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Fiat 124 Spider. Under-rated roadster offers Italian flair and sprightly performance for under £20,000. How come you ...
Fiat 124 Spider. Under-rated roadster offers Italian flair and sprightly performance for under £20,000.

How come you can buy an enticing sports spider that taps directly into the DNA of Ferrari styling and V12 engines for little more than an MGB? That’s just one of the mysteries of the Fiat 124 Spider.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the MGB and its 1940s-derived pushrod engine. But wouldn’t you prefer a spirited, rev-happy and readily tuneable twin overhead-cam four designed by Aurelio Lampredi, who created the prodigious large-capacity Ferrari V12 race and road car engines of the 1950s, clothed in a body by the man who fashioned the Ferrari 275 GTS at Pininfarina? The similarities between that sublime million-pound Ferrari and the 124 Spider, which Tom Tjaarda penned slightly later, are plain to see.

In 1966 the new 124 Spider was a generation ahead of the well-established MGB, with all-round disc brakes, five-speed gearbox, superior appointments and comfort, and a one-handed folding convertible top that many rate as the best of its time, and infinitely superior to the MGB’s.

Even though the original 90bhp 1438cc Spider conceded nearly 400cc, it beat the Brit to 60mph in 11.9 seconds and all out, too, to 106mph. I don’t want to bash the much-adored B, but today’s ballpark market values force comparison, even though in its day the MGB was far cheaper than the Fiat - and that’s if you could have bought one in the UK. The 124 Spider was never officially listed for UK sale and was only ever produced in left-hand drive, although there are quite a few aftermarket right-hand conversions around.

However, the Spider was a hit in the USA, which accounted for around 85% of the 178,000 models produced from 1966 to 1985. There it came in cheaper than the Alfa 1600cc Duetto Spider, but had the edge in pace and, most would say, in handling too, which is sharp, nimble, chuckable and secure.

Indeed, the 124 Spider in Abarth guise was a major player in international rallies in the early '70s, while Alfa Spiders excelled on palm-fringed Pacific coast boulevards.

Like the MGB, the Fiat Spider was produced for nearly 20 years; unlike the MGB, the Fiat was continuously developed with engines growing eventually to 2.0 litres, but bigger is not necessarily better as US cars from 1970-on were detuned, then fitted with emissions equipment that further sapped performance; however, this can easily be undone. Impact bumpers came in 1974 with higher ride height, which didn’t help handling.

In Euro spec, the 110bhp 1600 of 1970 could notch up 112mph and the 119bhp 1800 topped out at around 116mph, with a 10-second 0-60mph time. The later 2.0-litre cars, initially for the US only, couldn’t match their predecessors, but Bosch fuel injection on later cars restored some of the lost performance.

In 1982 Pininfarina, which had always made the bodies, took over full manufacture, and as a fitting swansong from 1983 to the end in '85 produced the 135bhp, 120mph Volumex supercharged version.

The 124 Spider’s only fault perhaps is the stigma of its Fiat name. If it were an Alfa, what with all its hot-blooded connotations and romance, you’d have to pay a lot more for one. Mystery solved.

PRICE POINTS
PRICE AT LAUNCH: The 124 Spider was special order only in the UK and not officially price listed. For cost comparison when new, in the US in 1968 a Lotus Elan cost $4545, an Alfa Duetto was $3950 and the Fiat $3181. For further context a Triumph TR250 (TR5) cost $3175, with the MGB at $2670. On that basis, if listed in the UK, Fiat would most likely have pitched it below the Alfa Spider (£1895) and probably ahead of the Lotus Elan (£1598) - over £600 more than an MGB.

1980s AND 1990s: In the latter part of the '80s price guides pitched top-notch Alfa Duetto Spiders at £15,000, MGBs at £7500 and 124s at a lowly £4500; that’s just not right. In the post-boom early-’90s, Alfas dipped to £12,500, MGBs were static while the Fiat was valued at £5500, marginally up in real and relative terms, but still not right. In the UK auction arena £5250 paid in 1997 for a freshly restored 1971 Spider was top price of the decade.

TODAY: In 2013 at a US auction an exceptional show-winning 1969 Spider 1400 made a truly exceptional but unrepresentative £29,200; in the UK no Fiat 124 Spider has ever topped £10,000 at auction. An uprated 1967 Spider with 1800 engine that made £7920 in 2014 was a decent car. That’s still MGB money; however, very higher-quality Fiats with the trade are currently on offer at up to £22,000. A Spider 1600 at £17,000 is described as perfect, while a ‘stunning’ 1977 1800 car in UK-friendly RHD is up for £15,950.
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  •   Ben Barry reacted to this post about 4 years ago
    The #1968 #Fiat-124-Spider / #Fiat-124 / #Fiat / BUYING GUIDE / WORDS Nick Larkin / PHOTOGRAPHY Stuart Collins

    Lovely styling, a delicious twin-cam and a surprisingly sturdy build, the 124 Spider ticks all of the classic sports car boxes.

