Buying Guide: Fiat 126 in its minuscule magnificence
With its rear-mounted two-cylinder engine, the Fiat 126 is overflowing with cheeky character and driver entertainment, despite its limited performance
‘The 126 is one of those cars that has always slipped under the radar’
The Fiat 500 has long enjoyed cult status, but the 126 that replaced it in the early 1970s never captured the imagination quite like its predecessor had done. That’s despite the fact that, like the 500, the 126 packed a rear-mounted, air-cooled two-pot engine for brilliant economy – indeed, both cars used pretty much the same running gear. Offering surprising practicality and more fun – especially in the corners – than you’d ever imagine possible, the 126 is one of those classics that has always slipped under the radar.
Sadly, many a 126 has bitten the dust prematurely in order to keep one of its illustrious predecessors going. As a result, 126 numbers have been dwindling for years, but that has also led to a steady increase in values, especially over the past couple of years. However, the 126 remains one of the most eminently affordable classics you can buy, and good ones are just as affordable to repair, maintain and insure.
The 126 was first unveiled in November 1972 but the first cars didn’t arrive in the UK until the following July. Initially there were Base and L trim levels, then from February 1974 there was a Sunroof edition too. The 126 De Ville, which was launched in December 1976, came with sports wheels, black bumpers, a sunroof and velour interior trim. September 1977 saw a 652cc engine replacing the original 594cc unit and Fiat poshed things up further in September 1983, giving the 126 reclining seats, a laminated windscreen, heated rear window and opening rear side windows.
The final big change came in December 1987 with the arrival of the 126 Bis, which had a 704cc water-cooled engine, proper opening tailgate and a larger rear window. This model lasted until April 1992 when the final 126 Bis was sold in the UK. However, Polski-Fiat continued to produce and sell the 126p in Poland, before production finally ended in 2000.
Non-synchromesh gearbox suffers from worn linkages and jumping out of gear.