Wild rides: Fiat Uno Turbo – modified versus standard

Wild rides: Fiat Uno Turbo – modified versus standard

We meet the celebrated star of the Car SOS TV series – a rare Hormann-bodied Fiat Uno Turbo i.e. – now cared for by a serial Uno Turbo fanatic.


Two exceptional turbos – including a TV star

Story by Richard Aucock

Photography by Michael Ward

Wild rides: Fiat Uno Turbo – modified versus standard

“I was worried the ride would prove crashy and harsh. Not a bit of it: this car flows so smoothly, always feeling poised ” Mark

As seen on TV: how’s that for a claim to fame? Mark Bridge wasn’t necessarily looking for another Fiat Uno Turbo. Indeed, after owning more of them than almost anyone else in the country over the years, he was perfectly happy with his treasured white car. “I’ve had Fiat Uno Turbos since I was 19; my first one was yellow, with period boy racer additions. It was a memorable car to have at that age – sadly, it was stolen and never found.”

Wild rides: Fiat Uno Turbo – modified versus standard

Still, the Uno Turbo bug stayed. “I’ve owned almost a dozen over the years, in between other cars. That’s perhaps why, in 2000, I had a break, before buying another one about 10 years ago. I owned it for four years, but slowly fell out of love with it again. People were pestering me to sell, so when someone said ‘Can I come tomorrow?’, and offered me a huge chunk more than I paid for it, I said ‘yes’.”

Once an Uno Turbo fan, though… Which is why Mark bought his current car in 2021. “The previous owner explained it had been in storage for 10 years, and that they spotted it on Facebook looking sorry for itself. They bought it, replaced the head gasket and coolant, but then lost interest and decided to sell. A friend told me about it and, needless to say, I phoned them up right away. We agreed a price and next thing I knew it was being brought up from Kent.”

The car has since had new springs and dampers, plus other ongoing improvements. It’s a gorgeous-looking machine, resplendent in white, with the suspension sitting just right on the alloy wheels. Add in the oh-so-fitting number plate, and Mark’s garage contained a slice of pure Uno perfection.

Then came the opportunity to buy Gerry Loughnane’s Uno Turbo Hormann. You may well know of it already: it was the star of the TV show, Car SOS series 10, episode one. Notably, it was the 100th car to get a makeover by Fuzz Townshend and Tim Shaw. Gerry is a former car salesman who, like Mark, bought his Uno way back in the early 1990s, when it was just a couple of years old. He treasured it and modified it, including the distinctive Hormann bodykit. Alas, ill health got in the way, and Gerry’s beloved car sat under a cover on his driveway for years.

After secretly swapping it for another Uno Turbo Hormann (and there aren’t many of those to go around), the Car SOS boys revealed the car's true condition. “There was rot everywhere,” said Fuzz, poking it with his screwdriver, and most of it fell onto the floor as the poor Uno was examined on a ramp. It needed a comprehensive restoration; the boys had work to do.

If you’ve seen the series, though, you’ll know that they stepped up. This was a major task, done against the clock, and some of the skills that went into saving the bodywork and keeping that distinctive bodykit are admirable. The transformation even included a switch back from blue paint, which Gerry didn’t like, to the original grey. If you want a perfect slice of feelgood TV, be sure to check out the handover at the end.

Mark and Gerry came together through the Fiat Uno Turbo Owners Collective (FUTOC) group on Facebook. “It’s where all owners migrate to,” explains Mark. As he and Gerry chatted about their shared love of Uno Turbos, they became close friends. “We’re a very similar age and I’ve had a few members of my family suffer with different cancers. It broke my heart to see him with his blood cancer.”

With one fine Uno Turbo in his stable, Mark wasn’t necessarily looking for another, but the friendship developed so much that Gerry made a decision earlier this year: he asked Mark to take on his reborn car. “It will always be Gerry’s car,” says Mark, “but I’m honoured that he chose me to maintain and look after it.” He visited Gerry, they shook hands, and the Car SOS Uno Turbo had a new home. And Mark had yet another Uno Turbo project to get stuck into. Work progressed apace. The first job was to give it a service and thorough once-over, plus a full body detail to make it look as sharp as it does on TV. This was all done in haste, because the organisers of the Santa Pod Retro Show had invited Mark to attend with the car – and also sent a personal invitation to Gerry. Despite his illness, he was delighted to attend, and Mark says it was a fabulous day.

“I teamed up with Gerry at the show. He stayed with the car all day long and met so many people during the event. People recognised him from the TV show and he had lots of pictures and selfies taken. He was smiling throughout and it was great to see him reunited with the car.” It’s a happy memory that Mark says Gerry still talks about months later.

