What was Fiat's European model range like 30 years ago? From today's perspective, it's rather dated, with vehicles like the first Panda, the Cinquecento, the Punto and the Tipo. The Tempra still exists and the first-generation Croma is living out its last days. So a breath of fresh air was needed. That's what the Fiat Coupé did in 1994 and the Barchetta a year later. For this anniversary, let's take a look back at the Coupé that left its mark on the 90s.

The Fiat Coupé (model 175) made its debut at the Bologna Motor Show in December 1993 and was launched on the market in January 1994.

Fiat Coupé (1994-2000)

Two projects, two cars

The sleek sports car had already been making headlines in motoring magazines in 1992 in prototype form. At the time, Fiat was planning to produce a new coupé after the Pininfarina factory was suddenly shut down around 1990, following the failure of the Cadillac Allanté project. Two projects were presented, with Fiat's in-house Centro Stile team competing with Pininfarina.

The concept presented by Chris Bangle on behalf of Centro Stile unexpectedly won over Fiat management. It was the same Bangle who, years later, would provoke design controversy at BMW. The concept previously presented by Pininfarina was finally taken up by Peugeot, where it made its debut in October 1996 in the form of the 406 coupé.

Fiat Coupe (1994-2000)

Fiat Coupé (1994)

Peugeot 406 Coupé (1996)

Peugeot 406 Coupé (1996)

What was striking about Fiat's design was the high, rather bare rear end, the absence of visible door handles and a front end reminiscent of the dead-eye headlamps. The exterior chrome fuel filler cap is reminiscent of the 1950s. Inside, the cockpit impresses with a wide moulding in the same colour as the bodywork.

Group platform and bold turbo

The technical basis is the so-called "Tipo 2" platform, already used in the Fiat Tipo and Tempra as well as the Lancia Dedra and Alfa Romeo 155. The Fiat Coupé is 4.25 metres long, 1.77 metres wide and 1.34 metres high, with a wheelbase of 2.54 metres. Unladen weight? 1,320 kilograms.

When it was launched in January 1994, the Coupé was available with a 2.0-litre 16V four-cylinder engine, in both turbo (190 PS) and naturally-aspirated (139 PS) versions. Both engines were later versions of Fiat's DOHC model, taken from the Lancia Delta Integrale, which was a great success in rallying.

Fiat Coupe (1994-2000)

Fiat Coupe (1994-2000)

In 1996, a 1.8-litre 16V (not available in the UK, 131 PS), a 2.0-litre 5-cylinder 20V (147 PS) and, as a highlight, a 2.0-litre 20V turbo (220 PS) completed the range. The top-of-the-range model with turbo accelerates from 0 to 62 mph in 6.5 seconds and reaches a top speed of 149 mph or 155 mph with the six-speed gearbox to be offered at a later date. 

In addition to the new engines, Fiat also made some minor design changes, such as the radiator grille, steering wheel, leather door trim, centre console in the passenger compartment and the replacement of the digital clock with an analogue one. Production of right-hand-drive models for markets such as the UK began in early 1995.

Both the four-cylinder turbo and the five-cylinder are equipped with a Viscodrive limited-slip differential, which is highly effective in countering the understeer that afflicts most powerful front-wheel-drive vehicles.

In addition, the Coupé has independent suspension on all sides: at the front, MacPherson struts and lower transverse arms anchored to an auxiliary crossmember; at the rear, longitudinal arms mounted on an auxiliary frame and coil springs.

Fiat Coupé pre-production

LE" nameplate

In 1998 the Limited Edition was launched, characterised externally by a titanium grey body kit and details such as the wheels, fuel filler cap, rear lights and mirror housings, while the Brembo front brake callipers were now painted red. Each Limited Edition ('LE') coupé has a plaque on the rear-view mirror showing the car's unique number.

It is rumoured that Michael Schumacher was the original owner of LE no. 0001, but when spoken to personally, he confirms that he did own one, but a red one, whereas LE no. 0001 is a Crono Grey. Just over 1,400 examples of the LE were produced.

Fiat Coupé pre-production

In 1998, the 20V 2.0-litre five-cylinder engine was fitted with a variable intake system, increasing power to 154 PS. In addition, the colour of the rocker panels on the turbo version was matched to the body paintwork. Fiat is also launching the 2.0-litre five-cylinder turbo 'Plus' model. This model is equipped with an option pack that makes it virtually identical to the LE, with the exception of minor changes to the interior and without the LE's unique identification plate.