By on January 28, 2013

Where do all these junkyard Fiat 124 Sport Spiders come from? You don’t see them on the street, you don’t see them half-covered by tarps and raccoon nests in driveways, and you don’t even see many of them at Italian car shows. And yet I’ve been seeing these cheaper-than-an-Alfa-Spider Italian sports cars at wrecking yards, at about the same rate, since I started visiting U-Pull-It in Oakland in the early 1980s. Here’s the latest example, a little green devil I spotted at U-Pull-&-Pay Denver last month.
Just in this series, we’ve seen this ’71, this ’75, this ’78, and this ’80, and we might as well add the 124′s little brother, this ’71 850 Sport Spider.
I’d like to show you photos of the Twin Cam engine that may or may not still live under the hood of this car (who knows, maybe someone with a sense of humor has swapped in a BMC B engine), but the hood release was stuck and I didn’t feel like freezing my fingers futzing with it for more than a few seconds.
The warning lights in these cars are junkyard gold— high-quality chrome and real glass lenses. I’ve used them in such projects as the Junkyard Boogaloo Boombox, the scratchbuilt instrument panel in my ’65 Impala project, and other projects. I didn’t grab these, because I’ve already got a lifetime supply in my parts stash.
What I’ve learned from all these 124 Sport Spiders that I’ve seen about to get crushed over the years is that one of these cars would make an excellent Ill-Advised Engine Swap Project. Hmmmm… it seems there’s a shop building swap bellhousings to bolt the 3-liter V6 out of an Alfa Romeo 164 to a non-transaxle, rear-wheel-drive Alfa transmission. If we listen to the Alfa Mafia, that engine makes 270 horses with mild (i.e., terrifyingly expensive) intake and exhaust modifications. Or, if you want to be boring (and not go broke), there’s always the Miata drivetrain donor.


This ad is for the ’80, but it’s pretty much the same car as today’s find, only with more smog control and uglier bumpers.

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54 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1973 Fiat 124 Sport Spider...”


  • avatar
    Zackman

    You don’t see these outside of a junkyard because they are stored under a tarp in the owner’s garage for 20 years with junk piled/stored on top of them until wifey demands her hubby to clean out the garage so she can park her car in there.

    All of them are un-finished, never-to-see-the-light-of-day-again projects!

    I know…I went through the same thing over 30 years ago with a ’57 Chevy…

    …At least the guy who bought it finished it!

    • 0 avatar
      twotone

      I had three 124 Spyders during the 1980′s here in Colorado. I did not spend more than $1,000 on them and yes, they all ran quite well. Sold them for more than I paid.

      When properly maintained (the often overlooked part) the drive trains are very reliable. The electrics, however, are another story. Having Apple Motors as a local Fiat/Lancia/Lada parts supply makes owning a 124 a lot easier. Colorado probably has more alive or dead 124s than any other part of the US.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        I was being somewhat facetious, but these really have disappeared from the roads.

        A buddy in the air force had a 1971 Spyder – bright blue! It was a nice car, and was clearly a cut above anything British, although I had a sweet spot for a TR-6.

        These were very nice-looking cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Omnifan

      Amen.

    • 0 avatar

      Having owned MGBs and driven a few 124 Spiders, I can say that the Fiat is way more fun to drive, in spite of having similar power/weight numbers. The MGB is a much sturdier car, though.

    • 0 avatar
      and003

      Zackman wrote: “These really have disappeared from the roads.”

      Not quite, Zackman. I’ve seen a few roadworthy Fiat 124 Spiders on YouTube. There’s even a video of one with a Ford 5.0 under the hood.

      There’s also a forum for Fiat Spider owners on the Internet. One member of this forum has his own 5.0-powered Fiat 124 Spider.

      If you’re interested, you can find that forum here:
      http://www.fiatspiders.com/

  • avatar
    ZekeToronto

    Incredibly, the cheesiest fake wood known to man was the only interior element that survived unscathed in the Spider! On the other hand, considering that I was never a fan when they were new, it’s amazing how that body profile still looks fresh to my eyes.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    It’s really not a bad looking design, it’s got some nice hips on the back of it! I think it would be pretty striking in black.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    There are no cars like this around any more. The seats recline, a full trunk – the Miata is the closest but its quite a bit smaller. The BMW Z4 is close, but sooo expensive. Ive tried to love the Mini convertable, but its bricklike, not sleek. Sigh. Beetle convertable? cute, not sexy. I dunno. Mustang, camaro are hardly light on their feet, more ox like. Even the 370Z is hardly sexy, nore like a clenched fist. And what does Fiat send here as their first shot? the 500, a car that is no doubt cute, but hardly in this vein. I m sad.

