1974 Fiat 128 Sport L Coupe 1.5 Strada engine from Australia and New Zealand
Good, but overshadowed by Fiat's performance models
Brakes tend to have excessive travel. Various brake failures due to poor maintenance.
Original Weber 32DMTR carburettor was very temperamental: hot starting problems, poor economy.
Original four-speed gearbox had noisy bearings, non-existent synchro on first gear.
Original 1290cc engine dropped a valve (head separated from stem.)
Persistent knocks and looseness in the front suspension/steering despite replacement of all bushes/balljoints.
I have heavily modified this vehicle since inheriting it from my father (as a family car, it covered many thousands of reasonably trouble-free kilometres).
There was a small amount of rust in some areas - under rear side windows, boot corners in particular. There was more serious rust in a windscreen pillar, and the box section of the front radius-rod mounting (where there would be an anti-roll bar if one was fitted.)
During the rebuild, many items were available surprisingly cheaply. It was easy to fit a 1498cc Fiat Strada engine, a Fiat Uno cylinder head, and a specially-built 128 gearbox with additional fifth-gear housing. Twin Weber 40DCNFs were also easy to install and trouble-free once set-up correctly.
The interior parts are almost impossible to find in good condition (example: the dashboard top cracks readily) and the driving position is not especially comfortable. In particular, the seats and seatbelts are poor, the gearchange is heavy and notchy, and the curved floor means your ankles are awkwardly twisted. It is noisy, especially in 4-speed form where the engine is running at 4200 RPM for 100km/h.
Electrical items have been very reliable, switches etc. are fine. Headlights give excellent output.
Body panels are solidly built and fit well.
I have had ongoing problems with the suspension setup. First the alignment was wrong and couldn't be set back to standard. It was evenly wrong all round which suggests that replacement parts may have been different to original. I further modified the suspension by changing dampers and cutting springs. I tried other springs that were recommended. In total, I tried three different setups. The ride quality is now poor, the steering feels responsive but very heavy.
On a racetrack, the car is extremely disappointing. The acceleration and top speed is excellent, but the level of grip and ease of handling is poor when compared with newer cars. For example, it is much more powerful and faster than my 1986 Fiat Uno 60, yet it is the same speed on a racetrack because of the poor cornering ability.
I would seriously recommend not modifying the 128, but instead choosing a later model, which will also be less rusty and more comfortable to drive.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 12th October, 2001
29th May 2005, 03:23
Hi I agree with what you have said about the suspension setup.
I used to own a 1974 SL coupe and it handled very well with little or no modifications.
I later sold this one and have now purchased another one which had been setup for track use.
Unfortunately it handles like a dog and I'm in the process of trying to put all the suspension back to the way it was.
14th Mar 2007, 13:35
I drive a 1978 Fiat 128 sedan, which has primarily the same suspension and steering setup as the 128SL with use of a sway bar in the front, instead of torsion bars to the front of the car. I have done a lot of suspension work, with new bushings all round, lowering the car using rear shocks from early fiat X1/9 in the front, using 5 leaves in the rear instead of the original 2, and lowering the front swaybar down to keep it even.
The car handles fantastically - it pulls hard in a straight line, and goes around corners extremely quickly. Fiat 128's have always been hailed for there fantastic handling, and mine is no exception.
I totally agree about rust around the front sections, they rust in the bottoms of the A pillars regularly, in the bottoms of the rear guards alongside the boot floor, and around the front chassis rails where the chassis rails meet the front of the car.
If you are thinking about heavily modifying a fiat 128, I would seriously recommend sandblasting the engine bay, and getting the front welds of the car re-done.
They are a fantastic car, and for a car of there size in race classes, there isn't a lot that will outhandle, outbrake, or outperform a fiat 128.
8th Aug 2007, 04:57
I am writing from France. I'm preparing at the moment a Fiat 128 for historic racing. I am very interested by your knowledge on this car, especially for brake and suspension. If you can help me by a few comments... I will appreciate it.