Unexceptional Classics

Unexceptional Classifieds: Fiat 126 Bis

by Antony Ingram
22 April 2022 2 min read
Unexceptional Classifieds: Fiat 126 Bis
Photos: eBay

Price: £5295
Mileage: 47,260
Condition: Recently restored
Advert: eBay

The Fiat 126 occupies a place of mixed feelings in the automotive hobby. Age has imbued it with charm and helps us overlook mechanicals that seemed somewhat anachronistic by the time it died off in the 1990s, but while it’s steadily acquiring a following (and is viewed fondly in Poland, where it was built for much of its existence), it’s fair to say history does not view it with the same affection as the 500 it replaced.

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By Fiat standards, the 126 was, and is, somewhat inelegant. It isn’t cute like Dante Giacosa’s 500 and it’s not starkly utilitarian like Giugiaro’s Panda sold alongside, or urbane like Ermano Cressoni’s Cinquecento, the car that replaced the 126.

Instead, it’s rather unfortunate-looking. At the front there’s a dead-eyed stare given slightly resigned-looking eyebrows by the curled-down edges of the bonnet. It sits heavily on its rear axle, a symptom of its 500-style rear-mounted parallel twin, and the detailing all over is stark – in an austere sort of way, rather than the preferable minimalistic sense.

The chrome bumpers and simple cabin of early models did their best, but all that changed for good with the late restyling of the 126 “Bis” in 1987, with its plastic appendages and similarly plastic interior.

But ah, you’re thinking, surely such things would now fit right in at the Hagerty Festival of the Unexceptional: a slightly unloved car with slightly too much plastic and, with a full 26bhp from its by-now watercooled twin, a distinct lack of performance.

And you’d be right, because this recently-refurbished 1991 model is now squarely in our ballpark. No longer can you really find cheap 126s, but the dishevelled ones have mostly gone and those that remain are now very much vehicles for a particular kind of enthusiast.

One of those enthusiasts, albeit an unlikely one, was Tom Hanks, who made a habit of posing next to the things on his Instagram feed, was presented one by enthusiasts in a Polish town, and subsequently sold it for charity on Bring a Trailer earlier this year for $83,500, or around £63,500.

You’ll only need to scrape together £5295 for this one but you’ll get to mention the Tom Hanks thing to anyone who’ll listen, and who can put a price on that? The photos illustrate its recent respray and full engine rebuild, and that austere interior does look very smart.

Famed auto writer LJK Setright once remarked that the appeal of the Bis was that taking the wheel invites “a compulsive desire to drive the little thing absolutely flat out, all the time and everywhere”, and that does sound like a lot of fun.

You can’t do that in a modern car, but you could do it all the way to this year’s festival, where even the unloved little 126 would find itself right at home.

Read more

Don’t laugh – Italian cars run like clockwork
Buying Guide: Fiat 500 (1957 – 1975)
10 Unexceptional Classics: Edizione Italiano

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  • Jonathan Hill says:

    I bought the car in your article. I had to remove the gearbox to position the flywheel correctly; it needs to be lined up correctly to avoid catastrophic vibration. I have had to iron out a myriad of faults, as the car had just been put together and sold without ironing out the snags after the rebuild. It’s now the most engaging car to drive, an absolute hoot and an experience unequalled any where, perhaps like as 2cv but completely different! Despite its initial problems and jobs still required, like replacing the leaky fuel tank, it could be around for a while!

    • Antony Ingram says:

      Thanks for the update Jonathan, interesting to hear you bought the car – and a shame it wasn’t put together quite as well as it looked in the photos! Glad it’s now running as it should.

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