    • 0 avatar
      ott

      What about a Solstice/Sky? They have gorgeous bodies, especially the Saturn, and finding one for a good price should be cakewalk now. Everytime I see one I always do a double-take.

    • 0 avatar
      waltercat

      Beg to differ, Jerseydevil. Both the Miata and the 124 Spyder are 155 inches long and have an 89 inch wheelbase. The Miata outweighs the 124 by about 100 pounds (airbags and power accessories, I guess), but series NB MIatas and later have significantly more power. The only way I perceive the 124 Spyder being larger is in its minimal sort-of-a-back-seat, which the Miata lacks.

      In my college days, back in the 70s, several of my friends had 124s and I fell in love with those cars. Years later, when I could finally afford a weekend car, I treated myself to a beautiful 2003 NB Miata. I have to say, however, that my mechanical skills are growing rusty…

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I took that remark to relate to the Fiat’s packaging. The trunk really was quite large, and that was with a full sized spare and a battery mounted directly over the rear axle. The interior had stretch-out room uncommon to similar cars like the Miata and MGB. In some markets the Fiat could be sold as a 2+2, since its parcel shelf really could serve as a back seat. Mine’s was upholstered to match the front seats and carried passengers a few times. The 124 Sport Spider was an excellent design, really just needing an adjustable steering column to match the comfort of cars designed in more recent decades.

  • avatar
    gasser

    These were reasonable cars when judged in the context of the times. American cars like Camaro and Firebird were fast in a straight line, but wallowing in turns. Tiger Paw rubber was the pinnacle of tires. All cars needed a LOT more maintenance, like carb rebuilds every 30K on my pal’s ’68 Firebird. In this light, the valve adjustments on the 124 weren’t so bad. The 124 drove well, shifted well and looked great. My girlfriend had a ’72 in burgundy with a tan interior. It was widely admired. As a convertible here in L.A. the car was topless except in pouring rain (a rare occurrence). The 240Z was fast, but not a convertible and selling for a premium over sticker.
    The 914 Porsche was smaller, rear engined and pricey even in 1972 dollars.

  • avatar
    Pan

    I had one of these when they first came out. 1970?? Great little car; but, early model lacked power, which came in only after 3500 rpm. But, it revved freely to,I think, about 6500 rpm. Great feature was the top which opened or closed with a reach back to a handle on the top.
    All-in-all, a great little sports car which eventually got a 2000 cc engine. 2-3 years later, I traded it in for an Alfa Romeo Berlina which was a wonderful car, except for the Spica mechanical fuel injection which gave me a lot of trouble. Anyone else have experience with the Spica system?

  • avatar

    I owned a ’71 Spider/ 1608cc (your earlier post about ’71s having the 1438cc motor was incorrect). I had it for eight years and 77,000 miles and had pretty good luck with it despite the harsh driving conditions of the NY City area.

    Outside of expensive German stuff or an Alfa 1750 I can’t think of any 70s car I’d rather have owned. They were good on gas, comfortable, handled great and great in snow (I never put snows on). Of course the tin worm got it but what 70s car didn’t rust (other than SAABs Volvos, Benzes and post-’76 Porsches)?

    • 0 avatar
      Pan

      I was wrong about the year. I think it was a 1968 model, as I know that the engine size was right. In days of yore I changed cars frequently and regretably, did not keep a list of dates.

  • avatar
    Darkhorse

    I had a 1980 version. I think it was the first year with the Bosch CIS fuel injection. I loved it until Fiat pulled out of the US market and I couldn’t get parts for it even under warranty.

  • avatar
    Synchromesh

    The body on this one looks to be in decent shape – not rusty! Why was it thrown away I wonder. A car like this would definitely sell for a decent amount of money on Boston Craigslist. Sure interior is tatty but I’m sure locating a rusty Spyder with decent interior is not all that difficult.

