Heavy Metal Affliction 1978 Fiat 126
I’ve never been to Austria but it is far from the place this little gem of a car was built, which would have been either Cassino or Termini Imerese, Italy. This week we are pointing the HMA spotlight on Fiat 126 owner and proud Austrian Daniel Bodlak, who spent a lot of time in the garage with his father but never really fell for cars until he played Forza.
Though many Fiat models have found their way stateside, the 126 never did. What is a Fiat 126? It is the air-cooled, rear-engined successor to the Fiat 500, which has won the acclaim of many Europeans for its charm, maneuverability, and fun-to-drive performance. Essentially the 126 is a 500 underneath, sharing most of the mechanical underpinnings and the same wheelbase. The 126 was introduced at the Turin Auto Show in 1972 and was in production in Italy until 1979, but was manufactured as the 126P in Poland and Yugoslavia until the year 2000 with few modifications. Despite Fiat’s reputation for being problematic and lacking power, models like the 500 and the 126 were tremendously popular and successful cars.
Fiat stands for “Fabbrica Italiana Automobili do Torino,” which means "Italian Automotive factory of Turin." Fiat has been building cars, trucks, tractors, railway engines, and even airplanes since 1899. The company is the fourth largest automotive manufacturer in Europe and, over the years, it has acquired automakers Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Chrysler. Fiat is also a significant shareholder in Ferrari. There are of course innumerable humorous definitions of Fiat, such as “fix –it-again-tomorrow” that we have all heard and it could be said that any Italian car is troublesome to maintain. Fiats are, nonetheless, loved by their loyal owners and popular the world over.
Daniel Bodlak is a 20-year-old student, who is studying Information Technology. Bodlak is known in the Forza community by his Gamertag -- RUBITS -- and has been playing Forza games since he bought his first Xbox 360 that came bundled with Forza Motorsport 2. Even though Forza Motorsport 4 is Bodlak’s favorite of the series he says, “Every now and then I still put it (Forza Motorsport 2) in and do the ‘Nordschleife 911 GT3’ endurance race.”
Bodlak remembers his father always working in the garage, and he often spent time there when visiting him. “In my childhood I was not interested so much in cars as I am now. That began to change with playing Forza,” he said. To this day, Bodlak’s father has worked as a mechanic; sometimes on other people’s cars but also on his own numerous projects. Bodlak’s Fiat 126 was the first car his father restored (some 12 years ago) so he saw his future car often and remembers it sitting in its own little garage waiting to go for a spin. In addition to other numerous Fiats, Bodlak’s father has recently restored a Citroen AX GTI which has gone on to win awards and, most recently, he acquired a Fiat X1/9 that is being restored for Bodlak’s younger brother, who is soon to get his license.
Bodlak received his 126 from his father as a gift when he got his driver’s license. Even though this 126 was his father’s favorite, he gave it to Bodlak, “because he had too many cars and because he knew that I would take care of it.” As further proof of Forza’s effect on Bodlak he said, “Before I got my car I was only interested in the cars in my Forza garage.” Upon getting his license, Bodlak took a safe-driving course with the 126, where new drivers are instructed on hard braking and dealing with understeer and oversteer in slippery conditions among other safety concerns. The 126, which does not have any electronic driver assists and utilizes drum brakes, did very well and gave Bodlak a chance to put the car to the test, where both passed with flying colors.
For the most part, Bodlak’s 126 is a recreational car; it is parked down the street from his home where he checks on it daily and takes it on short trips twice a week where, as he puts it, “The journey is the destination.” Since owning and driving the car, he has mastered double-clutching and rev-matching, which is particularly necessary when utilizing the first gear that is straight-cut and without synchronization. The car gets lots of looks due to its rarity and its bright-colored paint job. The paint color is a custom mix of pearlescent white, light, and dark yellow. According to Bodlak, this is the perfect color for him; he even has a matching pair of Converse that he sometimes wears when driving it.
Aside from the custom paint and wheels, the 126 has the fittings of a Fiat 124 Sport Coupe, VW Polo GT seats, and a dashboard with a full complement of gauges. Under the decklid, the little air-cooled 652 cc two-cylinder received some head work that increased the compression along with a free-flowing ANSA exhaust bringing the horsepower to an awe-inspiring 28. The little car only weighs 1,300 pounds so, according to Bodlak, “It's quite peppy in the first three gears or until 80 kilometers per hour. It only takes some time to reach 100 kilometers per hour or more.” Bodlak also says that, thanks to rear-wheel drive and the short wheelbase, it is really fun to drive in the snow.
Bodlak doesn’t have any big plans for the 126 aside from taking good care of it and maybe joining a Fiat 126 club, but the nearest chapter is quite a ways away, so attending meets and shows is not really a priority for the near future. Since the little car gets so much attention anytime Bodlak drives it, he says “Every time I take my car for a trip it's kind of a show for me.”
Here’s is the spec sheet for the little car and some great photos from Bodlak.
If you would like to comment about RUBITS’ 1978 Fiat 126, post about it in the HMA thread.