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Celebrating Italy’s Car of the Year winners

Fiat Panda COTY

It’s the awards season and they don’t get much more prestigious than the European Car of the Year title. 

ECOTY was established in 1964 and the voting jury consists of motoring journalists from publications throughout Europe. 

The winning car is announced every year at the Geneva Motor Show and Italy has had more than its fair share of success over the years. 

Winning a total of 12 European Car of the Year trophies, Italy is No 3 in the all-time greatest league, just behind Germany (14) and France (16).

However, Fiat has won a record nine titles. Its nearest rivals are Renault (6) and Ford, Opel and Peugeot (5 each). 

We’ve taken a trip down memory lane to re-visit Italy’s winning cars. Prepare yourself for a few surprises…

Fiat 124 – 1967

The boxy Fiat 124 doesn’t look anything special by today’s standards, but it’s a true people’s car. Affordable, spacious and practical, it won more than twice as many votes as its nearest competitor, the BMW 1600. The pioneering four-wheel drive Jensen FF was third. The 124 was manufactured by Fiat until 1974, but it was also built under licence elsewhere in the world, including India, Spain, Bulgaria, Turkey, Korea and Egypt. Perhaps the best known foreign variant was the Lada Riva which only ceased production in 2012 after some 18 million examples had been sold.

Fiat 128 – 1970

The cute 128 (1969–1985) beat the Autobianchi A112 and Renault 12 to the European Car of the Year title in 1970 – and Fiat became the first manufacturer to complete the double. The Fiat 128 was remarkably spacious given its compact dimensions and more than three million were built. Even Enzo Ferrari drove one as his personal vehicle. Production of licensed models including a pick-up and coupe, continued until 2003 in countries as varied as Argentina, Colombia, South Africa and Sri Lanka. 

Fiat 127 – 1972

Fiat couldn’t have timed the launch of its new supermini, the 127 (1971-), better because the 1973 world oil crisis meant that small, economical cars were in huge demand. The Fiat 127 was one of Europe’s best-selling cars and remained in production until 1983. It beat the Renault 15/17 and Mercedes 350 SL to the 1972 European Car of the Year award.

Lancia Delta – 1980

The Giorgetto Giugiaro styled Lancia Delta hatchback (1979–1999) was launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1979 and went on to beat the Vauxhall Astra and the Peugeot 505 in the 1980 European Car of the Year award. Potent Delta HF 4WD and Integrale versions were to follow and competition cars dominated the World Rally Championship during the late 1980s and early 1990s. 

Fiat Uno – 1984

The popular Fiat Uno (1983–1995) triumphed over another supermini, the Peugeot 205, and VW Golf, in the 1984 European Car of the Year contest – a fourth success for Fiat. It was also licensed to be built globally and the final Uno was manufactured in Brazil as recently as 2013. In all, it’s thought nearly nine million Uno cars were produced. In April 1985 the hot hatch version of the first series Uno – the Uno Turbo i.e. (pictured) – was launched to compete with the likes of the Ford Fiesta XR2, MG Metro Turbo and Peugeot 205 GTI.

Fiat Tipo – 1989

Fiat’s Ford Escort-sized Tipo (1988–1995) was well packaged and said to have more rear passenger room than the bigger Ford Sierra. It beat the Opel/Vauxhall Vectra and VW Passat to the 1989 ECOTY title and Fiat became the first manufacturer to win the award five times. The Tipo was made entirely out of galvanized body panels to avoid rust, and it was replaced by the three-door Fiat Bravo and five-door Fiat Brava in 1995.

Fiat Punto – 1995

Styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro and available as a three/five-door hatchback, a cabriolet or three-door panel van, the Fiat Punto supermini triumphed over the VW Polo and Opel/Vauxhall Omega to win the 1995 European Car of the Year title. Produced over three generations until 2018, the Mk1 was the most popular with nearly 3.5 million examples sold.

Fiat Bravo/Brava – 1996

The three-door Fiat Bravo and five-door Fiat Brava (1995–2001) were replacements for the successful, but ageing Tipo model. The 1996 ECOTY event saw a brand successfully defend its title for the first time when the Bravo/Brava range pipped the Peugeot 406 to the honour, with the Audi A4 in third place. In August 1996, the Bravo/Brava chassis spawned saloon and estate versions, badged Fiat Marea (aimed at Ford Mondeo and Opel/Vauxhall Vectra buyers). Another car based on the Bravo/Brava underpinnings was launched in January 1999 – the awkward Fiat Multipla people carrier. The Bravo/Brava was replaced by the Fiat Stilo in 2001.

Alfa Romeo 156 – 1998

Alfa Romeo’s first European Car of the Year title was a clear victory over the Volkswagen Golf and the Audi A6. The jury praised the pretty Alfa Romeo 156 saloon (also available as a sleek Sportwagon estate) for its “impeccable roadholding”. Actress Catherine Zeta Jones famously starred in the TV commercial for the car which was produced until 2005. A lesser-known 156 Crosswagon was introduced in 2004 and stayed in production until 2007. It was a rugged, four-wheel drive version of the Sportwagon, competing with the likes of the Volvo XC70.

Alfa Romeo 147 – 2001

Three years after its first victory, Alfa Romeo won a second ECOTY in 2001 with the distinctive 147 hatchback (launched in 2000). It beat the Ford Mondeo by just one point, with the pioneering Toyota Prius not far behind. Pretty, with perky engines and fun handling, the 147 was the first Alfa Romeo to have dual zone climate control and electronic traction control. By the time production eventually ceased in 2010, around 580,000 examples had been sold. It was replaced by the Alfa Romeo Giulietta.

Fiat Panda – 2004

The second generation Fiat Panda (launched in 2003) triumphed over the Mazda3 and Volkswagen Golf at the 2004 European Car of the Year contest – the eighth success for Fiat. By winning, it succeeded where  the original iconic Panda (1980–2003), designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, hadn’t. The Mk2 Panda stayed in production until 2012 and more than two million rolled off the production line.

Fiat 500 – 2008

In 2007, on the 50th anniversary of the legendary 500’s launch, Fiat unveiled a new 500. Inspired by the 1957 Nuova 500, its retro looks, clever packaging and fun handling made it an instant hit and it’s still a big seller today. The reborn 500 was the winner of Fiat’s last European Car of the Year award in 2008, beating the Mazda2 and Ford Mondeo. Fiat has won the ECOTY title a record nine titles – more than any other manufacturer (its nearest rival is Renault with six wins).

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