By on February 28, 2012

In my 30 years of crawling through junkyards, one thing has remained constant: there’s almost always a Fiat 124 Sport Spider to be found. Crusher-bound 124 Spiders are about exactly as common now as they were in the early 1980s, and I suspect they’ll be just as common in 2032. I usually don’t even bother to photograph them (though I have documented this ’78 and this ’75), but lately I’ve developed some affection for the sports car that made the MGB seem reliable. Here’s one— a little older than most— that I spotted in a Northern California yard earlier in the month.
Genuine Pininfarina design here!
The Fiat Twin Cam engine in this car displaced 1438cc and made a decent 96 horses in ’71, but that number dropped a lot when emission laws and net horsepower ratings came into play. The Twin Cam got bigger as the decade went on, but the power got smaller.
Look, a number on the door. Race car!

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25 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1971 Fiat 124 Sport Spider...”


  • avatar
    MarkP

    This makes me sad. I had a 1971 124 Coupe, which, by the way, was an excellent and very reliable car. It went over 100K miles before I sold it with zero problems – really. My now-wife had a slightly later 124 Spider, which she unfortunately wrecked. I would love to find one of these in good shape for a decent price.

    Or maybe not. Maybe they’re all better in deep memory.

    • 0 avatar
      Roberto Esponja

      Yeah, I’d have to disagree with Murilee over Spiders being more unreliable than MG’s…while no paragons of reliability, they were definitely better than their British counterparts.

      • 0 avatar
        tonyola

        My older brother bought a new Spider in 1974 and it was no end of trouble. Despite being maintained by the book, there were electrical problems, fuel system/emission problems, bits breaking and falling off in the interior, and of course rust after a couple of years. I had to go rescue him a number of times when the car wouldn’t start. If he needed to drive out of town on a trip, he would borrow my tired ’65 Mustang and leave me with the Fiat – the very-well-used Mustang could at least be counted on to get him there and back.

  • avatar
    jhwool

    I had a red 1970 124 spider. I really did not have any problems with it. My wife and I drove from Mississippi to California in it without a single problem. It actually turn out to be a good snow car because of its lack of power and stick shift. Traded it in on a Volvo after three years when we started to have kids. The Volvo wasn’t near as reliable.

    • 0 avatar
      V572625694

      Two things all Volvo drivers believe:

      (1) All Volvos are extremely reliable
      (2) The only exception to Belief (1) is the Volvo I own.

      [courtesy of “Car Talk”]

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      Fiats like this one helped put me through college. I was Tony to these owners. Marelli electrics and a tendency to throw rods out the side of the block. Larry Reed in Torrance always had a supply of new short blocks on hand at only about $300.

  • avatar
    Darkhorse

    I had a 1980 124 Spyder. I believe that was the first year they had Bosch CIS fuel injection that caused me many problems. The air flow sensor failed right about the same time Fiat pulled out of the US and I could not get service or parts. The car sat for 6 moths until I finally located a used part.

    I know many things have changed in the 30 years between Fiat’s exit and its recent return,but once burned, twice wise.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    It’s a shame that someone let such an early one go. No emissions issues at registration time would allow for a virtual racing engine on the street. Mine had cams set up to make power from 6,000 to 9,000 rpm. The small bumpers make it just as beautiful as its contemporary Ferraris in my eyes. You should have saved them for someone restomoding a later car.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Rescue that puppy and restore it please!

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    Love the “$999″ on the windshield. It never ceases to amaze me how many of the cars in these pick-a-part yards come directly from used-car lots (not to mention those donate-it-to-charity programs).

    Somebody grab those air horns!

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Back in the 70s when I was racing in SCCA, I got to run a stint in an enduro race in one of these. It was the only time in my career that I got to race on somebody else’s nickel. Very smooth predictable handling car. (and thanks Tom Mankin where ever you are).

  • avatar
    Lokki

    We Alfa Spider owners like to think that our cars are a little better quality than the Fiat Spiders. I suspect that a lot of this come from ‘pride-of-ownership’ but I like to think it’s true. I think that the Fiats may have a slight edge in performance, while overall the Alfas seem more, well, reliable and rebuildable. That is, more worth saving and more easily saved.

    I’m willing to hear arguments to the contrary, since I recognize that I’m biased, and I’ll acknowlege that either is a great companion for a romp in the mountains.

    As for rescuing the Spider in this article, I’m afraid it’s beyond saving. It needs -everything- from bodywork to glass to an interior to Gosh now what in the drive train (starting with the missing radiator). For the cost of making it drivable and reasonable looking again you could probably just buy the best one in the world and start driving it two years sooner.

    Don’t ask me how I learned that.

