Well, this week I had the chance to renew old acquaintances. Due to need to avoid using my other-other car, and thanks to the philanthropic-maintenance of another owner, who usually drives a yellow-car-with-a-black-roof, I had cause to use the VIS for my monthly commute to the Northern Isles.
'Where are the Northern Isles?' you ask- as far North as you can go on the UK mainland, and then some.Some 283 miles, from my home in Edinburgh, up the backbone of the Country; the A9. Much of the route is now of course more famously known as the North Coast 500, and we saw some genuine Coupé-outing action here, on our West Coast Tour '17 & Northern Isles Tour '18.
It's been sometime since I drove the FIAT in earnest, and the preparations to do so went over several days. Sunglasses, washer-fluid, coolant, oil, tyre-pressures and wheel-bolt torques were all found or checked. The VIS has a massively inconvenient oil-leak round the rear of the engine, which causes it to lose claret on high speed runs. Usually a significant contingency is required for extended motorway periods, although it has no (gauge) measurable effect on oil-pressure. The last thing I was going to do, but didn't, was swap the main-beam lamps for OSRAM Nightbreaker H1s. I've been running them in H4 format in another car for a year, and they are fantastic. But finances and general planning ineptitude prevented me from moving on them in time. My planned departure time of midday, would mean only the second half of the journey would be in total darkness, from about 15:30 onwards at this latitude; heading North of course, and driving into the gloom earlier.
Leaving Edinburgh, the progress was as to be expected, and car soon settled into a very comfortable purr during traffic-light waits. I always feel the VIS has a couple of warm-up stages. The first is where the revs drop from high-idle of above 1400 rpm down to sub 1000, and this can transition over a couple of minutes, depending on the recent use of the car, and ambient temperature. The second can take as much as three hours to transition through, and I've spent a lot of time wondering whether catalyst or gearbox temperature could be a key factor. When the car is idling and settled, there is no way to tell which state the engine is in; only higher speeds reveal the temperament of the beast.
By Perth, the going was good, and although in daylight, I drove with sidelights on, as a default reaction to the on & off rain conditions. I have what I consider to be an essential 'after market' gauge in my car, in the form of an exterior temperature display. Ever keen to maintain the period kudos of the vehicle, I went to great lengths to mount it within a blanked section of ashtray, so that with the push of a couple of fingers, it can fold-away to maintain the original aesthetic. As I approach key bends and braking manoeuvres, I always glance downwards in advance to gauge the amount of adhesion likely available to the vehicle, based on road temperature. I'd be lost without it actually- or at least massively uncertain- there's a world of a difference between 2 degrees and 6 degrees at this time of year.
After not sitting in the car for a while, I find the seats are just a bit too wide for me across the shoulders- like the larger remake of the Coupe's sister car, the Maserati 3200GT for the U.S. market (as the 4200GT,) I always wonder if the Coupé was sized for the larger-buyer!? Are there any Coupe's known of in the U.S.? Maybe FIAT had big plans...
I find that so much of driving for me now is about information. I always do the first half an hour without any music to listen to the engine. My car has an impending NS front outer-CV joint replacement coming up (it's been 'coming up' three years) and I always listen for this, and just for the general rotation of the belts & pulleys. I find the instrumentation of the VIS relatively unhelpful, and wish I had more to go on than coolant-temperature and oil-pressure. I find myself wondering what it would take to swap the instruments for the oil-temperature gauge instead of the battery-voltage which the car has top-left in the cluster. Road conditions feedback well through the steering wheel, but I find the communication rolls-off into a significant bend, as if the angle on the road-wheels attenuates the message from the tarmac. This can be particularly daunting in deep bends, and I find myself glancing at the temperature gauge to give some confirmation the weight of the car won't go wide in the wintry conditions.
By Aviemore, things are really on-song, and the engine has settled to the extent that I can't hear it anymore above the residual road noise. A characteristic of any first VIS journey, for the uninitiated, is that the car sounds as if it is in fourth gear at motorway speeds, but in fact it isn't- it is in top (hopefully!). The second warm-through phase has completed. I find myself consistently surprised to be reminded that there isn't a flick-wipe on the right-hand stalk; you have to in fact drop into the first wiper speed momentarily to use the wipers once. And, I actually really like this about the Coupe- it's not pretending to be something it isn't. With perhaps the exception of the 'door-lock' switch on the centre-console, the Coupe offers the same functionalities of it's 'period brethren like the Panda. It is what it is, but happens to be very beautiful at doing it. I also discover at this point, that my rear-washer, which I make a point of rarely using, is non-functional, and find myself wondering if my spare wheel well is becoming a miniature travelling reservoir!
Once warmed, the characteristics of the car completely change, the torque curve becomes broader, and the lift-off throttle responses less 'peaky', and progress generally more relaxed. I find myself amused to see the first noticeable dent in the fuel gauge has occurred with 110 miles on the odometer!
What the Coupé might lack in ergonomics or the finite-nuances of feedback, is more than made up for by the airy cabin and timeless architecture of the interior. The core design, and principles of layout have not aged, and the cabin remains a place where one can only be in a good mood. You feel you are driving something special, and that driving ITSELF is special- the simplicity of adornments, and choice of materials all focus you on the process-of-travel. I have never been bored in a traffic jam in a FIAT Coupé. It's fascinating to think, that in the decades since the Coupé's inception, driving has changed so much. Hybrids and electric vehicles are commonplace, the dawn of autonomy is upon us, and yet the Coupé cabin is still so 'right'. Funny to think that these emergent vehicles undoubtedly will be more efficient and cheaper to maintain, but despite all the tech, I can't imagine they will re-invent the wheel in terms of a nicer environment to travel within.
