Junkyard jewel: 1979 Fiat Brava sedan

Since I started spending too much time crawling around in junk yards around 40 years ago, one thing has been constant: a constant supply of Fiat 124 Sport Spiders and X1 / 9s, scattered among the boring Econoboxes. Those cars were shinier in the early 1980s, but they’re just as easy to find at your local Ewe Pullet today. Of course, the current generation of the Fiat 500 has been with us for a decade and so the days of the shiny junk Fiats have returned for us. But what about that other Fiat models that were sold here before the company left our shores in 1982? I’ve found 128 discarded and even a couple of 850s on occasion, but the rear-wheel drive Fiat sedans of the 1970s and 1980s are all but extinct. I don’t expect to ever find a junkyard 130, but this year I have have managed to spot a pair of 131s (which were labeled Bravas during their final years in North America). Here’s one of those cars that’s now in a Denver yard.

Unusually in the case of a junkyard gem, I know something about the history of that Brava. In 2019 the owner of a beloved Fiat workshop passed away and all 75 Fiats (plus a few Alfa Romeos and Lancias) in the store’s yard were auctioned off at a bargain price. I did my best to get the word out about these cars and some were saved. In this photo above you can see our motif, which is waiting for its new home.

It had a lot of surface rust from decades of sitting outside, but not a lot of really alarming corrosion. It was bought for a few hundred dollars – at most – and towed there, along with a white ’79 Brava limousine nearby.

Perhaps the buyer or buyers of these two bravas planned to turn them over for a profit, or perhaps the intent was to repair and sell them. Two years later, they both park on the same boneyard north of downtown Denver. I suspect anyone in Front Range Colorado who wanted an old Fiat sedan already has a half-dozen, and the 20-hour tow to places like Chicago or San Francisco is just too daunting for Fiat fanatics in those places to come here and buy a car.

The 131 / Brava could be bought new in the USA from model years 1976 to 1981. In 1979, the list price of a carburettor Brava sedan was $ 7,583 (about $ 30,860 in $ 2021). That was much cheaper than its similarly sized BMW 320i rival, which cost $ 11,810, though the lush, more powerful Datsun 810 sedan must have stolen some sales of both types this year.

Speaking of performance, this car had … some. The 2.0-liter Fiat Twin Cam sounded wonderful, but it only had 86 horses in 1979. The 320i developed 110 hp that year, while the 810 had the in-line six-cylinder and 120 horses of a Z-car. Still, the Brava’s excellent handling made up for its lackluster performance on the drag strip.

If you wanted to be cool in 1979, your car needed a sunroof. That meant leaks, but what’s the point?

Five-speed manual transmissions were still a bit unusual in the late 1970s (the four-speed manual was the base manual in most cars in the U.S. market at the time), and the Brava had one. A GM three-speed automatic was also available, but you could get that in a new Chevy Nova at about half the cost of a Brava (with a V8 if you were at it).

Rare, but not valuable. Next stop: the crusher.

It is the descendant of the Fiat 520 from 1928!

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