Fiat 147 - first ethanol-fueled car

​"Everyone wanted the alcohol-fueled car to work"


40 years ago the world's first ethanol-fueled car hit the streets of Brazil and was very well received by opinion makers

July 26, 2019 - As it should be, the launch of the ethanol-fueled Fiat 147 had great repercussion in the specialized press. After all, the first car produced by the Italian brand in Brazil placed the country under the limelight worldwide, exactly 40 years ago, as the first car manufactured in series with an ethanol-fueled engine. “There was a great expectation around it, because it was a vehicle powered by a non-oil-dependent fuel”, says journalist Emilio Camanzi, then executive editor of Quatro Rodas magazine. “We all really wanted it to work.”

“When we got the car for testing in the newsroom, everyone gathered around it full of curiosity: 'how does it work?', 'And the cold start in the morning?', 'Will the engine be reliable?' ... we wanted the answers”. After the first contact with the hatch, Camanzi recalls that two characteristics caught the attention of journalists. “The performance of the 1.3 alcohol-fueled engine was very good, but the consumption was high. The low price of ethanol compared to gasoline outweighed this negative point , but still its autonomy with alcohol was low”.

A journalist and engineer, Boris Feldman was working for the Jornal de Casa from the Diário do Comércio, from Belo Horizonte, when the ethanol-fueled Fiat 147 was launched. “The pioneer launch was very weird, because the technology was still rudimentary. Fiat's engineering and press people couldn't hide their nervousness because the car’s alcohol consumption was high. But that couldn't be seen on a test drive at that time. The real problem was in starting the engine on colder days, with the temperature below 15ºC ”.

Even after 40 years, Feldman still remembers some details of the launch. “The engineers who were present got tired of explaining that there was a small button on the dashboard of the car to pump gas into the tank”, he says, referring to the system that injected the intake manifold with enough gas to start the engine in low temperatures. "But the launch was a success, the cars ran smoothly, with no hiccups", recalls the journalist.

Another veteran of the Brazilian automotive press, Fernando Calmon also has fond memories of his reports on the ethanol-fueled 147. “I used to work for Autoesporte magazine in 1979. I see to this day as a big plus the fact that Fiat was the first manufacturer to approve the ethanol engine, because it reassured consumers that automakers were dedicated to fighting the oil crisis”, he reinforces.

“As for the ethanol-fueled 147, the impressions at the time were more positive than negative. The engine ran very well, which gave it agility, but with higher consumption compared to gasoline. But it was more worthwhile to fill up with alcohol because of its very low price”, recalls Calmon.

Edition of Quatro Rodas magazine of the time, which tested the vehicle.Edition of Quatro Rodas magazine of the time, which tested the vehicle.

The Fiat 147's first super test with alcohol

In October 1979, Quatro Rodas magazine published a supplement that featured the ethanol-fueled Fiat 147 as one of the protagonists. Titled “The Alcohol-fueled Engine Test”, the edition marked the first tests by the press done with the hatch in a long, closed circuit.

A team of 181 people was mobilized for a super test featuring two Fiat 147 and two Volkswagen Passat fueled with alcohol. The test was spread over two weeks, speeding uninterruptedly on the old Interlagos racetrack in São Paulo, which resulted in 112,049 kilometers driven. “We had a hard time organizing this special agenda, but the results were very good. Our intention was to show readers that the alcohol-fueled vehicle was reliable”, says Emilio Camanzi, author of the story.

Throughout the report, Quatro Rodas called the marathon "the biggest test ever done by the magazine." “It spent 360 hours with the cars running nonstop, day and night, under the supervision of the magazine's technical team. I remember that the average consumption of 147 was satisfactory, considering the conditions of the test”, recalls the journalist.

According to the magazine, the Fiat 147, which featured the number 2 on its body, averaged 10.9 km/l of alcohol while number 6 did 10.4 km/l. Also according to the publication, the vehicles withstood quite well the 15 days of track activity and had no serious engine problems.

At the end of the article, the ethanol-powered 147 was given the following verdict: Fiat’s alcohol engines have already been proven to be reliable at this stage of their development. We now have to wait for the necessary steps to make sure there is alcohol for everyone”.

The Fiat 147

Automotive Press Museum

Those who are passionate about cars can check out the periodical reports written on the ethanol-fueled Fiat 147 in at the Miau in São Paulo (Museum of the Automotive Press), created by journalist Marcos Rozen. Visitors will even find rare press releases for the launch of the 147 in Brazil in 1976. “The typewriter given to the journalists who covered the event is on display here, along with the car’s news release”, says Rozen.

The space that preserves the valued collection of more than ten thousand items - including images, publications, advertising campaigns and all kinds of material related to the automotive press - is open for weekend visits and tickets cost R$ 15. The address and more information about the Miau can be found at www.miaumuseu.com.br.


Words: Leandro Alvares

Pictures: Reproduction / Marketing

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