We take to the road in a rare survivor – a CVT-equipped Fiat Uno Selecta in wonderfully preserved condition

Words and images: Jack Grover

The Fiat Uno had big shoes to fill as the successor to the Fiat 127 – the car that defined the entire supermini genre. Less of a bombshell in conceptual terms than the 127, the Uno none the less provided the template for the ‘second generation’ of superminis for the 1980s and was certainly a yardstick by which other entrants in the sector were judged. Locked in a battle with the Peugeot 205 (which the Uno narrowly beat to claim the 1984 European Car of the Year award), the Fiat also competed against the Mk2 Ford Fiesta, the original Nissan Micra and the Vauxhall Nova.

It was something of a hit in the UK, with sales gathering pace throughout the 1980s and peaking in 1988 with over 40,000 sold. The next year saw a facelift with the Uno gaining a new, lower-profile front end and a more conventional dashboard, dispensing with the Citroën-style ergonomic switch pods either side of the instruments for smarter but less handy controls.

With its simplicity of operation and ability to provide the perfect ratio for any purpose at any time, the Continuously Variable Transmission should be ideal for many car users. But while the CVT has found a home in scooters, quad bikes, snowmobiles, lathes and pillar drills it has struggled for acceptance in cars. Famously DAF made it’s ‘rubber band’ Variomatic transmission its hallmark, and Subaru, Mercedes, Ford and Rover have also adopted it at different times. But the only other manufacturer to make the CVT stick (as it were) has been Toyota which uses it to this day in its hybrid drive vehicles to seamlessly blend internal combustion and electrical power.

Fiat was another to give CVT a good go. In the 1980s the development of high-strength steel chain belts promised better refinement and durability than the traditional rubber belts, and Fiat was one of several firms to license the technology from DAF at the time. The Italian firm branded its CVT system as ‘Selecta’ and thus we have this Fiat Uno 60 Selecta.

From the days of the early DAFs, the CVT had obvious appeal to those who wanted to make the driving process as simple and as automated as possible and so attracted an older-than-average demographic. Such was the case with this Uno, which was supplied by a Fiat dealership in London to a couple seeing out their final decade on the road. Having amassed just 30,000 miles, the Uno was purchased by Stone Cold Classics in an estate sale. This means that the history is a little patchy, although it does have invoices to show it was regularly serviced (with minimal use in between) from 2008 to 2017, and 20 MoT certificates back to 1999 prove the mileage. Stone Cold has fitted a new set of Toyo tyres, a new timing belt, changed the coolant and fitted a new battery and exhaust.

In truly excellent condition throughout (right down to unmarked and unworn pedal rubbers), the Uno still has its original Grundig radio/cassette – a desirable optional extra on a basic Uno along with the manual sunroof. All the windows are etched with the number plate, hailing from the era when car theft was a major national concern.

The 1.1-litre FIRE engine starts easily but has a very brisk idle when cold, even when the flap-like choke control has been juggled with. The Selecta CVT copes with this very well, taking up drive with none of the jerking or clonking that a traditional automatic might when the lever is slotted into ‘D’, then running smoothly and quietly. The FIRE engine is famously free-revving, and it zings up and down the lower-mid part of its rev range, being converted into bursts of torque by the CVT.

An advantage of the CVT is it can carry very high gear ratios for efficient cruising, since it can quickly and seamlessly shorten the gearing if needed. The Selecta thrums along nicely at 40mph or so at little more than high idle – something the engine no longer carried by itself once it warmed up. In other respects, the Uno feels pert and responsive to drive, with no suggestion of any ‘bagginess’ or wear from the running gear. Despite the typically ‘budget Italian’ low-rent look and feel of much of the interior plastics, the low mileage of this car means that there are very few rattles from the interior.

Fiat Uno Selecta: our verdict

A sub-1.2-litre engine and a CVT is not the combination that driving thrills are made of. But it does have a lot of charm. The Uno was a world beater in its day but is now a rarity. A Selecta model is even rarer and one in this condition is rarer still. This one would be best used as an economical summer runabout and a conversation starter at a local car show – or even a potential prize winner at the Festival of the Unexceptional?