By on May 2, 2011

Are there any 124 Spiders still driving on American streets, or is every single one sitting in a back yard or driveway, waiting for steel prices to rise high enough to trigger the final tow-truck ride to The Crusher?

I keep finding these cars in high-turnover wrecking yards, and simple extrapolation of the number of junkyards in the country indicates that the remains of hundreds of 124 Spiders must ship out on Guangzhou-bound container ships every month.

True, the Fiat Spider was a miserably underpowered and maddeningly unreliable car (though not much worse than its British Leyland competition), but is the much more beloved Alfa Spider really that much better? Wait, better not to answer that question.

Even racing stripes and metalflake blue paint couldn’t save this little Italian from its cruel fate. How many 124 Spiders remain?

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33 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1978 Fiat 124 Sport Spider...”

  • avatar

    Pretty car, just as my 74 128SL was, and just as unreliable. Your example here bit the dust at 39k (or was it miraculously 139k?) miles, and that’s what Americans remember most about Fiat.

    Sergio has a tall hill to climb to reverse that perception, but I hope he succeeds.

    • 0 avatar

      Judging from my friend’s 1981 Brava, it can’t possibly be 139K. My friend was easy on his car, yet after 50K it became so unreliable that he sold it. Split car seats, dancing gas guage, window regulators, onset of rust, misfire, a few tow trips…ugh. And his father suggested he get is so as to be spared from an “unreliable” American car. But credit due where it is due: that car handled really well. It was a ton of fun to rip through the curves. Just keep the engine room boiling…

    • 0 avatar

      I owned three Fiat 124 Spyders back in the late 80’s — early 90’s. They all did over 100,000 miles with just basic maintenance. Most of Fiat’s unreliability issues were due to poor owner maintenance. The largest US Fiat/Alfa/Yugo parts distributor is here in Denver and that helped a bit.

  • avatar

    That is a beautiful car! Is there room in the engine bay for an LSx swap?

  • avatar

    I saw one painted exactly like this one on a flat-bed last week. Looked drivable, except for the whole being-on-a-flat-bed thing.

  • avatar

    A fellow in my office when I was in the air force had one of these. It was a baby-blue/robin’s egg blue color. I thought it was ingenious of how the rear quarter windows went down when the top was lowered – a trick that wasn’t lost on the Dodge Shadow convertible many years later. Pretty cool car, and he didn’t seem to have too many problems with it at the time. Got to ride in it a few times with him, back when European sports cars were still king! A very fun ride.

  • avatar
    Oren Weizman

    That car was CRAZY FUN with a Tercel engine, I remember one with a Tercel swap, the owner told me he had over 4000$ on the original engine, it was a horrible little smacker.
    The Tercel engine saved that car

  • avatar

    In their time the 124s were fun little machines. I had ’68 and ’74 coupes. The ’68 was a lightweight, I think right around 2000 lbs. Yes it suffered all the faults already listed. Drove it until it rusted through. Its remains were combined with another into an SCCA race car that still competes.
    The ’74 suffered from lame emissions control integration and bulky 15 mph bumpers.
    These early ones were virtually biodegradable…they were pre-anti-corrosion coating and all but the aluminum pieces would eventually dissolve into a pile of rust.

    • 0 avatar

      I have long wanted… make that lusted for… a 124 Coupe in decent shape. Great cars, back in the day. I remember seeing a new, ’75 (last year made) in white with a wine colored interior that would be turning left into the Fashion Island area of Newport Beach same time every work day… beautiful car!

  • avatar

    There’s actually a fair few of these being driven around Vancouver BC. I guess its our lack of salt which is keeping these cars on the road. There are several listed on Craigslist for what I’d call ‘silly’ money considering whats wrong with them – things like “Fiat Spider – Good – it works. Bad – No synchro on 4th (but it’s got 5 gear so you’ll be ok!), needs new brakes, clutch cable, engine needs tuning, soft top needs repairs – Great car for summer! $2000 or best offer”.

  • avatar

    Sure! I’ve had an ’81 Turbo for about 20 years now. With all the apparently rust-free exterior panels on that car, and the parts prices for certain things, if I weren’t halfway across the country I’d go over there and take just about everything that I could unbolt.

  • avatar

    The pic “DOTJ-78FiatSpiderBlue-12” is a transverse mounted engine from something other than a Fiat Spider

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    This part of the country, there are none. They all rusted to death years ago.

  • avatar

    I had a ’76 124 Sport Spider with the smog gear stripped off and racing cams. It was fun to drive and the only mechanical problem I had was a voltage regulator that stopped working and then decided to start working again after I took its cover off and stared at its internals for a couple minutes without a clue what I was looking at. I had a lot of fun until the left front suspension broke off the front cross member, then I sold it to a friend to used its parts to restore a couple others.

  • avatar
    A strolling player

    There are actually two I see fairly regularly around New Orleans’s Garden District, one in grey, one in orange.

  • avatar

    “True, the Fiat Spider was a miserably underpowered and maddeningly unreliable car (though not much worse than its British Leyland competition)…”

    I had one of these. You are wrong about the comparison. The Fiat was a big improvement over the BL product. I owned an MG, and while they were both fun, and while they both required a lot of mechanical attention, the Fiat was definitely the better of the two. And it was not underpowered in the context of the time.

    • 0 avatar

      Fiats were much more advanced than MGBs. Give me a 5-speed, DOHC engine, real front suspension, trailing arms, a panhard rod, coil springs, a roomy interior, a one-hand convertible top and a Weber or fuel injection over a 4-speed with a non-functioning electric overdrive, a tractor motor, king pins, quarter eliptic springs, a pup-tent, and SUs any day. FIAT also increased displacement as emissions standards tightened to maintain performance while MGBs just got clumsier and slower as time went by.

