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Used Car Reviews – 1995 Fiat Tempra STW: Solution, Temporary Wagon?

Antti Kautonen January 24, 2014 Fiat Reviews, Finnish Line, Used Car Reviews 39 Comments


It seems I’m dealing with themes of loss and alienation recently. No, it’s nothing of a too-personal matter, or something to do with the well-being of anyone human: no, we’re on a perfectly machine-related level here. My last posts dabbled with the logistics of selling my daily driver and coping with it: as of last night, I’m rendered laptopless. Laptop-less, not lap-topless. This here thing I’m using is my GF’s MBP, and I have to remain SFW.

The current understanding is that for some reason my HD is out of touch, floating inside the aluminum Apple shell and completely unreachable. I took my ailing MBP to the reseller where I got it, and it’s up to the warranty to bring it back to me none the worse for wear. Of course, some of my photo work is at stake since despite taking back-up measures with all my previous Apple products, this one had to survive on its own devices for slacktivistic reasons. But as 99% of my photos are already posted here, with a good bulk safely clouded over at Dropbox, I’m not super-bummed. Life happens, time to charge the camera and shoot more.

But this is only one of the current events closely related to change in my life. We’re also moving apartment in the near future, which means I could very well use a vehicle that would be capable of moving long, unwieldy objects like sofas and disassembled bookcases. Even if I already got my 205 back and it’s in rude fighting health, folding the rear seat won’t give me cavernous loadspace, no matter how box-shaped the car in fact is. Enter the wagon consideration, a first in my life. Enter the Fiat Tempura.

The 1990s Fiat Tempra is based on the Italian Type Three automotive floorpan, its siblings the Alfa Romeo 155 and the Lancia Dedra. But as the only one of those three, it came – in some versions – with an absolutely fantastic-looking, architectural digital dashboard. In addition to the rear bumper folding down to enable longer objects, it’s the most definitive selling point of the car. I love it.

This 1995 car is for sale at a local dealer, who has originally owned it over ten years ago himself as a daily driver. I dislike the fact it’s still on the same cambelt as in 2002, but it hasn’t done too many kilometres since then; 156k vs 92k. It’s a tidy specimen of an already thinning herd of large Italian cars; it’s roughly 850 wagon-sized and also a front-driver.

We awakened the Tempra from amidst the fallen snow. It started without complaints, first try, but the locks were well and truly frozen. The temprature also manifested itself as a host of creaks around the interior, but I was definitely pleased to find the car handling composedly around the flowing-cornered section of back road that I so eagerly visited with the Accord. Tire roar from the good-looking Goodyears was enormous, but the studs kept it pointing in the right direction.

Don’t get me wrong, it showed its bulk as I whisked it around, but it’s no barge and it didn’t topple. Granted, it was no low-to-the-ground Honda either, but it wasn’t strictly business only by all means.

It’s not the ideal Tempra, of course. That would be the 2.0-litre version with Alcantara-esque seats and sometimes four-wheel drive – but this 1.6-litre version didn’t feel short on the go. Despite only having 90hp on tap when new, it felt brisker than my departed 518i did with 115. And it has to be said the steering was more awake on the centre section. And the digi dash worked exactly as I had hoped – flicker free and true to my ’80s-addled soul.

Roaming through the woods, my progress was soon hindered by a slowly-moving Peugeot 607. I did a 180° and headed back to the dealer. Rummaging through the Tempra’s boot, looking for unpleasantness and finding barely any, I was joined by Pertti, the Rover driver – he had been gently test-driving the blue 607 also for sale and noticed a fast-approaching Tempra in his rear-view. As I had mentioned the Fiat to him earlier this week, he knew I was out experiencing the Italian white elephant if was happy to find almost rust free.

And it was in his presence that I asked for the final price: 1400 euros, haggled down from 1590. That is way too high for a Tempra, even one as nice as this, as they usually move for 500-700 eur. It was on the wrong side of a grand, and wouldn’t come down. Even if I’d have to do the belt, change the cam cover gasket and source some summer tires to replace the ones reportedly stolen from the Fiat’s trunk one night. And they were practically new – of course they would be, wouldn’t they?