The stereo surprises me with fantastic high-frequency imaging. I swapped the rear speakers some years ago, during the interior swap over to tan, but I've actually never got any further with the system, the only further mod being an alternative 'period Blaupunkt cassette headunit, running a CD autochanger in the boot. The line-of-sight tweeter mounting, gives terrific HF response, and shows me details in 'known' music, that was hitherto unknown to me. Thankyou Pininfarina!
Once through Inverness, the road changes characteristic itself. Motorway conventions give way to fast A-road dynamics, and this very much suits the VIS's temperament as it has now reached optimum operating conditions; 3 hours in! The pseudo-turbo feeling returns, and the pick up above three thousand revs in astonishing. In fact, a word which is often over-used, is in fact completely appropriate here; it is 'glorious'. I don't have cause to use what performance there is, I like to give things an easy time- 77k on the clock on my example, and it'd be good to see the car double that in the future. I stop at Evanton, where the character Isserley in Micheal Faber's Under the Skin, tries some human food in the form of a sandwich, and perform a quick fluids service on myself and the car. The oil is fine, and despite much use of the wipers & washers in the filthy conditions; the fluid reservoir is good too.
As I continue into the gloom, and as the cambers and straights become more aerobic, I find myself revisiting all the alternative headlight options on my mind. HID's now illegal, those LED-things seemed like a good bet- I read about them a few years ago on the forum, but they seem to be now illegal for road-use. I should have gone for those Nightbreakers! I find myself driving to the limit of how far I can see at speed. It reminds me of the 80's arcade game Outrun. -You could only go as fast as you could see within the resolution of the graphics. However unlike the game, I don't have a wind-tousled blonde passenger next to me, and the car is not a convertible!
The limit of my visual ability is no faster than 55mph in fact. My headlights do indeed seem to be pointing down at the road some 30 ft ahead- surely the MOT must account for poor aim downwards, as well as blinding people? I spent some time once thinking about starting a mini-business fabricating after-market headlight looms for Coupés! The residual AMP-superseal connectors are relatively familiar to me now, and they unplug at the NS bonnet hinge of course- making it a tantalisingly achievable mod. The intention was that any additional-resistance added to the circuit by older connections and bonds to the wiring therin, would be reduced with new looming. I'm still thinking about that business! I would need tangible data in the form of lumens-per-headlight, against net impedance-per-loom. I'd need a very good Fluke-test meter to go into detailed resistance measurements...
Soon enough some overtaking is required in the gloom, and a blip of the throttle, voiced through my new-old-exhaust system, fitted by yours-truly during the summer, sounds overtly-vocal but somehow appropriate. A stab on the loud-pedal knocks from two-thousand-five-hundred rpm @ 50mph, to three-thousand-and-fifty in fourth gear, perfectly in time with the down-change, for overtaking readiness. However, I find I am in-turn regularly dispatched by more modern turbo-diesel products, their drivers finding this obscure Italian exotica in the way of their return-commute, on this everyday-familiar road home. I'm not in a rush. Contingency is everything. I'm not even doing four thousand rpm, and it's two degrees outside and the drizzle looks thicker than it should be. I'm happy just to make it on time.
Soon enough, and in no time, I arrive at Scrabster, and the car pulls up in the ferry queue. The sound? Just like it was in Causewayside before I left; like its pretending it doesn't do big journeys or it hasn't noticed it's just done 283 miles, and is just happy to purr. It's a lot of charisma and ability, very quietly served up in an individual & unique format, quite unlike anything else rolling.
I turn off and wait a few minutes before checking the oil- still fine! It pays to keep those revs down. I always feel a slight let-down when turning the Coupé off; the engine note isn't unpleasant, and to my ear the silence is kind of wrong without it.
What the Coupé might lack in ergonomics or the finite-nuances of feedback, is more than made up for by the airy cabin and timeless architecture of the interior. The core design, and principles of layout have not aged, and the cabin remains a place where one can only be in a good mood. You feel you are driving something special, and that driving ITSELF is special- the simplicity of adornments, and choice of materials all focus you on the process-of-travel.
I have never been bored in a traffic jam in a FIAT Coupé.
It's fascinating to think, that in the decades since the Coupé's inception, driving has changed so much. Hybrids and electric vehicles are commonplace, the dawn of autonomy is upon us, and yet the Coupé cabin is still so 'right'. Funny to think that these emergent vehicles undoubtedly will be more efficient and cheaper to maintain, but despite all the tech, I can't imagine they will re-invent the wheel in terms of a nicer environment to travel within.
Tremendous Jim and it truly is a fine place to be and will always be special.
Lovely write up, Dante. Thank you. Reminds me of the good times with my Vis. W62NLD. You're right, modern Tdi's whizz past with anonymous power. I had a lovely run from Leeds to Hereford. Straddling the white lines on the A42 dual carriageway at an indicated 100 it was noisy, but what a noise. After the four hour journey I still took the longway home near my house just to here her rev out a few more times
Was right with you along in the passenger seat! (hopefully not on someone elses lap!)
The Coup was just made for the open road and less traffic. Totally agree with regard the lights- I'll have to try these "night breaker" lights that you mention. I use the driving lamps whenever the weather and gloom dictate- they don't shine far, but they are brighter then the standard headlights.
Your journey further north sounded epic - no doubt that list of "to do's" is will let you relax a little more as winter bites.
North UK in a cold winter is a hard place to be for a little italian fun car!
Re: Happiness is a VIS, warm by Inverness...