An ethanol-fueled Fiat 147

​40 years later, the world's first ethanol-fueled car accelerates again at Fiat

The number one ethanol-fueled Fiat 147 model is virtually original and returns to the Fiat factory 40 years after its production

July 5, 2019 - Exactly 40 years ago, Fiat made history by launching the world's first ethanol-fueled car made in series in Brazil. Dubbed "Cachacinha" (a sugar-cane spirit) because of the characteristic odor emitted by the exhaust, the ethanol-fueled Fiat 147 symbolized an important milestone for Brazilian automotive engineering, which on July 5, 1979 geared towards the development of technologies in favor of more efficient and less polluting vehicles, a path that is today more valid than ever.

To celebrate the four decade anniversary, nothing better than to see the first unit of ethanol-fueled 147s accelerating again at the factory’s test track in Betim (Minas Gerais), just as it did 40 years ago, as if it had just rolled out of the production line . The rare specimen - which came to be sold to the Ministry of Finance at the time - returned home and accelerated again in Betim at the Fiat test track. And best of all, without any kind of restoration. "It's exciting to see this car up close, not only because of the importance of actually being the first Fiat 147 to use ethanol but also because it’s working perfectly with all the original vintage elements, such as cold start and choke, the preserved red engine cap and the original paint and, of course, some dents on the door", points out Robson Cotta, FCA's Experimental Engineering Manager for Latin America.

The plate on the dashboardThe plate on the dashboard is another historical moment.

"We did, of course, the maintenance on some components, because it’s a 40-year-old car, but there were very few", says Ricardo Dilser, manager of FCA Product Press. "New tires, fuel tank and fuel pump, filters, spark plugs, brake fluid and the radiator. We also polished the body, cleaned the carburetor and adjusted the engine", he explains.

For Dilser, the excellent state of preservation of the first ethanol-fueled 147 confirms the robustness of Fiat cars. "This car is so well preserved that even the classic tambourine sound [emitted when tapping a part of the body between the hood and the doors] is delightful to the ear. In 99% of the existing 147s, the tambourine no longer makes that sound", he points out.

Fiat 147, detail

Equipped with a 1.3-liter engine of 62 bhp and a four-speed manual gearbox, the Fiat 147 used to appeal to drivers because of its smooth running and good performance at the time. These characteristics, according to Cotta, who had the privilege of driving the rare specimen on the Fiat test track, are still noticeable. "This car preserves its good performance characteristics. Accelerations and restarts are pleasant and there is no difficulty in keeping up with the pace of more modern vehicles."

Emotions were running high after driving the ethanol-fueled 147 forty years after its launch. "Driving it is very exciting, because it goes back to the time when I worked on the development of ethanol cars, and it’s an opportunity to demonstrate and remember all the moments we spent and all the work we did," says Cotta.

Working for Fiat since the early 1980s, Cotta has many reasons to fondly remember the "Cachacinha". "My very first brand new vehicle was an ethanol fueled Fiat 147. Therefore, to see this car in 2019 brings back very fond memories both from the personal as well as the professional point of view, because of the challenges we faced to develop and make ethanol-fueled automobiles work in Brazil. Not only did it work, but it proved to be a winning technology", he declares.

Special Series

As a tribute to the 40th anniversary of Fiat's pioneering spirit with the launch of the world's first ethanol-fueled car, we will publish in the next few weeks other reports on the development of this 147, its repercussion within the specialized media and the new technologies developed from 1979 to our current days. Don’t miss it!

Words: Leandro Alvares

Pictures: Studio Cerri / FCA Release

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