  • avatar
    Petrol Blue

    The climate in Atlanta is friendly to cars that lacked extensive rustproofing. Every day I see a few rust-free cars from the 60s and 70s, but it’s been at least 2 years since I’ve seen a Fiat. They never were well represented here. I see plenty of British roadsters on sunny weekends, but never Italians.

  • avatar
    RedSC94

    A friend of mine bought a new bright red 1978 124 Spyder. I liked it so much that, a couple of months later, I bought a slightly used 78 Spyder. Mine was dark Navy blue, with a light tan interior, bright royal blue carpet, gold pinstripes, and the wire wheel covers. It was beautiful.

    And, it was a lot of fun to drive with the top down; especially in the Colorado Rockies. Putting the top up or down could be done with one hand, and you could do it at a stop light. Mine was the last year before catalytic converters, and the red line was 7,000 rpm, if I remember correctly. It was very comfortable to cruise on the highway in 5th gear at 80 mph.

    After a few months, we started having problems with our Spyders. My friend’s timing belt slipped, and it took out his engine. He sold it back to Fiat. Mine started leaking coolant, due to a warped cylinder head. The mechanic at the dealership sent the head out to be machined, and went on a two week vacation. I got my car back 3 weeks later. During a mountain road trip, the electric cooling fan stopped working. I made it home without overheating; I had to keep my eye on the temp gauge and stay over 35 mph.

    When I was just out of warranty, I was driving on the highway on a cold winter night. Smoke started pouring out of the heater. I pulled over and jumped out. Oil was running out of the trans onto the exhaust. Apparently, something came loose inside the trans, hit a gear, and was shot through the trans case like a bullet.

    I had it towed to the dealer. A very nice lady told me that Fiat would fix my car for free. Fiat was getting a very bad reputation for poor reliabilty, and making a real effort to improve it’s image. They ordered a new trans case from Italy, and I got my car back six weeks later.

    Not long after that, I driving on a busy highway when it started raining. As I rolled my window up, the polished stainless trim on the top of door came off. I watched as the cars behind me ran over it. I don’t remember what this piece cost, but it was more than I was willing to pay. I eventually found one in a wrecking yard.

    After 5 years of “Fix It Again Tony”, I sold my Spyder.

    • 0 avatar
      challenger2012

      My story with FIAT is pretty much like yours. I owned a 1975 128SL. The transmission syncro gears went out at about 40k miles. Door clip/stops broke 3 times ($15/each), had the clutch cable break on me once ($35). Seats surfaces were cheap vinal and seams started to unravel at about 40K. Fit an finish was crap. The timing belt broke for a $1000 repair. When it happened the second time, I said enough. I left it in my appartment complex and was towed away as junk. I later purchased a Mazda 626. What a change in quality. I do have to say the 128SL could stear and stop very well. Gas mileage was always in the 30′s.

  • avatar
    jco

    “You don’t see them on the street, you don’t see them half-covered by tarps and raccoon nests in driveways, ”

    Lies!! that’s exactly the condition I’ve last seen one! someone who lives near me had a driveway featuring not one, but two of these. blue tarps. neither one moved, ever. I can only assume that neither example was well enough to provide enough transplant material to keep the other alive.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I guarantee that someone’s death resulted in this car finding its way to the yard. Though not quite on the same level as the MG of Bought During Midlife Crisis, Ambition Disolved When Started Looking Into Cost And Time Involved, But Stubornly Moved From House To House For 20 Years Until The Owner Dies “project” status, pretty much any old European roadster seems to have the same late life cycle. It’s really too bad too, because there are people out there who really will restore these to their former glory but can’t because of the hoarders.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    The one that is currently in the yard here is red, with a poorly done spider web mural painted all over it. When I tried to picture it’s owner driving it around during it’s heyday (Probably early-eighties), I saw Murilee at the helm.

  • avatar
    CliffG

    Since I went through a bunch from a ’68 850 to ’79 124′s, I can suggest that providing you were under 5’11″ they were a pretty tough bargain to beat, recognizing that virtually everything from those days blew up/rusted out practically instantaneously. They weren’t fast, and the top end was strangled by the teeny carbs (fixable), but in the twisties they were fun, and thanks to light weight and relatively high ground clearance could go almost anywhere. But if you want to look for the rarest of beasts, try to find a ’71 coupe, an extremely good looking car all which seem to have been turned into beer cans quite some time ago. Other than my late lamented ’74 GTV, the favorite of all the cars I have owned over the years.

