Tempted by the Tempra
You know that little itch you get that you shouldn’t scratch? Well it happened to me. I was building the dream garage on Ebay one mildly drunken afternoon when I found it. A Fiat Tempra.
The advert’s music hit me back in 1991 when the Tempra was launched. You can still find it on YouTube. Miriam Stockley wailed her way through a song that sounded like a cow giving birth to flat pack furniture while a brand new Fiat Tempra swung precariously overhead, landing just inches at the feet of some annoyed woman.
Well there it was. Resplendent in beaten up metallic red was a Tempra SX i.e. Almost top of the range, give or take (it didn’t have the 1.8 twin cam engine or electronic heater controls). A bid was entered. For over a week l was the top bidder. No one would outbid me because let’s face it, who wants a Fiat Tempra?
Turns out someone else did. I was stripped of my motoring dream. I became inconsolable and mooched around the house in my dressing gown and slippers while wailing away a bit like Miriam had.
Turns out the winning bidder was a bit of an odd-ball. He turns up at the house, looks over the car, goes to his car, comes back and so on. This apparently continued for over an hour so the vendor was telling me. He then doesn’t want the car and it’s put back on eBay once more.
A message is sent to me and the next thing l know, l am off to Bedfordshire to look at an old Fiat. I did my homework. The car was galvanised from new so rust wouldn’t be a problem. So I’d then be paying particular attention to fit and fittings and how it went. I shouldn’t have read the internet for reviews on old Tempras. Turns out they know jack shit about a car that has since turned 24 years old.
A sense of unconnected front end entered the cabin during the test drive. The more l thought about it, the more l suspected the front wishbone bushes had become baggy in their holes. And apart from a blowing centre exhaust section, they were all the mechanical problems l could find.
A quick glance over the body, followed by a longer look and a prod and it soon became apparent Fiat had forgotten to galvanise important areas of the car, as l was soon to discover. It wasn’t that it was bad, just not well repaired. The £700 bill for rebuilding both sills and inner rear arches put me on a diet of beans on a plate for about 3 months.
I was, however, hooked or better still, ’tempted’ by the Tempra. I was going to have it regardless. The two friends who came with me for the journey were in disgust. But let’s face it, all the electrics worked and it belonged to an Italian family. It’d now inherited a new family.
Speaking of electrics, they did all work. This being the SX model meant it came with electric windows ALL-ROUND with driver’s one-touch and a sunroof. Even the remote central locking worked. What’s more, it also had the visual pack – rear wipe/wash, headlight washers and front fogs. Someone else’s loss was to be my gain. I signed on the dotted line and drove away with a car l had always wanted but more importantly a car that l didn’t need.
And so to the dashboard. That’s where the real love for the car is. One of my motoring heroes, Chris Goffey, didn’t like it when he reviewed it new, but l did. And wouldn’t you believe it, almost every car now has a digital dashboard, though none as ‘Casio calculator’ simple as this was back then. It was an electronic feast of green digits and a rev counter that had a second or so delay to what was happening in the noisy engine compartment. If it was extra speed you wanted, then all you needed to do was hit the KM/H button and 50 becomes 80 on the readout.
Despite those wobbly front wishbones, the driving dynamics are not bad at all. Even with worn rear shock absorbers, it handled the road well with comfort and ease, and with some provocation you can get the rear to step out of line a little. Not bad for a humble little 1600 that behaves like a bigger-engined car. That is where Fiat did the magic.
First thing first, it needed a service. My Fiat dealer told me that the front wipers were no longer available. At £120 a set (l find that hard to believe but it sounds great over the dinner table) they said “put inserts in” so l did. All other service items are thankfully no different to most Fiats from back in 1991 up to 2017.
And now to what went wrong. Well surprisingly very little though it hasn’t been cheap. While picking up a new alternator for my Mk2 Golf, I rejoiced in how reliable the Fiat had been. So that jinxed it and it broke down just 500 yards from home with a retired fuel pump.
Then there was that fateful MOT when it failed on more welding on the missed galvanised steel and a brake pipe. The pipe was no problem, though while under it l spotted this bizarre device connected to a white plastic pipe that linked the rear trailing arms to the headlights. This thing has (l think) load sensitive headlights. Well it would if the pipe wasn’t so brittle and snapped at the kindest of strokes.
It still amazes me this car, so to keep it as good as l can, I’m building a car port for it. And for what? A car that cost me £450 3 years ago, that’s what.
You can following the motoring exploits of Stuart over on Twitter. If you have an interesting old car, and you want to see it here on the internet’s most underwhelming car site, drop an email with the title YOUR CARS to email@example.com