The Knowledge: The Fiat Coupe is everything that’s good about Italian cars
And you should buy one now while they are still cheap
Alex has been a road tester and motoring writer for more than 10 years, and has written on new, used and classic cars for What Car?, Autocar, The Daily Telegraph and PistonHeads, among many others.
What would you get if you could distil the essence of the best Italian cars – their style, their charisma, their passion, their soul – into one affordable car?
The answer would probably look an awful lot like the Fiat Coupe. Styled like a mini-supercar by Chris Bangle before he got his teeth into BMW, powered by a host of charismatic engines with not a duffer among them and endowed with a lithe, agile chassis, this really is one of the most exciting cars ever to come out of the 1990s.
It’s gorgeous inside, too, with its streak of body-coloured metal running across the dashboard, an eye-catching touch the like of which we’ve never seen since, and sculpted, figure-hugging seats.
The Coupe arrived in 1995 with a choice of two engines: a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre 16v, and a turbocharged version of the same engine. However, both of these were replaced in 1996 by five-cylinder 20-valve units, which saw the car out until its retirement in 2000.
Even the basic, non-turbo engines were good, the five-pot especially; some enthusiasts even contend that their lack of power made them more balanced and less spikey than the Turbos. But of course, it’s the Turbos that most people crave thanks to their extra go – the 20v was pretty potent for its time, with a 217bhp wallop that gave it the ability to fly to 62mph in just 6.5 seconds.
All of the Coupes are fun to drive. While not overly endowed with grip, the naturally-aspirated cars deliver plenty of feel and can be tempted to poke their tails out with a mid-corner lift. The Turbos, again, are the pick of the bunch, as both are fitted with limited-slip diffs as standard, giving them the traction they need to put that extra power down.
Why you should buy one now
Coupes aren’t as cheap as they once were – time was you could pick them up for less than a grand if you didn’t mind doing a bit of work – but that doesn’t mean to say they’re expensive, and in fact given what you’re getting, they’re still very affordable.
A high-mile, non-turbo car can be yours for as little as £1,500, though as ever, we’d advise caution around such a thing. You’re better off paying £3,000 or so for a low-mile example of the same; this is also the price at which average Turbos start, with tidy, historied examples costing at least £4,000, and the very best currently fetching upwards of £6,000 or so. The desirable Limited Edition and Plus models, with their bodykit, Brembo brakes and Recaro seats, will fetch a further premium, sometimes stretching into five figures.
And while Fiats tend to rise in value more gradually than some other cars as they turn into slightly more obscure classics, the Coupe’s cult reputation suggests it might buck that trend. Even if it doesn’t, it’s bound to become a reasonably sought-after classic car eventually, so it might behove you to get in quick and buy one now, while you still can.
What to look out for
Probably the most important thing to be aware of is the rear coolant hose on 20v cars; this can split with no warning and very little indication from the temperature gauge – you’ll only realise when it’s too late. Check this when buying, and if it hasn’t been replaced, budget to do so once you’ve bought.
16v cars can suffer from camshaft wear, too, so listen for ticking, and on all Coupes look for recent cambelt changes or budget for them to be done – they aren’t exactly cheap, and the intervals are tiny (as little as 35,000 miles on the 16v Turbo).
Rust is an issue, especially on 16v cars, which weren’t galvanised. Sills, floorpans, boot floors and front arches are the common trouble spots.
Check all the electrics work, too, as glitches are not unheard of, and listen out for suspension knocks on your test drive – the front suspension especially is prone to wear on pretty much all of its components.
But if you can find yourself a good Fiat Coupe, the rewards are many and varied. Get out there and nab yourself one before it's too late.
And if you want to find out more, you can pick up a buyer's guide here.