    • 0 avatar
      BourbonBob

      I think it was the 38/38 DCNF (or 34mm?) that was the fixer in the carb department. I had a blue 71 and it had the smoothest 5 speed I ever had (all cars since have been Audis and BMWs). Coaxed the little beast over a state line bridge into Georgia to escape a tow truck guy who said he could fix my ‘ferrin ford’. We had a water pump fail so I filled up milk jugs with water. Great times with that Spyder! And thanks to the folks in Savannah for taking care of us!

  • avatar
    jhwool

    Had a 1970 for 3 years. Had to trade it when I began to have kids. Did great mechanically. My wife and I drove to California form Mississippi and back with no problems. I thought it was a much better car than the MGB and the TR6 which were its competitors at the time. It was good in the snow because it had no torque and narrow tires. Contrary to what was said above it did have real wood on the dash. Would be nice if the Alfa version of the 2014 Miata could capture it’s charm.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    They filmed that commercial in Griffith Park ~ I know just where .

    My big brother had one of these and really loved it .

    -Nate

  • avatar

    It’s nice to see that so many remember those cars fondly. One gets tired of all that “Fix It Again Tony” negativity that crops up whenever Fiat cars are mentioned. Fiats, even 124 Sport Spiders, weren’t great cars by current standards I did have electrical problems and the ball joints had to be replaced often because they couldn’t take the NY road, Same with the exhaust systems although aftermarket units were no better.

    I traded a ’66 TR-4A in on my 1971 Spider and found the Fiat a better car in almost every conceivable way except for low end torque. I had the god fortune of finding an excellent mechanic to help keep mine going. He was a Dutch guy who wrenched for Fangio when he drove for Maserati (and had the pix to prove it). As far as we was concerned working on my Fiat was a vacation compared to fixing the Jags and Rolls he specialized in.

    He once let me work off a repair by waxing an E-Type.

    • 0 avatar
      RedSC94

      I have some wonderful memories of my Spyder, in spite of all the problems I had with it. I was in my 20s when I owned it. I would take it out just for the pure pleasure of driving it. I loved driving in the mountains at night in the summer, with the top down and the heater blasting warm air. And the ladies loved it. There were a couple of mountain drives that resulted in an opportunity to try out the reclining seats. Those Italians think of everything.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    You’ll be pleased to learn that here in La La Land where we have more cars than Detroit _ever_ did , many young folks (late 20′s) are happily up fixing old Fiat / Bertone X-19 Coupes , they’re very fun and easy to repair , cheap parts etc. , etc..
    -Nate

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    You don’t suppose you could put a Ford Ranger 2.3/5-speed in one, do you?

  • avatar

    I see a couple of folks experienced timing belt failures in their 124 Spiders. The 124 Sport Spider and Sport Coupe were the first cars ever to use rubber (as opposed to metal) timing belts. If you didn’t know it should have been changed at 60,000 mile intervals, you were ignorant of the basic maintenance requirements of these cars.

    Owning a real sports car is different from owning a practical sedan or truck. You need to know a little about how they work.

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      Hmmm… I wonder if a short deck SBF could be nestled in there?

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      This doesn’t explain the timing belt failure mentioned by RedSC94, which happened with a 124 spider that was only a few months old.

      Glas used belts in 1962. Pontiac started using a toothed belt on their OHC Sprint-6 in 1966, two years before the 124TC reached production.

      • 0 avatar
        RedSC94

        Yes, when my friend’s timing belt failed, it was definitely within first few months. He was under warranty, but he was so pissed off about it that he basically gave it back. I don’t know what the dealer gave him for it, but he said he was through losing money on cars. He bought a beautiful 63 Avanti that he was using for a daily driver. Not long after that, he moved to another state, and we lost touch.

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      Just my opinion, but if you’re going to use a timing belt instead of a timing chain in a mass-market vehicle, be considerate enough to your buyers to make it a non-interference engine.

      “Basic maintenance requirements” or not, belts can break, as RedSC94′s friend found out. When that happens, you don’t build fond memories by having to tell an owner that he needs major engine work.

