UK CAR Road Test
God how I hated that car! Small, puny and tinny. A motorised shopping trolley with suspension that bottomed out when loaded with four medium adults and an extras list that didn't even run to a fag lighter.
So why the hell did we buy it? Well, a double dose of scumbag car-thief treatment left us with no no-claims bonus and an aversion to paying a grand or more for the pleasure of insurance. Our only alternative was to look for cars that were cheap to insure.
There isn't that much choice in the Group 1 and 2 categories. We were left to choose between the Uno, a Mini or a 2CV. I love Minis but they're just too small for our needs and, quite frankly, I would not be seen dead in a 2CV, no matter how skint I was! So the Uno arrived and I hated it straightaway. It had to go as soon as possible!
Well, now it has gone. It's just that it took six years and 80 odd thousand miles of pleasureless motoring before we got round to getting rid of it. The damn thing was just too reliable and when it did break, the replacement parts were just too bloody cheap.
Its total parts replacement, apart from the usual consumables, came to a grand total of two exhausts £55, clutch £70, a water pump £20, two front discs £20, one hand brake cable £10, two fuel pumps £10 and some rear light clusters £10 all from the scrappies.
It did have it's little foibles mind. The first set of points lasted three years before I even found out it had any. Subsequent sets have lasted about three months and never any longer. Strange indeed!
The wiring on all Unos seems to be made out of some kind of spaghetti and put together by Gianfranco on a Friday afternoon after too much vino. If you buy an Uno you must get a wiring diagram and a circuit tester and be prepared to learn or else your local auto electrician will soon be on first name terms with you and will be able to recite your credit card number from memory. Rear light clusters tend to burn out the connectors - I was lucky enough to find a set on a relatively new front end write-off. Finding a good set at the scrap yard will become increasingly difficult as the now defunct model gets even older. Don't worry if the lights seem dim when working, just be glad they come on at all.
Ours also had a less than amusing tendency to block up its top breather, resulting in back pressure blowing out the dipstick and spewing out oil at an amazing rate, some of which finds its way onto the exhaust resulting in smoke constantly blowing out from under the bonnet. This meant though, that the under body never suffered from the infamous Italian rust worm. It didn't help the firewall sound proofing mind, which soaked up the excess for a couple of years before spontaneously combusting on the motorway one morning. After forcing my way panic stricken (with flames billowing out from under the bonnet) across two lanes of rush hour traffic filled with commuters who would rather see my flaming car and me burn than let me in a gap and onto the hard shoulder, I ripped out the sound proofing and threw it into the adjacent field still burning. I had to replace the plastic water bottle, washer pipes, motor and nozzle (£5 - scrappies again!) but I didn't bother with the sound proofing and just put up with the extra couple of decibels for the next three years.
The fuel pump on these models is an example of mechanical simplicity, shame, then, that they give up the ghost without warning every couple of years and can't be repaired!
The only extra on this car was a sunroof which let the sun in adequately but never quite managed to keep the rain out and a pair of plastic bags were always kept handy to keep the rain off the seats when parked.
The only other minor niggle was with the rear brake pressure regulator - the damn spring was so tough it wore out the mounting arm and lead to brake problems when towing.
Towing? - I kid you not! Ours pulled a trailer tent (and not a small one at that). 'A' roads and motorways weren't too traumatic but somewhat slow going up the slightest of inclines. A trip up some Pennine 1:3 country lanes probably accounted for the clutch failure, though! Fully loaded up with trailer, two mountain bikes, two large dogs and a boot full of gear, it always got us there and back wherever we went (though I did spend most of the trip praying).
Unos have a strangely tall, square body which means that they are surprisingly roomy inside, allowing you to stuff loads of gear in the back. Folding down the rear bench lets an amazing amount of junk to be squeezed in. For its size it's almost tardis-like. This does mean that the driving position is oddly van-like and upright but the steering and controls are the complete opposite - light, delicate and precise, except the gear lever which is similar to moving a cocktail stick in cotton wool!
The plastic wheel trims are tacky and tend to break when you take the wheels off but the wheels look better without them so chuck them in a skip and do without the hassle. Tyres wear out surprisingly quickly but are so small that replacements are dead cheap any way (providing you avoid big name "tyre/exhaust/clutch" type outlets).
Handling is quite good in a sort of bouncy underpowered way but nowhere near as much of a giggle as a Mini. To get into serious trouble (in the 45 S version at least) you would need to be rather short of a few marbles upstairs.
The same can't be said for its towering performance. Overtaking flat caps on a Sunday outing needed lots of patience as you waited for a gap large enough to wind the sewing machine up, with not much in reserve if you got it wrong! Luckily, the brakes were always sharp and predictable.
Fuel economy was always reasonable without ever being startling - 40mpg being about average, irrelevant of how you drove it or how heavily you loaded it.
So, now that it's gone, maybe I should look back in fondness at a cheap and reliable car which really should have been a second car to take the wife shopping or drop the kids off at school (which it would have done with aplomb). Instead it was abused mercilessly but, thing is, I still really hate it - the most reliable car I ever had and I detest it with a passion.
If you want a cheap, reliable, easy to fix run-around and you look at cars with your head and not your heart, then this could be the one for you - and just for an added bonus - nobody EVER wants to nick one!
PS. An Uno 60 S with 5 speed box would be just spanking.
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