A FEW THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN INVESTING IN FIAT'S MODERN CLASSIC
While manager of a main Fiat dealership in the 1990s, our father sold one of the very first Fiat Coupes seen in the UK. A Broom Yellow 2.0 16V NA, it was delivered bright and early on the official launch day to a lady in London who stipulated that all badges and any mention of 'Fiat' be removed from the exterior of the car - so her jealous neighbours could speculate exactly which model of Ferrari she had splashed out on! Before it was sent out though, we were allowed to quietly slip into the dealership and very carefully peek under the cover at this exciting new sportscar. We were smitten straight away.
Fast forward (a frightening number of years!) and we've since owned, sold and worked on countless Coupes of all varieties and hues. In fact, at the time of writing we've got two 20VT's in stock, just sold a 20VT6 a couple of weeks ago and potentially have a 16V NA coming in shortly for no small amount of work. As such, we're often asked for advice on buying one of these timelessly stylish cars, so here are a few of the tips we've picked up over the past twenty-four years of dealing with these underrated, guaranteed future classics.
HOW MANY VEES AND TEES?
One question always likely to cause an argument in the italicar office is 'which is better, the 16V four-cylinder or the 20V five-pot?' The 16V units were the last evolution of the legendary Lampredi twin-cam engine which had been powering Fiat's finest sports-oriented models for three decades. A harsher power delivery, with heavier steering and less servo-assisted braking, these earlier versions behave like a no-frills hot hatch. Whereas the 20V (which superceded the 16V in 1997) has more of a gran turismo character; everything is a little lighter, the power is available through a wider rev-range and it's ultimately quicker. If you can, test drive both and see which puts the larger smile on your face.
In terms of investment and future values, currently the limited-run special editions such as the Plus and the LE (the benefits of which are explained in more detail below) achieve the highest prices, with low mileage examples of either now being advertised up to £15,000. Add a rare colour to the mix such as Crono Grey, Moon Grey or Electric Blue and you'll have bidders in any classic auction waving their hands around with frenzied abandon.
"THAT'S AN ENGINE OUT JOB, AIN'T IT?"
Long considered a claustrophobic nightmare, cam belt replacements on the Fiat Coupe needn't be as terrifying as the uninitiated often make them out to be. Yes, they are a very important job to tick off your checklist when buying one (the rule-of-thumb is a new belt every 50,000 miles or 5 years on the 20V and 20VT engines, with the 16V and 16VT models requiring it every 3 years or 32,000 miles), but don't listen to the horror stories of engines having to be surgically extracted and bills towering into the £1000s. Most specialists can offer a new timing belt, water pump and auxiliary belt around the £350 region these days. If there are no documented records for this being done within the correct timeframe in your prospective purchase's service history, budget for it being done straight away - it's not worth the risk, a snapped belt will definitely be very costly!
LE PLUS 20VT6 =
The 20V Turbo Limited Edition Coupe (usually shortened to LE) was released in 1998, offering buyers a premium version with some, at the time, unique refinements. Cosmetically, it was preened with bodycoloured side skirts and front bumper lips, red Brembo calipers, the mirror casings, rear light cups, fuel filler cap, wheels and interior dash panel were all finished in a titanium grey, the engine covers were finished in a Maranello-inspired shade of red, the interior gained some red accents and Recaro seats and the pedals were replaced with a Sparco set making heel-toeing a lot easier. Beyond mere prettifying, the LE also offered drivers some more practical upgrades: the drilled and grooved brake discs now lasted a lot longer before fade set in, a clever push-button start was fitted and an all-new 6-speed transmission was standard. This didn't really increase the top-speed (the speedo now reading up to 280km/h was Italian optimism at its finest), but did noticeably improve the cruising capability of the car on a motorway.
Originally, there was talk in the motoring press that just 400 RHD LE's were being sent to the UK. Given the numbers on the individual plaque fitted to each LE counted well into the thousands, this seems to have been a misunderstanding. There's no definitive number on how many were built specifically for the UK, but the general consensus is that just under 1500 were produced in total.
Which explains why buyers of the premium-priced LE were so put out when, in late 1999, the Plus edition was touted. The feature-list of the new Plus was strikingly similar to that of the supposedly exclusive LE. So much so in fact, it was reported that some LE owners threatened taking Fiat to court over being 'missold' their suddenly not so limited 'serie limitata'. The Plus appears to be the most sought after version in today's market, with many buyers perhaps not appreciating the more in-your-face LE interior. Beyond personal aesthetic tastes, though, there's little to choose between the two in a practical sense.
The 20VT6 isn't technically an official edition or individual model, rather a mildly 'facelifted' version of the standard car sold during its run-out through 1999 to 2000. It gained the six-speed transmission, push-button start, split-spoke 16" alloys from the Plus, body-coloured sills, 180mph clocks and, basically, whatever else was left on the shelf. These are a great find if you fancy some of the special edition refinements, without paying the higher prices they can often command.
THE SUN SHINES OUT OF HER...
Chris Bangle reportedly based the iconic form of the Coupe's headlights on his wife's shapely, ahem, 'posterior'. They have always, therefore, been a case of style over substance; even when brand new, owners complained of poor visibility at night. Add in a couple of decades of the plastic casing detoriating and crazing, and you're not likely to be dazzling much uncoming traffic. However, these can be refurbished at minimal cost which will drastically improve matters. Many owners have over the years modified the headlights with HID conversions to get around this, however be aware that this now contravenes new MoT laws so could cause you even more of a headache.
You don't have to put the red light on
No little red light is a welcome sight on any dashboard, but the one which looks like a dribbling hosepipe on the Coupe dash can cause some serious head-scratching. Often erroneously assumed to simply be a blip with a failing injector, this is actually the equivalent of an EML and can illuminate because of countless varied issues. If you see this while test driving a Coupe, it will need to be code read in order to get a better understanding of what the fault might be. Which in itself can cause a problem as the Coupe uses an antiquated pre-OBDII system which can baffle a non-specialised, generic garage. (And if it does turn out to be a duff injector, the bad news is these are getting very difficult to source...but the good news is we can refurbish them to as new condition here at italicar, contact us for more info).
In summary, if you've made the decision to buy a Fiat Coupe, any Fiat Coupe, we congratulate you. They are fantastic cars and rank right up there with our very favourites. Shop around and find a decent example, and we're sure you'll not be disappointed.
If there's anything else you'd like to ask about a Coupe, or anything else for that matter, please feel free to give us a shout!