Air conditioners, power windows and power steering were not commonplace in small cars in 1990. But by then, Brazilians were used to the level of convenience in cars like the Fusca Pé de Boi and the Renault Teimoso.
Everything changed with the launch of the Fiat Uno Mille. Everything really.
The market was protected by the IPI, a tax on industrial goods. While cars with engines between 1,000 and 1,500 cm³ paid a tax of 35%, those with smaller engines, between 800 and 1,000 cm³ were taxed at 40%. A manufacturer that bets on small engines will be penalized by the tax burden.
The change reduced the tax to 20%, and stimulated manufacturers’ interest in 999 cm³ engines. It was the fundamental movement for the birth of the famous 1.0.
But at that time the government wanted to move the economy. Cheaper cars would increase the population’s access to new cars, the additional demand would give impetus to the national industry, which would take its capacity to work and provide new jobs.
Mass production would also help counter the “threat” of the recent reopening of car imports, an election promise made months earlier by then-president Fernando Collor. And, of course, there was a time of tension between the government and the auto industry.
In fact, all this lasted about three months.
In May 1990, angered by the imposition of tariffs on new cars, Collor demanded from his Minister of Economy, Zélia Cardoso, a plan for changes in the legislation of the motor industry.
When the deal went down, Fiat already had its new car ready.
It was very easy for Fiat to take the lead. That’s because it still produced 1,050 cm³ of the old 147. If in Brazil this engine was only offered in the Uno in 1984 and 1985 (the Brazilian preferred the 1.3 of 57 hp), it still had units to be exported to Argentina and Italy.
It will be enough to put the engine in the new IPI level. The new crankshaft reduced the piston stroke from 57.8 to 54.8 mm, increasing it to 994.4 cm³. New carburetion and camshaft changed to ensure high torque at low revs guaranteed 48.5 hp and 7.4 kgfm. Compared to the 52 hp and 7.8 kgfm of the 1050 engine, performance was good.
The name couldn’t be more appropriate: Uno Mille. And it was ready to be tested, exclusively, in the August 1990 issue of QUATRO RODAS.
Externally, it was like any other Uno S 1.3, but it had the advantage of having a stabilizer front and a stronger arm that would reach other versions in 1991.
Everything Uno Mille didn’t have
It was not only a matter of taking advantage of low taxes, but also finding ways to leave the car as cheaply as possible. So it was worth even taking the necessary things.
A good example is that only in the Mille was the standard four-speed gearbox, while the fifth speed was optional.
The buyer would also have to pay extra for the right mirror, reclining front seats with headrests (all optional) and rear washer and demister.
There were no side vents and the windshield washer was activated by a rubber pump on the driver’s foot – just like the Beetle, which ceased production in 1986 and experienced its historic demise until it was relaunched in 1994.
It could be worse: in that August version, Fiat nailed it that even the brake booster will be optional. But, fortunately, the Italian manufacturer did not repeat another resemblance to the old Beetle when the Mille arrived at the dealerships.
The only luxury in the car was velvet in the middle of the seats, upholstered rear pillars and a trunk lid – today a rarity in SUVs for PwDs.
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The final price was attractive. For 625,000 cruzeiros, its competitors were Uno S 1.3 88, Chevrolet Chevette SL 87 and VW Gol S 1986. Used, of course. Their zero kilometer equivalent exceeded the price of the Mille by more than 100,000 cruzeiros.
Do not think that Mille was not loved. When even the most expensive national cars had non-colored versions on the bumpers, door handles and rear mirrors, the Uno 1.0 surpassed any Uno on the street.
The performance also seemed to be faithful, considering the lightness of the model (768 kg, only), and produced lines like these:
“This performance is clearly heard by anyone who knows the Uno and drives the Mille in traffic. The average user will not notice any difference in relation to the Uno S, with a 1.3 engine. Only if the call of the Mille is distorted – do not expect good performance, for example, in frequent use at times on steep roads with a full load – the reduced dimensions of the engine will appear. In the city and on the ground, above all, it does not look like a car with only 1,000 cc”, said the test published in September 1990.
If defects were shown? Yes: small trunk, high internal noise level and few benefits. But it worked. Mainly because competitors took time to emerge.
The first of them was the Gol 1000, only in 1992, with a 50 hp Ford engine. Then came the Junior Chevette, with a 1.0 also 50 hp. The Ford Escort Hobby 1.0, with a 52 hp engine, would only appear in 1994.
It was a class from zero to 100 km / h in more than 20 seconds, while the Uno Mille, since its launch, needed 17.3 s.
Despite a rough start, popular 1.0 engines were successful and accounted for more than 70% of new car sales in 2000. In the first half of 2020, they accounted for around 47%.
Today, 1.0 engines have three cylinders, turbo, direct injection, two different valve timing and a series of other technologies to make them more powerful and efficient. No wonder they are available from Mobi to SUV, like T-Cross.
This helped make high-end cars more expensive to the point where popular cars had disappeared. Hopes for the iconic car’s return now hinge on a government incentive program that could cut car prices by up to 11% for up to four months.
And it all started with the reforms made in three months, aimed at the new rules demanded by the president – which would later fall due to the scandal involving the Fiat Elba, the Uno station wagon. It’s the turns the world takes.