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

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Buying & Selling - WORDS Richard Dredge PHO­TOG­RA­PHY Magic Car Pics

‘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.

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