Birth of a coupe

March 1990. Leonardo Fioravanti was head of Fiat's Style Center, Mario Maioli coordinator of design for the three Fiat Group brands. Pininfarina receives a call for some designwork, starting from an idea by Chris Bangle.

January 1991. First proposals saw the management choose for the Pininfarina designs. These were a bit more common, as opposed to Bangle's more daunting drawings.

Luckily the Fiat designers didn't stop their work and went on. As new management directors found their way to Fiat, these favoured the results of the in-house design center. It was Paolo Cantarella who wanted to break away from the classical design and offer a new, innovative product. It was May 1991 and final development was started.

Nevio di Giusto, chief engineer from Januari 1991: "It wasn't a question of choosing the best-looking model or of making comparisons on a purely aesthetic basis. The Pininfarina proposal was linear and very refined, as is the company's tradition, and probably lent itself to interpreting a classic marque like Lancia, for example. We wanted instead something of a break with tradition, a renewal, and some aggressiveness too, to demonstrate that the coupé could be interpreted in a new way. The 'wing-lid' for instance - a much appreciated element of the car - is a precise message; a decidedly complex functional item that serves as bonnet, wing and fixture for the headlights."

Yes, the headlights... and the position of them. By using the Tipo chassis, it was more or less an obligation. With the rounded wings, the headlights had nowhere to go but through the bonnet. Concealing them would ruin the aerodynamics, so the bulged design as we know it now was chosen for.

Rear lights... makes you think about Ferrari, although they're not aligned in height and are not sticking out at the back. A model was made for the decision on the design of the back. Either the lights would go on the upper half of the back, or one pair would end up on the lower bumper.

As for the interior, one proposal of the Fiat design center made it to 3D, but it was Pininfarina who received approval by everybody. With the metal strip across the dashboard, followed through into the sides of the interior it became a very pleasant place to be in.

It is not just the interior that makes the Coupé have the Pininfarina text on the sides and on the dashboard. It is also constructed (by hand) at the Industrie Pininfarina factory. All exterior is made in steel, but there were thoughts of using thermoplastic resins and aluminum.

Peter Davis, director of Fiat Design, when the coupe made it to the market: "To my mind it's a message from Stile Fiat to the car design world. A message that has prompted debate, but has won the admiration of a lot of designers. You could compare it to a painting: the 'photographic' technique exists, but there's Andy Warhol as well".

Ermanno Cressoni, in charge of Know-how Engineering, says there are two possible cultural positions. One that interprets elements from the past in a modern way, one that takes the automobile and makes references to pictorial inspiration: the cuts above the wheel arches that refer to the cuts in the canvases of Lucio Fontana.

"The basic idea is already clear in numerous sketches, with a powerful dynamism expressed by cuts" is what Di Giusto says.

As the model got finalized, designers chose five colours for the Fiat Coupé: red, yellow, blue, black and white, the classic sports colours of the various European nations. Of the white model, only 130 were made and some really consider it as a collectors' item. But whichever, the Coupé is a car that received a lot of attention by its designers, and thanks to people being passionately busy with the project have made it a car that has many admirers.

The original 2.0 16 valve engines were derived from the Lancia Delta Integrale block and the chassis was adapted from the former Fiat Tipo platform. Despite this humble building stone, in its era the Coupé was a very good handling car - especially considering the price.

The Coupé Fiat was launched in 1993 in Belgium, at the Brussels car show. Many a magazine had however already featured the new Fiat. From the front bulged headlamp covers, the wheel arch slashes and the sleek race-style quick release petrol filler cap the Coupé was described as a car which you could take apart and then drop every single part in an art museum. The Coupé really deserves an Italian name that starts with an F... Fiat, with a history of sport cars throughout the years.




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