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      I think it was 15K intervals on the SOHC X1/9 and I don’t imagine the 124 Spiders/Coupes w/DOHC were anything beyond 30K, at best. Interference engines aren’t forgiving in that respect. Most owners were less than religious about following recommended maintenance schedules on Fiats and they became unhappy owners in relatively short order.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    You didn’t even see these on the streets around here in the 70′s, saw lots of MG’s tho. Most were driven by young females.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      And one of those young females taught me to autocross (I believe those ran in E Production?) and screwed my brains out regularly over a three year period 1972-75. Unfortunately, she was looking for husband material, and I definitely wasn’t it at the time.

  • avatar

    I don’t know about Glas using belts in ’62 but I do recall the Pontiac Sprint 6. 1966 was the same year that the 124 twin cams appeared in the 124 Sports. U.S. importation began in 1968.

    http://images.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/110-444×350.jpg

    The beautiful lines of the 124 Spider were derived from the Ferrari 275 GTS, not to be confused with the contemporary 275GTB/4 NART Spider.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ferrari_275_GTS_-_front_right_1_%28Argyle_Place,_Carlton,_VIC,_Australia,_3_March_2007%29.JPG

  • avatar
    GeneralMalaise

    I’ve never owned but have driven a few well-sorted 124 Spiders. IMO… not as much fun as an X1/9…

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    When I was in college in the late 70′s, it was kind of a race between these and BMW 2002′s to claim the title of Preppy College Kid Car. The Fiat might have had a bit of an advantage because women would drive it, whereas all the 2002′s were owned by guys. (I had neither; I was the financial aid kid with a hand-me-down Maverick.)

    If you park one of these Spiders next to a second generation Corvair convertible you immediately see how Italianate the styling of the late model Vair is. In fact, there may be some cross-pollination because they both seem to borrow from the 1963 Corvette Rondine show car.

  • avatar
    oldyak

    I can attest that these were really great cars for their time.
    Fiat gets bashed at lot but the 124 spider was light years better than the competition back then.Not fast but smooth and with a great build quality compared to the British offerings of the time.
    5 speed,2 cam,4 wheel disc`s and a top that worked.
    Too bad Fiat didn’t go forward from there….
    But on a warm summer night with the top down…WOW!

  • avatar
    nikita

    When I was wrenching on cars for a living back in that era, a customer had a 124 Coupe. It was a very nice driving car. Most of the problems were electrical, but he did manage to throw a rod, over-revving due to a missed shift. While the head was gorgeous, the bottom end was the weak part. Larry Reed in Torrance had new short blocks in stock, for under $400 as I remember.

  • avatar
    360joules

    If the engine was still stock it would be the 1592 cc which was good for over 100 horse power with European carbs. 4 wheel disc brakes, decent handling, and a very eager to rev engine. The US spec carbs were weaker to meet emissions but easy to swap. I had the 1592 cc engine on my 124 Sport coupe. My engine & drive train were very reliable but minor electrical annoyances and corrosion were downsides.

  • avatar
    Distorted Humor

    I have seen the new ford GT40 (some guy owns one in town, nice thing about living in a retirement area) on the road then Fiat 124s…

  • avatar
    mwerre

    Given how much a nice one goes for, no wonder even a decent one ends up in the junkyard.

    http://www.barrett-jackson.com/application/onlinesubmission/lotdetails.aspx?ln=315&aid=466

    Amazed how much more the Alfa Spider sold for since I thought this car looked in better original condition.

  • avatar
    packard

    The last Spider models Fiat sold in the US were greatly improved with Bosch fuel injection and electronic ignition. Body integrity was also improved. After 1981 these cars were marketed as Pininfarina’s through 1985- these cars are further improved. My brothers and I had Fiats and Lancias in the 1980s. The drivetrains were good and engines very good as long as the timing belt was changed. Interiors were a weak point. Fiat used cotton thread for seat stitching and it would fail after a number of years. While there were some electrical issues (mostly failed grounds) the cars were quite easy to work on. Replacement parts are still easy to get.

  • avatar
    Snaab9-3

    Its a shame because at first glance the bodywork looks very tidy, and I really like that green color. If I had the time, money, and an actual garage to work in this would have been a great project. I can see it now…late nights in the garage wrenching on the little Twin Cam, until I get so frustrated I sit on the garage floor chain smoking…dare to dream….

  • avatar
    Briang1964

    So just how do I get the hood, and bumpers off this car and in my California garage.


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