1980s / 1990s / Fiat / Italian / Sunday classic

Sunday classic: Fiat Uno Turbo i.e.

A panel made up of automotive journalists from all around Europe elected the Fiat Uno Car of the Year in 1983. In the documents given to the press, Fiat announced that it was about to launch two additional Uno models to create a more complete lineup. One was supposed to be an automatic version, and the other a performance-oriented version.

It turned out that Fiat was not quite as ready as it claimed, and the performance version didn’t make its debut until 1985. The 24 month delay was noted by just about every media outlet in Europe at the time, but the wait was well worth it.

The Uno Turbo i.e. was one of the best and most underrated hot hatches of the era. Its main selling point was found under the hood: it was powered by a 1,301cc four-cylinder engine also found in the Ritmo (among others), but it had been thoroughly gone over and very few parts were interchangeable between the two.

For starters, the cylinders were spread out further apart to allow coolant to circulate between them. It also featured sodium-filled exhaust valves, an oil radiator, an air-to-air intercooler, and a reinforced headgasket, just to name a few of the modifications. The changes partly justified the delay in launching the car and showed Fiat’s commitment to making sure that nothing under the hood was left to chance.

The four-cylinder came equipped with a turbocharger built by Japan’s Ishikawajma Harima Industries, giving it a power output of 105 horsepower at 5,750 rpms, and 108 lb-ft of torque at 3,200 rpms. It sprinted from zero to 62 miles per hour in 8.3 seconds and went on to a top speed of over 120 miles per hour in fifth gear.

Fuel was delivered to the combustion chambers by a Bosch LE Jetronic electronic ignition system, which explained the i.e. in the car’s name: inizione elettronica is electonic injection in Italian. This was a novel concept at a time when a good portion of its competitors were still relying on carburetors. Fiat also fitted the Turbo i.e. with a Marelli-Microplex electronic ignition system that utilized a microprocessor.

The list of standard features included disc brakes all around, and model-specific 13″ rims mounted on Pirelli P6 tires. These were widely judged as not grippy enough and surprised many unexpecting drivers.

Fiat stiffened the suspension and lowered it by about half an inch, giving the car a sportier ride and a sportier stance. The look was complimented by a full body kit that included front and rear spoilers, large wheel arches, and fog lights. The rear spoiler was integrated in a Turbo-specific hatchback made of resin to help keep the weight down. The Uno Turbo tipped the scales at 1,862 pounds, an increase of about 150 pounds compared to a more mundane Uno 55.

The performance atmosphere continued on the inside. The Uno Turbo i.e. had a very complete instrumentation, specific seats and a specific four-spoke steering wheel with “Turbo i.e.” written on the hub. However, the hard plastics used throughout the car gave away the its econobox origins, an impression that became all the more evident when things started to rattle due to a hit-or-miss build quality.

In spite of its setbacks, the Uno Turbo i.e. was a particularly appealing car because it offered a state-of-the-art engine in a very affordable package. In its first year of production, the Uno Turbo i.e. retailed for about 70,000 francs in France. That same year a Renault 5 GT Turbo cost 72,000 francs and a 205 GTI sold for 74,000. The Golf GTI had them all beat at 77,000 francs for a two-door version.

Fiat added ABS-like “Antiskid” brakes to the Turbo’s option list in 1988. A year later, the entire Uno lineup was given a mid-life redesign. The Turbo i.e. got the rest of the lineup’s new grille, new lights all around, as well as a new hatch made of sheet metal instead of resin. The refreshed cars also came standard with a roll bar, an improvement that the press and enthusiasts had both clamored for since the mid-1980s.

The redesign also brought about a new 1,372cc four-cylinder with a Garrett T2 turbocharger bolted to it, and a more modern Bosch injection system. It was rated at 118 horsepower and 121 lb-ft of torque, while its top speed was increased to approximately 127 miles per hour.

The Turbo i.e. served as the Uno’s range-topping model until the entire lineup was phased out in Europe in 1993. By that time the hot hatch market in Europe had begun its free fall, but Fiat shoehorned the 1,372cc eight-valve into the GT version of the new Punto, where it developed 136 horsepower.

11 thoughts on “Sunday classic: Fiat Uno Turbo i.e.

  1. A friend once bought a used face-lifted Uno Turbo. He heard that the spark-plugs were supposed to be a problem and he thought “Why risk trouble and engine failure?” and bought new spark-plug. Unfortunately, the FIAT parts dealer didn’t knew if the new model had the old engine or the new one. Suffice to say, he bought the wrong spark-plugs, as the pistons melted after a rather short time…

    He was lucky, after some negotiation, he go a replacement engine from FIAT. He removed the old engine, brought it to the FIAT dealer, got an the replacement, went home and after some work, the car had an engine again. Hurray! Unfortunately, were the old engine had a oil pump, the new one just had some cover – you were supposed to reuse the oil pump. He says he got the engine running and the car out on the street, but apparently the oil pump is needed for longer operation of a turbo charged Fiat Uno engine…

    Some people claim that it is not possible to replace an engine and not notice that there is no oil pump, but I like the story.

      • If my memory serves me right he got i it running and has driven the FIAT Uno a few years. After that he went for a 3 liter straight-six BMW (but I can’t recall if it was a 3 or 5 series).

      • Gee, thinking back! Where I lived back then, we had two dealers nearby, a Opel dealer and a FIAT dealer – and most people I knew went for FIATs.

        So a friend of mine had a FIAT Uno 1.0
        His brother had a Uno turbo (“The suicide car”)
        Their father had a Chroma.
        I had Ritmo 1.6 75.
        My mother had a Tipo 1.6 75.
        (The last two strangely enough bought at a different dealer).
        And there was the FIAT turbo above of another friend.

        The Uno 1.0 was fun. The friend of mine bought it with a broken engine from the scrap dealer, replaced the engine, fixed some other things, painted it himself in a horrible green metallic paint. I once borrowed the car. He told me “The breaks need a little more force”. Yeah. The brakes felt like they did almost nothing, so when I need to stop a bit earlier than anticipated, I had to push down with the full force I could muster – and the tires locked up. I told him afterwards and he told me dean-pan serious “I never ever managed to get the tires to lock up” 🙂

        And once he threw the door of the Uno 1.0 shut, only to find the door had locked itself up, with the key in the ignition…

        By the way, in Star Wars episode 1, you can see the typical FIAT Uno light switch (Big black plastic handle) in Anakin’s pod racer. 🙂

    • Good eye for the switch, I hadn’t noticed.

      Sounds like you’ve got a lot of experience with Fiats. The Uno is a very reliable little car. My grandfather bought one new in 1992, a 1.0 FIRE, he gave it to my aunt who still drives it daily today. Over the years I’ve had to change the radiator and some of the bushings in the shifter linkage, but it’s never let us down.

      I remember the Tipo, too, my father bought one in 1989 or 1990, he traded it in for a Citroen ZX in 1995 and it sat on the back of the Citroen dealer’s lot for ages, I’ve always wondered what happened to that car, I guess they scrapped it.

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  3. My friend and I fitted an adjustable waste gate controller to his Uno Turbo. We played with it up to almost 20psi boost. Oh. My. God. And they called it a “dangerously overpowered rollerskate” in standard form! Wheel spin in 3rd gear in a car like that is nowhere near as much fun as it sounds – life flashing before eyes etc…

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  5. Qauality car the Uno – I had an 84 903 pushrod Uno 45 – an 86 5 door Uno 60 and an 88 FIRE engined 45s Eleganza special edition – loved them all – did about 90k in them overall – very reliable and very economical

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