When Fiat decided to replace the famous 124 with the new 131 in 1974, the company probably did not expect to receive much criticism from fans of Italian sports cars.
Although the 131 was a very good car in its time, providing customers with a solid choice of equipment and gasoline and diesel engines,
the company has come under criticism after deciding to start working on a rally sports model known as the Fiat 131 Abarth. Namely, despite the great success on the tracks Fiat was not in a good financial situation, which certainly decided on the racing program.
The Lancia Stratos is one of the most successful rally cars ever made. The company won three out of eight rallies in the 1974 season and won the constructor title, and the same success was repeated in the 1975 season (four wins in ten rallies) and in the 1976 season (four wins in ten rallies,
including the top three in the Monte Carlo and Sanremo rally in Italy).
Fans of Italian sports cars believed that Stratos was on the rise and could win for years, but in order to have the finances for 131, Abarth Fiat decided to shut down the Lancia Stratos. However,
Unlike the Stratos, whose plan was to be a rally car from the start, the Fiat 131 was considered a family car without some sporting plans.
The company soon realized the potential of this car and decided to build a rally car in collaboration with Abarth. In 1976, 500 series homologation examples were made, and under the hood was a 2.0L 16v I4 direct injection engine that developed 138 hp. No less impressive was the modern (for this period) suspension,
originating from Model 124 Spider Abarth.
The racing models were different from the standard models and their power was 212 hp. The development of 131 Abarth was due to Cesare Fiorio and the team worked hard to build a successful rally car. 131 made his WRC debut in the 1976 season, but did not have some overwhelming success.
Driver Markku Allen managed to win the Finnish Rally, but besides that the company could not boast some results and in the constructors race finished in seventh place, with as much as 80 points behind champion Lancia.
However, the situation is slowly changing in the 1977 season. Markku Allen was still the first driver of the team, including Fulvio Bacchelli, Jean Claude Andruet and Bernard Darniche. The battle for leadership between Fiat and Ford has been fought since day one. In 11 rallies, Fiat managed to win five while Ford recorded one win less.
Before the last rally of the season in the UK, Fiat had 16 points of advantage, and despite Ford winning first and third place, it managed to maintain four points of advantage and win the first constructor title.
The 1977 season was also the first WRC season where drivers were vying for the title, with Fiat driver Bernard Darniche finishing third,
behind champions Sandro Munari (Lancia Stratos HF) and Bjorn Waldegard (Ford Escort RS1800).
The next 1978 season brought as many as 18 rallies, and this time Fiat and Ford joined Opel in the battle for the top. Fiat won the constructor title again, this time with a huge 34 points advantage over Ford and Opel while 131 Abarth driver Markku Allen won the driver’s title. The Fiat 131 Abarth won seven of 18 rally rides.
The 1979 season was one of the more interesting. Datuson with the new Model 160J joined the top team. The season had 12 rallies, but Fiat managed to record only one win in Finland. Ford was able to win the constructor and driver title (Bjorn Waldegard) while Fiat had to settle for third place.
The best-placed Fiat driver was Markku Allen in third place.
The same teams fought for the top in the 1980 season. In 12 rallies Fiat won five and once again walked to the title of constructor, the last for the Italian giant.
Fiat driver Walker Rohri won the driver’s title, which is also the last time a Fiat driver has been a champion.
In 1981 season 131, Abarth achieved one victory (Portugal), but finished only sixth in the constructors’ event, which meant the end of the model’s success on the rally.
In the 1983 season Fiat finishes convincingly last (18th) place which was also the last year of the company in the WRC Championship.