I left the Tempra there, on friendly terms, hoping for the price to be sliced in the weeks to come. It’s not a bad car, just wrongly priced, and one I could actually want to live with. On the Lidl parking lot I met an acquaintance with a blue Xantia 2.0i 16v wagon he’s eager to sell for cheap. At 315k km it’s done a lot of driving and bears a couple of electro-gremlins, but it’s been kept in decent shape and away from rust, with recent enough suspension spheres and a guarantee of a near-future MOT. If it passes, and is available for the “few hundred” he spoke of, I’d be happy to sample it a little bit closer. It could be my beater Cit to haul the complicated bits.

[Images: Copyright 2014 Antti Kautonen except those noted Nettiauto.com, tampered lead photo Fiat. Yes, that punsome typo up there was intended]

  • Their asking price seems really reasonable for the car you've pictured and described. In U.S. terms, this is a clean, distinctive car with 97,000 miles for about $1900 — what am I not getting here? I'd be clamoring for them to take my money.

    • wisc47

      When looking for hypothetical cars/motorcycles for sale in the UK to run the Mongol Rally with today I notice that the used market in Europe seems to be on the whole, less expensive than the US but I have no reason as to why.

      • Sjalabais

        Mongol Rally? The one that gives free entrances to fire trucks, ambulances and such if you leave the car at your destination?

        Cheap EU cars: Very high taxes on polluting older cars maybe? That broke the neck of a lot of nice 80s and 90s cars in Germany at least.

        • wisc47

          I think they've hanged the rules. They have a new policy that no cars are to be left in Mongolia because I guess they don't need them anymore. It's why they changed the displacement requirement back to 1 litre or less, because they only changed it to 1.3 for the purpose of donating the cars afterwards. I don't know if the same is for service vehicles like that, though.

          • Manic_King

            Wow, there's quite a many similar events, something for my bucket list. …

    • Perc

      In most of Europe, FIATs of this size are white noise. They are also known as reliability nightmares. Usually by people who haven't ever been near one.

      They're really only known and appreciated for small cars like the Punto.

      • mike

        Which is a shame, because fiats from that era, while far from perfect, could take a lot of abuse and were usually dirt cheap to mantain (at least the base models and the diesels).
        As to this one, while i can't comment on the price, it seems a good car, considering they made about a million of them, some parts/body panels are interchangeable with the even-more-produced tipo, the 1.6 was the most common engine, It has multipoint fuel injection (earlier tempras had a carb) and it's fully galvanized.

        • Sjalabais

          Wait..it's fully galvanized? So rust is not a common issue with these? How does the rest hold up, especially electronics?

          • HSA❄

            I'm not 100% sure of Fiats, but Tempra's sibling Lancia Dedra was completely galvanized. Mine showed absolutely no rust at the age of 9 when I sold it. The rest then… The only electrical related problem was the fuel gauge that refused to go below 1/4 tank. Maybe the float was stuck or something, so not really electrical. A common nuisance were the doors that refused either to open or to stay closed in the winter. I first tried to repair the mechanism: a futile attempt, but worked for some time. Then I got it replaced for the nice price of 900 FIM (maybe $200 or so). The new one lasted until the next January. Another issue were the rear brakes. Mine was the base model with drums, so this should not be a problem with bigger engines that come with disc brakes in all corners.

            • Sjalabais

              Doesn't sound all terrifying. A quality stamp for a Fiat, I guess. 🙂

              • HSA❄

                On the positive side, definitely. Two years after selling the Dedra I totalled my next car and thought about buying some crapcan with a price tag of no more than 1.500 eur to drive while looking for the next "real" car. The first car that popped out in this search was incidentally Tempra. Not that it was crapcan-ish at all, but because relatively decent Tempras were available at 2 grands, or 3 at most (can't remember exact prices, sorry). Considering that this took place in 2003, it looks like Tempras have similar price tags as 10-11 years ago.
                The same continues: the last time I was searching a similar "temporary" car, the Fiat Stilo seemed to command ridiculously low prices compared to any other cars of the same age. Reading the owner's stories it looks like the only real problems are some tedious-to-replace bushings in the rear axle (in the wagon only, IIRC) and the manual transmission mated to the 1.6 litre engine.

                • Sjalabais

                  That touches the main nerve of what makes buying a new used car so hard for me: Invest into a renown reliable car at very high prices, or trust a prejudiced underdog like a Fiat to do the job well enough – and cheaply. It's a conundrum.

          • Manic_King

            Top Gear review, sedan at least is galvanized, wagon probably too.