  • avatar
    radiohound

    I owned three of these, a 68 convertible, a 67 and 72 Sport Coupes … and still have the special 10mm wrench I made to remove the starter … that said, I found the car to be huge step the british cars I owned … a lot more comfortable and reliable …

    Their Kryptonite seemed to be the salt that they used on the Western New York roads that literally melted the cars … My 67 Sport Coupe hit a small pot hole and it ripped off the locating arm for the rear axle … and there as no good metal to weld to … sigh … The others literally disintegrated … no outside screw would ever come off … the heads would just shear off or splinter into pieces … and the vent window latches were glued on with Loctite … the constant tension would either knock them off if you were lucky or worse, take the glass it was glued to with it …

    That said, these were amazing cars for their time .. fast, quiet, comnfortable … pretty reliable for the day, engines that ran smoothly if people leave the Webers alone. GM is reputed to have bought dozens of them to evaluate them for the upcoming Vega … and they seem to have learned all the wrong lessons from these nifty cars …

    But the one in the yard earned its place there … maybe to be rescued as a parts car … but nothing more … I still rank the 67 as one of the best cars I ever owned …

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    Knew a guy who had a ’71 Spider back in the mid seventies . He had lived in Italy shortly before this and had owned another Fiat Spider there and always claimed that the U.S. version was a P.O.S. in comparison. He was a bit of a shade tree mechanic but he owned a second car , a Ford LTD convertible a little older as a backup.Knew a couple of other Fiat owners at the time who claimed the same thing, that the Italian versions were much more reliable than the imported ones.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      It is possible that this was due to exhaust gas recirculation and positive crankcase ventilation on US cars from 1967 on. I don’t think Pininfarina intentionally made them worse for the US or anything.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Save the air horns! They sound just like the ones on premium Italian exotics of the ’60s, probably are the same. When I sold my 124 Sport Spider as a parts car, I kept the horns and they wound up on my friend’s Honda VF1000R. He was tired of the pathetic little horn that came with the bike combined with people’s propensity to try to end his life using their cars and trucks. The Fiat’s horns solved that problem, but his lights would dim and the engine would cough when he unleashed it.

  • avatar
    BMWnut

    “Crusher-bound 124 Spiders are … as common now as they were in the early 1980s, and … they’ll be just as common in 2032.”

    Surely they get less common whenever another one is crushed…?

    • 0 avatar
      CRConrad

      The key being “crusher-bound” ones, defined as “waiting around in the junk-yard” — that number can easily stay constant: If they get new replacements at about the same rate as they crush the old ones.

      The number of (at least nominally) road-going ones will be constantly dwindling, though.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    1. These are one of my top 5 car designs ever. Subtley sexy but honest.
    2. OK yes quite unreliable. Its a Fiat, duh.
    3. My Trooper (except for transmissions) has been hugely reliable, now at 200k.
    4. I really thought I would be the one to break the Volvo curse. Loved the car, hated the tow truck. Gone in 5 years.

  • avatar
    aunt_slappy

    I owned a ’67 124 Spider in the late ’70s. What a heart breaker! It was a truly beautiful design that still looks good today. It was fun to drive, but I was young and naive and bought the car without having it checked over by a knowledgeable person. It kept stalling out on the Santa Monica freeway because the throttle linkage rod would come out of its bushing. Turns out that the frame had extensive damage and the flexing was allowing the rod to slip out! Took weeks waiting for the frame to be welded. Then other things began to break and I left it by the side of the road and sold it as is for $1000 because I could not afford to fix it anymore. I finally got my sports car decades later: an S2000. It is everything I had wanted with the Fiat plus A/C and it doesn’t break!

  • avatar
    cleek

    I can remember the ’70’s spider maintenance section of the manual had “check for leaks” in its periodic listings.

  • avatar
    Mike_Aldea

    I dispute the idea that the Fiat 124 Spider was mechanically unreliable. I drove my 1971 Fiat 124 Spider with the 1608cc engine for 130k miles before selling it. During that the entire time I owned that car I only replaced the following:

    * OEM exhaust when it rusted out with a dual wall aftermarket one
    * Water Pump
    * Alternator-Voltage Regulator which was a combined unit
    * Timing Belt as part of normal maintenance.
    * Convertible Top when the rear window became too scratched and yellow to see clearly
    * Seal Beam Headlamps with European Quartz replacement units for better performance.

    None of this was unusual for a 1970s era automobile. The only reason I sold the car instead of restoring it was due to the bad corrosion through the rocker panels. Because the car was unit body construction and not body on frame it would have been prohibitively expensive to try and repair. Eventually that corrosion was going to lead to dangerous body flex. The corrosion problem was not that unusual for an imported vehicle here in the Northeast rust belt. Rust prevention on automobiles has come a long way since then.

    I was so happy with my Fiat that in 1982 I encourage my girl friend to buy a used 1979 Fiat 124 Spider. She enjoyed that car for many years. But between the raised ride height to bring the headlamps up to the federally mandated minimum height and the heavy federalized bumpers it did not handle as well as my 1971 nor was it as quick. Those monstrous bumpers also really ruined the lines of that classic Pininfarina design.


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