We chat some more over coffee, while the photoshoot is completed. There were some unobtainables that the Car SOS team simply didn’t have time to track down, Mark explains, but he’s since found some of them, and is now sourcing other parts to begin making the car truly perfect. “You’re always looking for something with cars like these,” he laughs. Even here, though, the idea is to keep the Fiat very much how it was when Gerry owned it. It wouldn’t be the Car SOS Uno Turbo if he did anything else.

Mark also reveals his white car was actually used in the opening credits of the Car SOS series. How’s that for a claim to fame – alongside owning the car that’s the star of the show? And as we wander back, I get a thrill because I’m about to drive them both.

Admission time: my second car was a Fiat Uno, an F-reg 1.0 Eleganza. I loved it, and took it over 100,000 miles, before selling it a good 25 years ago. I secretly hankered for an Uno Turbo i.e. back then, but mid-1990s car insurance prices put paid to that idea. So, in many ways, getting behind the wheel was a real moment for me.

Memories came flooding back before I’d even started it up: the hidden door handles, the angled accelerator pedal, the dimpled Fiat key. And then there were all the bits I envied back in the day: the gorgeous leather steering wheel, those perfect sports seats and, of course, the full array of redneedled dials. How I used to dream that my own car had a set of instruments like this. I’d have to be careful not to end up gazing lovingly at them during the drive (no, I didn’t tell Mark this).

The Uno starts up smoothly and ticks over impeccably. Thank the ‘i.e.’ in Turbo i.e. for that (iniezione elettronica, or electronic injection). While seemingly rubbery in throw, the gearbox proves to be super-precise and rewarding, and the engine is an absolute gem. Because I can monitor it, I let the oil warm through, then I gradually extend it; the 1.3-litre four-pot remains rotary-smooth throughout. It’s a peach – and the thrust from the turbo proves so deeply satisfying.

I’ve driven other 1980s cars with forced induction, and they can be decidedly switch-like compared to this. Mark’s car is obviously turbocharged, but in the torquey, positive, easy-speed way we know from modern cars, rather than the torque-steering mania you get from something like a Ford Escort RS Turbo. I was worried the ride would prove crashy and harsh. Not a bit of it; this car flows so smoothly, always feeling poised, but not as if it’s riding on concrete. That’s one of the benefits of a light kerb weight, of course, which we’ve forgotten about in modern cars. Even the steering is lovely, with a fingertip purity and easy sensitivity. I genuinely could have driven it all day long, and I parked up surprised, besotted and delighted that meeting a hero of my youth hadn’t disappointed. “Mark, this car is a gem,” I said. He couldn’t agree more. From all the Uno Turbos he’s owned over the years, this is his favourite – and it remains the most rewarding car in his ever-evolving fleet, as he says: “It’s simple, pure fun. Whenever I drive it, I just enjoy it.” He’s not planning to sell it to me any time soon, but hey, a man’s got to ask…

Then it was over to Gerry’s old car. Mark warned me that it wasn’t yet as good. The engine was due for a remap at AP Racing in Mansfield, with a promise that it would be transformed, and a dyno test would reveal the potential to be unlocked. For now, though, it was tentative – still running, but not breathing as it should. I’d have to go back for an ‘after’ experience, said Mark. Nonetheless, it still feels authentic. Sure, it’s louder, brasher and has a few more rattles due to the suspension – plus a prominent turbo wastegate whistle. The character is still there, though, and it feels connected and full of authenticity. “It’s still a work in progress,” says Mark. “I owe it to Gerry to keep on improving it, and this car is just going to get better and better.”

So it deserves to. The famous Car SOS Uno Turbo has endured an action-packed life of ups and downs, but its revival and restoration has already proven inspiring for so many people. It’s now developing into a modern classic that many more people are going to enjoy. And that will guarantee all the happy memories Gerry made with this Uno Turbo will live on. The car nut within him is absolutely as proud as punch.

The Car SOS Uno Turbo has endured an action-packed life but its revival has proven inspiring for so many people

Fantastic dials and switchgear still have the power to entrance over three decades later

Bridge’s superb white Uno Turbo was bought in 2021 after it had spent a 10-year spell in storage. Hormann bodykit is very rare and was saved by a painstaking restoration on the TV show, Car SOS.

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rico schembri 9 days ago #

great job guys,back in 1990 i went to reading with me brother to buy a modified fiat uno turbo i e widearch body kit esc from mike spence in reading lots of great cars there i tell you.any way on test drive we were tacken out on test drive but the driver who was tackin us out got a bit to carried away well we didnt die but nearly the car was totaly writing off as he lost controll on a bent we spun on to grass verge car rolled it was a wreck never seen so many cars come to our aid luckly we survived but the 12000 pound uno turbo was destroyed

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