    The 124 Spider is surely the answer to many a classic motoring prayer. A delightful combination of Italian looks, a lusty twin-cam engine, (mostly) reliable components and, because the cars were mysteriously never officially imported into Britain, imbued with a certain exclusivity. Somewhat surprisingly, the car is reasonably well built, although a dire lack of rustproofing means any potential purchase needs meticulous inspection for rot.

    The Fiat 124 Spider was designed and built by Pininfarina, which eventually branded the car under its own name from 1983-1985. Of the 198,000 124 Spiders produced from 1966-1985, around 170,000 were sold in the USA, many in so called ‘dry states’. Several thousand have now migrated to Britain, where there is good specialist and club support.

    WHY YOU WANT ONE

    Just look at the pictures! A good 124 Spider is a joy to drive and own, and close exposure to one will soon have you lapsing into Italian sports car clichés.

    Based on an adapted 124 saloon floorpan (yes, the same one that became a Lada) the cars are generally solid and lack a nasty Mediterranean temper. Though never built in right-hand drive form, conversion by a specialist is possible for about £3000. If the car you’re viewing is already a RHD model, find out who did the work.

    Fiat 124 Spiders sound wonderful, their performance is more than adequate, and they’re equipped with a five-speed gearbox and disc brakes? You can even put the hood up without leaving the driver’s seat. Surely those factors alone should put these cars on your shopping list.

    WHICH MODEL IS IT?

    These cars had various incarnations during long their production run, but here are the main ones. Many enthusiasts favour the 1438cc, 90bhp AS model (1966-1970) for its purity of line. The BSI of 1970-1972 had 1608cc and 110bhp and is often recommended as the best overall choice. The CS (1972-1973) boasted the Fiat 132’s 1592cc unit and the 1800 CSi (1973-1978) offered 1756cc and, later, impact bumpers. Later cars were 1995cc and were at times available in fuel injected form, turbocharged and VX DS with 135bhp and a #Volumex supercharger. Just 500 Volumex models were built, and like the turbo cars, some experts reckon they are best avoided.

    Pininfarina took over total production of the car in 1981. Cars developed various bonnet and wheelarch bulges, as well as larger bumpers. There was also an Abarth version, which falls outside of our remit here.

    UNDER THE BONNET

    Fiat’s Lampredi-designed twin-cam engine is legendary. It lasts well and is easy to work on, but in the Spider, you should watch out for rear end rattle and damaged sumps. Fiat 132 engines – where you can find them – can be substituted without too much modification. Carburettors can suffer from wear, particularly the spindles on Solex units, so check it runs properly. Later cars are fuel injected by Bosch, and tend to be more reliable, with good parts and specialist backup.

    SPARKS AND VOLTS

    As with many Italian cars, the electrical system decays, causing issues. A rewire is straightforward, but time consuming.

    STEERING AND SUSPENSION

    Front wishbone bushes and balljoints are prone to wear. Track rod ends can be worn or seized, as can drag links. If you are buying a car converted to righthand drive car, you need to find out who carried out the work. The worm and roller steering set-up is reasonably easy to work on, which is good, as it can suffer from wear and even seizure. Check for excessive play.


    CORROSION

    Early cars were built from good quality steel, with the rot only setting in from the late 1970s. Look at the door bottoms, particularly at the corners. Outer sill covers are not structural, the important stuff being behind them, while inner sills last well but are costly to put right. The crossmember supporting the engine and front suspension can crack and/or be the victim of accident damage. Also watch for floor rot due to damp carpets, rusty wheelarches (they are double skinned) in the area where the front wing meets the sills, the inner wings the boot lid and inside the boot.

    INTERIOR

    Dashboard tops can split, but new ones are available. You can also get new hoods. Driver’s seat backs can break due to people leaning back to grab the hood!



    SPECIFICATIONS (1968 SPIDER)

    ENGINE 1438cc/4-cyl/DOHC
    POWER [email protected]
    TORQUE 83lb [email protected]
    MAXIMUM SPEED 106mph
    0-60MPH 11.9sec
    FUEL CONSUMPTION 28-32mpg
    TRANSMISSION RWD, five-spd manual

    WHAT TO PAY

    Concours £35,000+
    Excellent £15,000-20,000
    Usable £8000-10,000
    Project £3000-5000


    INSURANCE QUOTE

    1972 FIAT SPIDER VALUE £8000, 45-yearold male living in Cambs, club member, car garaged and used as second vehicle, 3000 miles pa: £82.31 or £99.54 incl Agreed Value

    PARTS PRICES
    Hood £594
    Engine rebuild £6000
    Gearbox £1200
    Door £360-£420
    Bonnet £220
    Outer sill £210
    Prices from DTR (www.dtrsports.com)




    CLUB & SPECIALISTS
    Fiat Motor Club GB www.fiatmotorclubgb.com
    Sporting Fiats Club www.sportingfiatsclub.com
    DTR European Sports Cars Croydon.
    0208 645 5050, www.dtrsports.com
    Middle Barton Garage Oxfordshire.
    01869 345766, www.middlebartongarage.com

    This car has been expertly converted to right-hand drive. Engines were 4-cyl 1438cc, 1608cc, 1756cc and 1995cc.
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