By on May 12, 2010

Not suitably impressed by the recent 446,000 mile Neon? How about a 1980 Fiat Brava with a half-million miles, on its original engine no less! It just goes to show that anything can be kept going forever, with the right attitude, perseverance and a (full time?) dedicated mechanic. 818now.com has the full story on Gil Cormaci (is chauvinism at work here?) and his stereotype defying Fiat that recently rolled over its odometer for the fifth time.

Yes, his mechanic Tony Jamie Morar of three decades has the paperwork (and yacht) to prove the Fiat’s exploits in longevity. Cormaci drives it 150 miles daily on his commute. He even claims that the air conditioner and sliding steel roof are both functional, and it gets thirty miles to the gallon, since he (Jamie, presumably) converted it to a manual transmission in the early nineties. Now that’s commitment.

In his own words: “Fiats are great cars, but were misunderstood and abused by drivers who didn’t properly care for them, Cormaci argues. He is in the process of restoring a 1969 Fiat Coupe.

“We actually had three Fiats,” Cormaci lamented. “We had a 128, but that isn’t with me anymore.”

The secret to Fiat immortality: “He attributed the longevity of his Fiat Brava to regular oil changes, routine mechanics visits and smooth, moderately-paced driving.”

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29 Comments on “Defying Stereotypes: The 500,000 Mile 1980 Fiat Brava...”


  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    Whoah! He must of babied this Brava to get it to the 500,000 mark.

    He definitely must have changed the timing belts at each 40,000 mile mark.

  • avatar
    relton

    I saw that many miles and more on my Chevrolet Caprice. And I didn’t have to change any timiong belts.

    Bob

  • avatar
    Stingray

    My mom’s Siena has around 350K kms. The engine started smoking like 5K kms ago.

    Still, a well kept car is capable of that.

    And that 131 looks very nice. What engine does it have? The DOHC 8V 2000 or SOHC 1.6

    Fiat brought the Brava here (last 131 production years) with the 2000 engine. Fast for being a little car.

  • avatar
    thats one fast cat

    How is it possible to go 500,000 miles downhill?

  • avatar
    geozinger

    After reading the original article, I have these observations:

    150 miles A DAY? Man, I hated, HATED it when I had to drive 80 miles a day.

    It sounds like this guy has had the same job for 30+ years. I can’t decide if he’s lucky or cursed.

    It’s been so long since I’ve seen one of those old Brava’s that I’d forgotten what they looked like. When I first saw the headline, I was thinking of the Strada. 30 years with that car WOULD be an achievement of some kind. Additionally, our new car stylists could learn something about sight lines from the Brava.

    I will say, I’m liking FIAT/Alfa Wednesday a lot better than Toyota Tuesday.

  • avatar
    JT

    >>How is it possible to go 500,000 miles downhill?

    Start REALLY high up…

  • avatar
    stuart

    I had four-door example (same year). It was an O.K. car, but the windshield leaked and the seats weren’t very ergonomic (lousy back support). And FIAT jacked up the rear end so the rear bumper would meet height requirements, giving the car a “nose-down” attitude, and compromising the handling. The bumpers were truly massive and awesome.

    It had the two-liter (1.995cc) DOHC, fitted with Bosch EFI and a catalyst. FIAT rated it at 100HP. Not the easiest engine to work on (you set the valves by changing shims), but at least it was reliable and durable.

    The most frustrating thing about the car was the persistent negative front-wheel camber; I think the front spring towers sagged toward each other. The recommended fix was to relocate the strut/wheel (“knuckle?”) mounting holes, requiring welding, and beyond my expertise. Also, the front seats were mounted using flimsy sheet metal boxes spot-welded to the floor; one box on the driver’s side cracked, making the seat rather wobbly. And the parking brake handle pawl broke, but the part was “obsolete” (FIAT-speak for “no longer available), and I wasn’t ambitious enough to fabricate something….

    Blahblahblah. This was all typical of the FIATs imported to the USA at the time: beefy, durable drivelines, flimsy interiors, poor seats, leaky windshields, rusty bodies, unavailable parts.

    Still, it was a reliable and fun car to drive, with a nice clutch and gearbox. Something about driving that car made me always feel like I was in a hurry. :-)

    stuart

  • avatar
    OMG_Shoes

    It reminds me of a cartoon from the New Yorker magazine years ago: the scene is a mountainside high up in the mountains. We see a professorial-looking guy with a clipboard walking next to a simply-dressed, long-haired almost sort of a Sherpa-looking guy, who is saying “We attribute our extreme longevity to a simple diet, plenty of fresh air and exercise, and an inability to count correctly”.

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    “We had a 128, but that isn’t with me anymore.” No doubt it oxidized itself into non-existence like most 128s.

    I think this poor fellow just came up with a new definition of purgatory, 500 grand in a Brown Fiat Brava, and 150 miles a day at that! How bad do you have to be to be cursed with a Brown 1980 Fiat that won’t blow up, burn up or rot to pieces?

    PS; “Tony” as in, “Fix it again, Tony!” It never gets old.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    Congratulations Mr. Cormaci and your mechanic Mr. Morar.

