range, the 1.8-litre engine with phase variator already fitted in the Fiat Barchetta was also offered: 131 hp and a top speed of 205 km/h. The Fiat Coupé 1.8 i.e. 16V was offered without a viscous coupling differential and only in the basic version in order to have a lower-priced model on the list.

Instead, to compensate for the increased power of the two-litre versions, the suspension was adjusted and the braking system strengthened with new Brembo-branded callipers. With the 1998 ‘Limited Edition', reserved for the turbo version, the gearbox was upgraded to 6-speed with shorter spacing: it was later fitted to all the turbos and the limited series was renamed 'Turbo Plus'.

With more than 70,000 vehicles produced, the Fiat Coupé would remain on sale until the year 2000, offering, not only to the Italian market, a sports car with original lines that turned heads and could deliver thrilling performances. Easy to drive but equipped with increasingly refined mechanics, for years it would epitomise Fiat's interpretation of the concept of sportiness.

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