Fiat 126 History



Pictured above; a Fiat 126


 The Fiat 126 was a small 2 cylinder rear engine car that was very popular in Europe but not as well loved as the famous Fiat 500 Nuevo that it replaced.

Launched in 1972 at the Turin Motorshow it was hoped that the 126 would become the 500's more successful replacement. The 126 was based on the chassis of the 500 with a few mechanical refinements and an increased engine size of 594cc. Fiat knew that people still loved the style of the aging 500 so the 126 and the 500 were sold along side each other until 1975. The final series of the 500 known as a 500 R benefited from the 126's 594cc engine and larger wheels, making the 500 mechanically identical to the 126. In 1975 production stopped on the Fiat 500 with 3.6 million cars sold during it life.

Manufacture of the Fiat in Poland from Italian parts began in 1973 under license by Polish firm Fabryka Samochodow Malolitrazowych who were fortunately commonly known as FSM. The Polish 126 was known as the 126p and when the production of the Italian 500 and 126 stopped in 1975 Poland became the source of every Fiat 126. FSM even exported the 126 as a FSM Niki 650 to Australia between 1989 an 1992.

Between 1974 and 1979 the 126 was also manufactured under license in Spain by Seat, known as a Seat 133 it had a differently styled body although it was similar to the 126.

In 1976 the first of many major upgrades are released with the '126 Personal' that modernized many of its trim components including adding plastic bumpers, plastic rubbing strips, different mirrors, wheels and other trim details.

In 1977 the 126 had its engine size increased to 652cc with the 594cc series 126 production finishing in 1978. In 1984 a major change in construction of the body simplified construction but left its style relatively unchanged.

In 1987 a new water cooled engine was fitted that had a 704cc capacity and was fitted horizontally, this gave the fiat a small lift up hatchback giving the user a bit extra luggage space and making it slightly a bit more useful.

By the start of the 1990s, Fiat realized the end was near and work began on designing a small replacement Fiat that would be all new and have a conventional front wheel drive layout. The Fiat Cinquecento was launched in 1993 and despite being a more refined car it never received the same popularity as the 126. Although the Fiat 126 was killed off in 1993 the FSM version lived on until 2000 where it was sold across many eastern European countries. 1994 saw one of the last major improvements to the car with many minor trim and body parts being shared with Cinquecento to reduce costs. A limited number of yellow FSM 126 were sold up to the end of production, these were known as the "Happy End" series. Around 3.3 million 126p were produced by FSM in Poland whilst another 1.3 million were produced in Italy by Fiat.

Many people criticize the 126 for many reasons, for example it was poorly built, had terrible performance and handling to match, it was rather uncomfortable and also either broke down or rusted prematurely. Despite all its faults many of the 4 million people who were drawn to it by its cheap price tag managed to fall in love with its idiosyncrasies. 

In March 2004 Fiat released a concept car that mimics the Fiat 500 Nuevo styling in the same way the new VW Beetle is styled after the old. The new car called the Fiat Trepiuno is a high tech front wheel drive design, no decision has been made if it will go into production as yet.

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Did You Know?

A high performance version of the classic Fiat 500 was called the Fiat Abarth 500, it had good success in motor sport racing.



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