  • avatar
    another_pleb

    Purgatory? That’s a little unfair. Maybe he’s one of those people who grow attached to a car and are willing to forgive it the odd unscheduled visit to the shop.

    Fiats are well known for being surprisingly tough little cars albeit one requiring regular but inexpensive maintenance. As long as you keep on top of the minor problems and have a good supply of spare parts, you can’t really go wrong.

    Scrapping an old, unfashionable but apparently reliable car like that would be a sin.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    I owned a 1974 128SL for a couple years in the early 80s. It was a temperamental Italian beauty that would rust in the morning dew.

    Life in Southern CA is definitely better for a Fiat than the hilly, salty, freezing, pothole-ridden roads of Western Pennsylvania. Congratulations to him.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      I’m from Northeast Ohio, along the border with Western PA. Back in the day, damned near everything rusted, in three years or less (which was your average payment book). AMC’s and FIAT’s were some of the fastest rusting machines I’ve ever seen. GM’s were about the only models that held up well, until the advent of the Vega.

      As for parts, I guess it depends on where you live. In the early ’80′s, I was living in Cleveland, my roomie had a cherry X-1/9 and a really good mechanic who knew where to buy parts for the thing. I think it would be even easier today, with the internet to find parts for any car. The mechanic would be a tougher item to locate, though.

  • avatar
    brettc

    I’m a frugal guy so I understand that he might not like car payments. But I can’t imagine driving the same small car for 30 years with all the safety and performance improvements that have been made since 1980. I hope to get 10-15 years out of my now 8 year old Jetta. Unless VW stops selling new TDIs in the next 2 to 7 years. Then I guess I’ll turn into this guy even though I just said otherwise… But congratulations to Gil and Jamie/Tony.

  • avatar
    Syke

    I remember getting an offer to buy one of those, brand new, zero miles for something like $2000.00 a couple of months after Fiat announced that it was quitting the US. Sombody was clearing out the last of the inventory. I was tempted. I’d already lived with a 1937 Buick as my daily driver previously, so I could certainly deal with what was left of the Fiat parts system. However the (first) wife, not liking automobiles in the slightest, wasn’t thrilled at the idea.

    Probably just as well. I was living in western PA at the time. And would have had to use the car year round.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    For the most part, all of these oddball old European cars are easier to own now than they were when nearly new. I have in my garage a 1969 Saab Sonett, a 1974 Triumph Spitfire, and a 1986 Alfa Romeo Spider. I can get pretty much anything for any of them without much effort (though for the Alfa and the Saab I may not like the price much). Also, I know exactly what the problem areas are and how to fix them, and what needs to be done to ensure reliability. How? The Internet of course! This has made owning old oddball cars infinitely easier. Between owner’s forums, e-mail lists, and The Google, nothing is out of reach. Same with parts – online parts houses and eBay. No need for that mythical “Alfa Specialist who knows where to get parts” anymore. And in many cases, the aftermarket parts are higher quality than the originals.

    Plus, let’s face it, the stuff that made European cars difficult to deal with is now commonplace. Imagine trying to get anything with fuel injection worked on in the sticks 30 years ago. Or front wheel drive. Good luck! But now every mechanic knows and more-or-less understands it. Now the problem is finding someone who can adjust a carb!

    • 0 avatar
      Stingray

      You’re right. I have managed to own a VERY oddball car down here for 4 years by using the interwebz, forumZ and investigating about parts inter changeability.

      On the carb stuff, you can swap in FI (the interwebz again).

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @krhodes,

      I would agree with you 100%, owning an oddball car now would be much easier that it was years ago.

      (humor)Finally! A good use for the internets besides porn! (/humor)

  • avatar

    During the mid-1980′s I briefly owned a 1976 Fiat 128. From the mid-1980′s through the mid-1990′s one of my sisters owned an X-1/9. The 128 was worn out when I got it and spent as much time in the shop as on the road. My sister’s X-1/9 was pretty much trouble free, but rusted to pieces during the decade or so she owned it. Both cars drove and handled nicely, but were underpowered and slow.

    I am impressed that any Fiat from this era would last 30 years and 500k miles. For any make and model there are always a small number of miracle cars that, with proper care and little luck, seem to run forever.

  • avatar
    BuzzDog

    This Fiat probably benefited from how it was driven and the TLC it received. But I also firmly believe that no two vehicles are created equal, even when they roll down the assembly line in sequence.

    In any production run containing hundreds of thousands of vehicles, you’re doubtless going to find a few good – and bad – apples. With this many units involved, it almost becomes a statistical certainty.