    • Vairship

      I'd be clamoring for the wood siding…

  • wisc47

    Sweet ride, love the digital dash. It'd be better to hold out for a 2.0 litre, anyway. The Fiat twin cam is a riot, though it heats up pretty easily.

    • My dad had a Tipo with the same or similar dash and quite possibly the same 1.6L. It was a really nice car to drive, in fact the car I learned to drive in.

      • wisc47

        Was the 1.6 a double cam as well?

  • Sjalabais

    It looks very decent for a Fiat its age. I'd also agree that the dashboard is funktastic, indeed. But is 1400€ really too much? A lot of well-conserved, weird car for the buck.

    But..one thing only…aren't Fiats being hauled rather than hauling something themselves? Just asking what needed to be asked.

    • wisc47

      My car has been pretty trustworthy, though I'm not sure I could say the same if I used it daily and for long distances. Sometimes I think about going on a long road trip with it but chalk that up to false confidence.

      • Sjalabais

        What kind of Tempra is it? The only thing i attach to the Tempra nameplate is fires. What kind of engine was that again? Also, any 1400€ car might come with some issues. That said, a weirdo classic like this, without much of an audience, might be very good at this price point.

        • wisc47

          It's not a Tempra, it's a 124, but Fiat used the same 2.0 litre, fuel injection twin cam in both cars, I'm not sure what changes they might have made.

    • I just can't pay double the usual price and have trouble selling it for 500.

      • Sjalabais

        Isn't it double as good as the usual, too? Just the fact that there appears to be little to no rust – it's a Fiat unicorn. But I'm possibly messed up by Norwegian prices. 1400€ rarely buys a running car here.

  • TurboBrick

    It's a trap! Do we need to have the "Our family had a Tipo and it was a piece of crap because…" Redusernab group therapy session again?

    • Manic_King

      Could ex Lancia Prisma owners join? Please.

  • Bren

    Follow me on this, there was a 165bhp Tempra Turbo … and then the successor was called Bravo / Brava / Marea SW , this MereaSW had a 5cyl 182bhp Turbo in the Brazilian market … so who's laughing now !!

  • Manic_King

    Who has written wiki for this car, Borat?
    "The first issue to be reported was some water ingress through the windscreen seals, an issue that previously plagued some other Fiat vehicles, especially Alfa 33, which in rainy conditions would carry a significant quantity of water on board." and "Other qualities were the strength and reliability of the mechanics, thanks to the engine that could be used in urban drive, extra-urban and highways." –

    • Rover1

      Reading that Wiki reveals it as the direct ancestor of the new Dodge Dart .

  • Manic_King

    Buying an car just for moving seems like an overkill, no? Wouldn't your friend loan his Xantia or swap for a couple of days with 205 ( and some beer)? Xantia probably has hitch so some of the furniture would go to trailer.

    • Nah, loaners are boring. I prefer to commit. And there are a lot of uses for a beater Xantia wagon.

      • HSA❄

        Any reason is good enough to buy a used car.
        How is the clutch in the Xantia? Replacing it is reportedly a true nightmare. Strange, as in the Pug 406 it's not worse than in any typical FWD car, and these two cars share a lot of mechanicals.
        BTW, the Lancia Dedra was also available with a digital dash. Unfortunately the Dedra SW was never sold here.

        • Ah, thanks for the info. I haven't driven the Xantia yet, but have sampled some earlier.

          • Sjalabais

            I non-committedly borrowed a Xantia for a 800km roundtrip once. Very pleasant ride. One thing that disappointed me though: I thought one could lift the car up into the highest position and enjoy a smooth ride on ugly gravel roads, with lots of clearance. Instead, lifting the car above normal driving height will result in a harsh ride, much like in an unloaded pickup.

            • TurboBrick

              That's probably why the manual advises you to keep the cruising altitude set between the fairly narrow area indicated by the two lines next to the lever.

              • Sjalabais

                Learned that, too, yes. Would have been a cool feature to be able to lift tge car that high for actual driving though.

  • I know somebody who had a Tempra.

    It was a bit battered so we called it the Tempura.

  • Vavon

    The best feature of the Tempra SW is its fold-down rear-bumper… Good idea, seldom seen.

    <img src=";

    • Sjalabais

      Very smart indeed. Shows some commitment to improvement that I really applaud for. Probably also a #1 spot for dust and salt slush to accumulate?

  • dukeisduke

    Since it's got an electronic dash, does it have an English/Metric switch for the speedo and odo?