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.