    Even if a perfectly reliable reliability survey (if such a thing were possible) were to show that a particular manufacturer’s vehicles are significantly more reliable than any other make, you’re still going to hear occasional stories of someone getting a lemon.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      Quite right. I once owned a 2005 Honda Odyssey that was a lemon from day one. I dumped it as soon as the court case settled. My old Fiat was far better, and cost me a lot less. :(

  • avatar
    oldyak

    Ive owned two fiats. my first was a 124 sport coupe and my last was a 131Brava.Both cars very entertaining to drive and not much trouble to maintain.I remember my 1969 124 sport coupe most because at the time I was driving a car with a 5 speed..4 wheel discs and an engine that would sing all the way to 6500rpm.
    Too many good memories to share…Those were the good times!All kinds of neat cars.Renaults,Puegots,Alfa,Simca..and all the Brits offerings.
    I Dont remember people complaining about the cars…well maybe the ‘new’ generation Volvo that came out around 1970.I cant say that fixing them was a joy…I think it was just a part of the experience.
    People now would rather have a toaster on wheels so they can spend more time on the I-phone……
    Ask yourself..How many Car Enthusiasts have you talked to lately???
    Pretty sad when you think about it.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    Wife wants a replacement for the Neon. Bought it from 2nd owner after a tranny rebuild at 75k miles. He kept it until 124,500. It is nearing 185k and outside of regular oil changes, brakes, rotors (first set after acquiring the car…not sure how old they are…could they be original?) and tires, the thing starts when it’s 10 below (still original battery from when I bought it in 2005….) in Chicago. Color me impressed for a car that everyone hates and says is unreliable. Perhaps we are just lucky? 4 of the 5 years were almost all city miles. The last year has been mostly highway since we moved….I expect it to rust out before engine/tranny die. It is a year 2000 which is the first year after all the head-gasket issues… It still regularly pulls 30-32 mpg @ 80% highway, 20% city mixed driving and the revised epa ratings for it are 22/28.

  • avatar
    shiney2

    The 40k timing belt change on this engine is very easy, like changing the fan belt on most cars. I racked up over 150k on two different Fiat 124 spiders, and found them for the most part very durable and very cheap to fix. Keep changing the timing belts, occasionally adjust the valves, and keep the proper fluids in the axle and gearbox, and mechanically they will run forever.

  • avatar

    My father bought one of these, or the restyled 132m in any case it was a Mirafiori, used, for my mother when we lived in Colombia. Only once do I remeber it being in the shop for something outside of routine maintenance. Kept it thr 4 yrs we lived there. And I remeber it as stylish, different and comfortable. And to have a positive image of Fiat.

    Like many have said on this post, all these cars need are regular preventive maintenance and a new timing belt. With all the advances over the years, the cars are better than ever. Case in point (as mentioned in a previous thread) my own Fiat Palio 2005/2006. I take it to my mechanic every 10 000km, change the oil at 5 000km (needed here ’cause of bad gas) and outside the tyres and brake pads and timing belt, nothing, nothing has gone wrong. And did I mention cheap to keep? The last regular maintenance at 50 000km cost me 60USD. All the mechanic did was change oil, some filters and labor. And gave it another clean bill of health for the next 10 000km. 60 bucks since the last maintenance at 40 000km? I call this a keeper.

  • avatar

    Back in October 1983, I came to the US from Israel for the first time, I was 22 and did not have much money but I wanted to take a road trip in the west coast. A rental was out of the question, I was planning on buying a cheap car, travel with it and sell as soon as I’m done.
    I went to an auction house with a friend and somehow ended up with a Fiat 131 with manual AT, the same like the one pictured here, it was white and had a sunroof for $600. I was stunned, so cheap for such a great car?
    Turn out that the battery was gone, $30, and then I discovered that the clutch is almost at the end of it’s life so I decided that I will drive the car without using the clutch, I mean, except for 1st and reverse, I figured it will last much longer this way, and it did, for almost 10k miles.
    At one point, somewhere near Carmel CA, one of the wheel bearings was gone, it took me 2 days to find a shop that will fix a Fiat and when I did find one, he told me I had to wait 2 days for the part to come, with a bus, I guess they could not pay shipping for UPS?
    At the end, I sold it, it was not easy but I did, for $500!
    It was a great car! I loved it!
    My only other experience with Fiat was the 127, it was OK but not much more, nothing like the 131!

  • avatar
    porschespeed

    Ahh, a Brava and a turbo = what more could one ask for? Really…

    Fiat powerplants were stone-axe reliable for forever, if you changed the oil, and adjusted the valves here and there.

    Pre-Bosch electricals? Not so much, but i digress…

  • avatar
    alessio215

    I really hate anglo americans when they talk about Fiat. and theyr steriotypes!!
    They took it as a menace when fiat came to the states and choosed to apply the commercial crime thing
    because they knew theyr things couldn’t even corner properly and with one hit in the doors they ripped open like empty soda cans those big ugly thirsty fords,
    I am certain that fiat has very strong engines, you can even go home without water or oil in the engine block.
    Never try that with any other brand!
    If mantained properly a fiat can go on forever, just avoid ice melting salt in the winter ad inspect the monocoque underbody regurally.
    adjust valves change spark plugs oil, oil filter and air filter and she will never let you down!
    a 131 handles great and has alot of power to offer (depending on engine up to 150 HP) abarth tuned 250!!

    I will buy me a fiat punto soon and laugh at all anglo amercan stuff when i go with 95 HP en 3,5 liter 100 km
    7 airbags and a reinforced structure around the driver and occupants, what can I ask more?


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