He’s a speed enthusiast who works at a supercharger engineering company, so you might assume that Gil Cormaci rips around in a tricked-out muscle car, leaving fellow motorists trailing in his dust. The last thing you'd expect him to drive is a sharp-angled, somewhat shabby 1980 Fiat Brava. A brown one.
??But like Cormaci, this Brava is a little out of the ordinary. The diminutive two-door sedan has clocked over 500,000 miles since Fiat enthusiast Cormaci bought it new in 1980. It's been his "labor of love," he told AOL Autos.
??"Half a million miles is quite a milestone for any car -- let alone a Fiat," said Cormaci, acknowledging the old joke that that Fiat is an acronym for “Fix It Again, Tony.” (Fiat actually is an acronym, for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino.)
The obvious question is how on earth has he coaxed the Fiat into such extended service while using it to commute more than 70 miles each day on Southern California freeways, from La Canada to Ventura County.
?"I try to limit my speed,” says Cormaci. “The drive to Oxnard is 70 miles but I don't have traffic. I drive on freeways in the right lane. I don't like to go above 65 miles per hour. It's frustrating sometimes because people that are behind me don't like to be behind me."
??Cormaci's love affair with Fiat began in March 1969 when his dad picked him up after work in a sky blue 124 Sport Coupe with four-spoke, American Racing Libra mag wheels. Cormaci still owns that car, which is undergoing restoration with 175,000 miles on its odometer. Then he briefly owned a 1976 Fiat 128, but that was sold to buy the Brava in 1980. Cormaci spent about $8,000, or just over $20,000 today if you adjust for inflation. Of course the Fiat dealerships that this cars were purchased from have long since disappeared.?
The Brava, badged as the Fiat 131 in the rest of the world, was designed to replace the 124. It debuted in 1974 at the automaker’s hometown Turin Motor Show. Eventually, some 1.5 million 131’s were build over a decade-long production run. A front-mounted, four-cylinder engine drives the 131’s rear wheels, a rather conventional layout for its era. Despite its unassuming demeanor, the car boasts a rather lengthy racing pedigree including World Rally Championship victories in 1977, 1978 and 1980. Cormaci's second-generation Brava was fitted with a 2.0-liter, twin-cam, fuel-injected engine mated to a three-speed automatic transmission, factory air conditioning, a sliding steel sun roof and “marron” brown paint with a tan vinyl interior.
At 230,000 miles, Cormaci replaced the three-speed automatic transmission with a factory five-speed manual. He attributes this change as the key to reaching the half-million mile club, as it significantly lowered engine speed on the highway. For added curb appeal, he also fitted the car with a set of Speedline Iron Cross alloy wheels that were optional in 1980.
??Cormaci says changing the oil every 3,000 miles and using 30-weight oil is the other secret to the car's longevity. But Fiat engineering also had a lot to do with it. "It's quite a testament to the people at Fiat that the engine is pretty much indestructible,” he says.
??The Brava still has much of its original motor, interior and trim. Many Fiats suffered from rust problems in the 1980s due to the use of inferior Russian steel for their bodywork, which contributed to the brand poor reputation in the U.S. and eventually the marque’s departure from our market. Cormaci confirms that his Brava suffers from more rust-related problems than the older 124 Coupe.
The chestnut-hued paint on his Brava, however, has held up surprisingly well. The Brava's monocoque shell is wrapped in acrylic lacquer on top of non-metallic paint that's very similar to the Porsche brown from the 1980s. "There are very few brown cars on the road today. The paint still shines when I buff it," says Cormaci.
????Fiat's small cars are set to soon return to the U.S. and Cormaci, ever the enthusiast, says he's looking forward to the new generation. But the big question remains: Why doesn't this supercharger engineer drive something with more muscle? “It's a particular feeling you get driving European cars," he says. "They've got soul.”