Fiat 124 Sport Spider | Window Shopper

Photograph Courtesy Fiat

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of Classic Motorsports.]

The Fiat 124 Sport Spider is the Rodney Dangerfield of our sports car world: It simply cannot get any respect. But there’s always been a lot to like about this sports car.

Let’s start with the name on the nose: Fiat. Not only has this Italian powerhouse won practically everywhere–from the Indy 500 to the World Rally Championships–but its portfolio now includes storied brands like Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Chrysler. Ferrari was also among its holdings until very recently. 

Second, look at those Italian lines. They were drawn by a company called Pininfarina. If you’re not familiar with that name, we’ll wait while you look it up. The Fiat Spider stopped the show upon its 1966 debut, and when production finally ended in 1985 it still looked just as stunning. 

The car also offered more technology than many of its peers, coming standard with a five-speed transmission where others typically made do with four. The Fiat’s engine also featured a pair of camshafts, and they were placed up in the cylinder head–again, cutting-edge stuff in an era dominated by cam-in-block MGs and Triumphs. 

The Fiat Spider also gave its owners a little more practicality than the rest of the field, as it sported a pair of rear seats. It wasn’t a luxurious arrangement, but like a Porsche 911, the Fiat Spider could theoretically carry more than just two occupants. 

What else is there to love here? How about a top that goes down–relatively easily, we might add? Or the fantastic club support? Oh, and replacement parts are only a phone call away.

Fiat has returned to American shores with a vengeance, and very soon a Spider will join their stateside lineup. It’s technically a re-skinned Mazda MX-5 powered by a turbocharged Fiat engine, but perhaps it will finally ignite interest in one of the world’s best classic sports car values. 

Shopping Advice

Csaba Vandor and Ramzi Gillespie are experts on all things Fiat. Their shop, Auto Ricambi, is a great place to start for any questions regarding the 124 Spider, and they have some tips for owners and shoppers alike. 

When looking for a Spider, be certain to find one with little or no rust. Rust-free examples can still be found in California and the Southern states, so it is not worth restoring a rusty one. 

It may be wise to remove the outer rocker panels to inspect the substructure for evidence of rust. The rocker panels unbolt, making this a relatively simple procedure. 

Another area to check carefully is the front shock towers. While new ones are available, their replacement is very labor-intensive and can be costly. 

Rust spots on the floor are not uncommon, however these are more easily repaired and are generally not structural. 

Ask when the timing belt was replaced. On 2-liter engines, a broken or misaligned timing belt can put a hole in the engine block if the fuel pump lobe hits the connecting rod. On the smaller engines, a timing belt failure can result in bent valves. 

Another common fault is the magnetic pickup coil in the distributor of the Spider 2000. Because of the proximity of the exhaust, the wires eventually lose their insulation and short out. It should be checked yearly and replaced if the wires’ insulation starts cracking. 

Like a few other European imports, the Spider uses a rubber flex disc in the driveline. Its failure can have catastrophic consequences.

Although prices may not always reflect this, most people prefer either the earlier, small-bumper Spiders for their cleaner look or the later, fuel-injected version for more power and economy. 

While a carbureted 2-liter engine can be upgraded to the same power level as a fuel-injected one, or well beyond, the fuel injection wins when it comes to smoothness and economy. 

The carbureted 2-liter engines have a very restrictive carburetor and intake manifold setup, causing the engine to run out of steam by 5000 rpm. These are often upgraded to a larger carburetor and the 1800 manifold, which completely transforms them.

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View comments on the CMS forums
ddavidv PowerDork
11/13/18 6:51 a.m.

Having owned several of these I recently browsed selling prices on Ebay. They are real bargains right now. Vastly superior to anything out of Old Blighty.

wspohn Dork
11/13/18 10:15 a.m.

They were excellent cars with DOHC engines, 5 speed gearboxes and 4 wheel disc brakes.   Unfortunately they had this little issue with rusting in a heavy dew....

11/13/18 1:57 p.m.

I've always likes Fiats; my favorite model, however, is the 850 Sport Spider. There are almost no more of these cars left it seems, as I haven't seen one on the road for a long, long time. They were really pretty cars, I thought.

stu67tiger Reader
11/14/18 6:47 a.m.

I had a '70, right after college.  Same color as the picture.  In '72 the rocker panels rusted through (I'm in New England).  The body shop guy got a look inside the rockers and told me to sell it ASAP.  No wonder there aren't many left, though I did see one at a show this fall.


Jerry From LA
Jerry From LA SuperDork
11/14/18 6:59 p.m.
wspohn said:

They were excellent cars with DOHC engines, 5 speed gearboxes and 4 wheel disc brakes.   Unfortunately they had this little issue with rusting in a heavy dew....

Why wait for the dew?  Some started in the showroom.  My last Spider (a '73) came with paperwork pertaining to a $1,500 "rust rebate" that was part of a settlement from a case brought by the government.  The settlement happened a few years after the car was bought but the PO pocketed a nice check.

Mr. New Reader
1/7/19 9:43 p.m.

The original Fiat 124s were great looking, fun to drive sports cars.  I used to drive my best friend's orange one all of the time.  This is as opposed to the new 124, a terrible looking Mazda Miata.  The original was designed by Tom Tjaarda, the famed Ghia designer who also penned the De Tomaso Pantera.

11/18/21 12:48 p.m.

I enjoyed the company of a 1970 124 spider for just over 300,000 miles. It was remarkably quiet on the freeway. I recall reading, in a motoring magazine, that the 124 Spider was quite a bit quieter at 60 mph that the same year of 1970 BMW 2002 with its windows rolled up!  In addition to the accessories mentioned by others there were 2 lights in the engine compartment. Loved it so much that I bought a new'79 later on. The roofs went down with one hand while seated in the drivers seat.! 

rcvs1 New Reader
11/18/21 12:50 p.m.

I neglected to mention that it sported a Weber Carbuerator.

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