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Fiat Uno

The robotics revolution.

The successor to the 127 was created with innovation and technology in mind: compact yet very spacious dimensions, superior style and finishes, combined with the high efficiency of robots in the manufacturing process. The Uno was destined for great success from the outset.


On New Year’s Day 1983, the US university and government project ARPAnet acquired the TCP/IP protocol: this was the beginning of the internet. Even if the web still remained to be developed, the technical basis was ready for the greatest revolution towards the end of the last century. In the same month, again in the US, the Turin-based brand unveiled a vehicle that would go on to dominate the compact car market for many years: the Fiat Uno.

The venues for the travelling presentation were in Florida; journalists from all over the world went from Orlando to Cape Canaveral – the latter a symbol of the conquest of space – and from the Daytona circuit to EPCOT, inspired by the futuristic city dreamt up by Walt Disney and inaugurated in late 1982. The writers’ journey, passing through the capital of space, was aimed at looking ahead to a technology-driven future.

Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro’s Italdesign, the successor to the glorious Fiat 127 was a compact hatchback with a heavily inclined bonnet and windscreen, featuring clean, essential lines to emphasise the height of the passenger compartment and how it benefited from so much space and versatility. Its other features included wraparound doors with no weatherstrip, and a tailgate that also wrapped around slightly to the side. The five-door version was equipped with a third side light, streamlining the pillar and brightening the passenger compartment.

The interior was dominated by a simple, modern dashboard, with control satellites arranged around the instrument cluster and a full-width shelf.

The great success of the 128 and especially the 127 highlighted the advantages, not only in terms of road holding, of a technical architecture that left ample space in the passenger compartment despite a small external footprint: transverse front engine and front-wheel drive. Compared to its predecessor, the geometry of the rear axle was improved, to a more comfortable and effective semi-independent suspension.

The highly reliable four-cylinder 903-cc, 45-hp engine derived from the 127 remained until it was replaced in 1985 by the new generation of “FIRE” engines. At launch, alongside the Uno 45, the Uno 55 was also available, with its 1100-cc engine from the Ritmo 60 and four- or five-speed gearbox (which would evolve the following year into the Uno 60, with the option of automatic transmission), as well as the Uno 70 with the 1300-cc engine from the Ritmo 70 and a five-speed gearbox. In total, between the three- and five-door variants, seven versions were available, from the normal trim level to the higher-spec “S”.

The leap in quality was remarkable, not so much and not only for the choice of materials, but most of all for the enormous financial effort involved: five years of studies and design, with a budget of around one trillion Italian lire, constituting the largest investment Fiat had ever made at that point. For the first time, assembly and painting robots were used at the Rivalta and Mirafiori plants, where the introduction of sophisticated mechanisation significantly improved the homogeneity and quality of production. 

As if to counterbalance the advance of technology, the Fiat marketing department created an original and innovative advertising campaign, focused on commercials with curious animations by the cartoonist Forattini, giving rise to a series of terms that have now been in common usage for many years. The Fiat Uno was designed to look like a cute little elephant on wheels, which was transformed to bring out the idiosyncrasies of the car. This formed the basis for several neologisms in Italian: “comodosa” (‘comfy and cosy’, similar to the Danish and Norwegian concept of hygge), with the little elephant in the shape of an armchair; “sciccosa” (‘swanky’), wearing top hat and tails; “risparmiosa” (‘money-saving’), turning into a piggy bank; and finally “scattosa” ('snappy’), with the little elephant like a cat out of a bag.

The success of the Fiat Uno was almost immediate: it went down so well with both the market and insiders that it was named Car of the Year in 1984. Its main strengths were a large passenger compartment that could accommodate up to five people and a large boot that could easily be accessed from the tailgate. But not only that: the innovative dashboard with two satellites to control nearly everything on the sides of the dashboard was also very popular. Only the direction indicator used the conventional lever behind the steering wheel, whereas the air conditioning controls were in the middle, lower down under the air vents. Just as effective was the single central windscreen wiper, which included intermittent relay and a range of speeds. 

Fiat Uno - 1983
Fiat Uno - 1983
ENGINE
4 cylinders in line, front, trasversal 903 cm³
POWER
45 HP @ 5.600 rpm
SPEED
140 km/h
WEIGHT
700 kg
DESIGN
Giorgetto Giugiaro
TYPE OF BODY
Hatchback 3 or 5 doors

The Fiat Uno’s engines continued to grow and be updated, most of all when the FIRE units were introduced. There was both an improvement in efficiency and an expansion of the range, from the small, high-performance Turbo i.e. to large mileage grinders like the Turbodiesel.


The oil crisis in the 1970s focused attention on the consumption of manufacturers and users, even on small cars. Fiat therefore introduced the Uno 45 ES (“Energy Saving”) with electronic ignition and cut-off, a system to reduce minimum speed when the driver’s foot was off the accelerator. One instrument on the dashboard displayed instantaneous consumption, and a warning light came on to suggest changing up to the next gear. The wheel covers were also designed specially to improve aerodynamics and therefore reduce consumption. Once again based on the 127 – which remained in production at the time – the 45-hp diesel version came next, with three doors on the Uno D and five on the Uno DS.

The updates over the following years were mainly in terms of the engines: June 1985 saw the introduction of the new 999-cc FIRE (“Fully Integrated Robotised Engine”) and its overhead camshaft, which was so flexible and efficient that it sent the ES version of the glorious 903 into retirement. The new Fiat Uno FIRE engine was produced at the high-tech plant in Termoli, from which many more generations of FIRE engines would also roll out. The basic version of the 903 with rods and rockers was only used for the entry-level Uno 45 Sting version, also seen in the second series.

In April 1985, the Uno Turbo i.e. was unveiled; with its 1301-cc engine and IHI turbocharger, Marelli Microplex electronic control unit and self-cooling electromagnetic injectors, it was the most powerful Uno running at 105 hp. The more stiffly calibrated suspension, the upgraded braking system, the alloy wheels with lowered tyres, the spoiler on the tailgate and the sporty interior completed the specifications of a little beast with a top speed of 200 km/h. In 1986, the diesel version also took on the turbocharger, and the Uno 70 Turbodiesel came to be, with 1367 cc delivering 70 hp.

Despite diametrically opposite connotations, the two turbo versions went on to spearhead production: the petrol version became an object of desire for young people who loved to see performance and speed brought together in a clearly recognisable car that didn’t flaunt itself too much; the diesel version was the ideal everyday companion for people who needed to travel long distances. Within their own classes, they both offered the best price/performance ratio at the time.

In 1989, the second series was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show. The few changes to the aesthetics were made to the headlights, grille and light. The new features went deeper into the mechanics, including revamped engines derived from the Ritmo: this time, they were taken from the new Fiat Tipo and formed part of the FIRE family, improving efficiency and compatibility with unleaded petrols. The capacity and power of the Uno Turbo i.e. increased: 1,372 cc delivering 116 hp, dropping to 111 hp in the version fitted with a catalytic converter.

On the sporting front, the Fiat Uno took up the legacy of the Autobianchi A112 Abarth: the “A112 Trophy” was founded in 1977 to discover young talents, who were given the opportunity to take part in a low-cost championship on real tracks, held after major races in the Italian Rally Championship and after international races such as the Sanremo Rally and the Costa Smeralda. From 1984, the baton was passed to the Fiat Trophies: first in the Uno 70, then in the Uno Turbo i.e. until 1992. The cars proved worthy of the challenge and two drivers emerged: Alex Fiorio, the winner in 1985, and Piero Liatti, the victor the following year. For Fiorio, it would serve as a springboard to win Group N in the 1987 World Rally Championship, in the first Lancia Delta HF 4WD.

Production at the Italian plants ended in 1995 after about 6 million units had been built in 12 years; the Fiat Uno definitively passed the baton to the Fiat Punto that had already been on the market for well over a year, following the “cross-fade” often used by Fiat when introducing a new model.

However, overseas production continued, including at plants in Brazil where the sturdy Uno CS had been made since 1984. This model was also imported to Italy from 1988, later to be replaced by Innocenti-branded versions that were also available as a station wagon until 1997. All over the world, from the former Yugoslavia to Poland, but also in Morocco, Turkey, India, Pakistan, the Philippines and South Africa, on the basis of agreements with local manufacturers and major brands, the successors to the Fiat Uno remained in production for local markets until 2014, bringing the total number of units made to about 9.5 million.

For Fiat, the Uno was a genuine turning point in terms of quality and efficiency, based on both the introduction of automation into production and the use of the latest FIRE engines. While the 600 and 500 had put Italy onto the road during the economic and demographic boom after World War II, the Fiat Uno excelled in the 1980s and ’90s when competition was much fiercer.

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