      • 0 avatar

        I’d forgotten about Fiat’s one hand top. And it mostly worked to keep out he rain. My MG had about 50 snaps, only half ever worked, and it was simply easier to leave the damned thing down, and use the tonneau cover (which was pretty useful, actually). Not so much when it rained, though.

      • 0 avatar

        +1, but you left out the pine needles, CJ.

  • avatar

    There is one of these little buggers running around my area. It doesn’t leave it’s property six months out of the year and it’s sleeping quarters are a good 75′ away from the road in the woods. It is rust free. So, for those of you who say that these all rusted away in your area, not true. They’re all hiding in the woods.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I see plenty of these for sale for $3-6K in the NY/NJ area on CL in decent shape the best being early 80’s with FI. The question remains would you be better off buying a used 1st gen Miata?

  • avatar

    If they’ve been well-cared for, they are on the road. My ’81 X19 has 192,314 mikes on it, uses no oil and is my part-time commuter car (103 miles RT driveway to office). Left me stranded once, when I was foolish enough to drive with a faulty alternator.

    If you’re going to use 1978 as the watermark, how many other makes do you see on the road? Not many, I’d reckon.

  • avatar

    I had an early ’70’s model in “racing red”. Car was a lot of fun, although the original 1487 cc engine was underpowered. It was generally reliable with no rust problems. One of the best-liked features was its easy open and close roof. How I wish my ’74 TR6 had it. The later model had a 2000 cc engine, which I imagine was quite an improvement.

  • avatar

    I actually saw this car today at the junkyard i took the starter from it for my fiat which was in need for one but it is pretty sad how the car is just going to be waste :(

  • avatar

    With Chrysler and Fiat becoming industrial partners, the new Pentastar V-6 from the Dodge Challenger would be an appropriate choice for this roadster in an engine swap project.

  • avatar

    I just picked up a 78 spider a couple months ago in Michigan.I should start by saying I love this car, even with the maintenance issues.

    It had been covered in a barn for 25 years after having been driven 80,000 miles as regular runner for it’s first 8 years of life.
    The prior owner spent 2 years tinkering- replaced brake lines, timing belt,and did a lot of cosmetic stuff- gold paint looks pretty good and almost no rust anywhere.
    I stupidly assumed he fixed all the basic stuff that needed fixing, because the car looked great and he had a fistful of receipts. What he did was try to make it run safely, which is fine. It’s a 36 year old car that will require some attention.
    What I’ve found is this is a well made vehicle that is a heck of a lot of fun to drive, but it’s best to be informed about and involved in it’s maintenance needs.
    My first issue was a throttle cable that slipped off once in a while. This happened in the first week and after tightening it for a couple months, I finally discovered that the clip to hold it on was completely missing. I’ve slowly discovered several original items that just are not with the car now. Mostly little trim items, almost all of which are easily fixed with affordable parts readily available online.
    Then it overheated in traffic. worked that issue out with new radiator (US$180)and a new switch. Very easy to replace with minimal tools.
    Then the original top ripped- bought a new upgraded top and took my time installing it over a week.
    then the carb started doing bad things. worked on it for a bit until I found a brand new upgrade direct from weber web site. After studying on this installation on, I was able to install the new carb.
    oh, did I mention an exhaust leak in the downpipe?
    found an upgraded exhaust manifold and downpipe (didn’t know what a downpipe was a month ago)that were salvaged in ohio for $50 total. Added a performance exhaust system behind it- had to pay an expert to get that stuff in.
    headlights are dim, wipers slow so spent a few weeks educating myself on the wiring solutions for this car, including something called the “brown wire fix” and a headlight relay harness system.
    then a starter issue- got a new upgraded one, half the weight,more power generated, less power used- US$200

    There is more, but that’s the big stuff. I should mention that I drove the car 5000 miles this Fall taking it on several round trips to Chicago, a 7 hour excursion.

    If this were any other car, I’d be done with it now. But for me the thing about this car outside of it’s style and pizzaz is that it reconnects you with the experience of driving. I’ve found it kind of empowering to have an understanding of what the heck is going on under the hood and elsewhere.

    One of my goals for Spring is to have her ready for a trip to the east coast and to buzz around Manhattan for a bit, especially around central park, without worrying about overheating or unplanned stops.

    Oh and as for those brakes, the 4 wheel power disc ones that were ahead of their time. They work great. I always know I can stop as quickly as anything around me and I’m probably more nimble as well.

    Awesome car that just needs a little love.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree TimSpider, most people who haven’t experienced the car would not know how easy they are to work on. Those who know Italian Cars know this is a sought after car all over the world. I have a ’72 in pristine condition, and I just got the interior done. This car was then and is now a much better car than the MG’s. No British mini car can boast multiple Rally Car championships and the styling of the body is Ferrari-like, and drips with character. It’s amazing that when I have gone to Italian car events, she gets so much attention despite the snobbish Alfa guys. Alfa doesn’t have the tools the 124’s have and history has already shown the 124’s capabilities.

    • 0 avatar

      Tim, I feel the same about my little 1978. The experience of driving, and of paying attention to what’s going on with the car. I drove past it on someone’s front lawn with a For Sale sign on it five years ago, and had to follow up. He wouldn’t negotiate on price so I waited til autumn when he really wanted to unload it.

      Have had SO much fun playing cars with this little thing! No, it’s not reliable transportation, it’s a toy car! I learned about the downpipe first thing, the overheating stopped me in my tracks once or twice til I sorted that out, and a few other fun events along the way, but boy do I have fun!

      I keep it in a hangar for winters, never let it contact road salt, and each summer I pick a couple of mechanical and cosmetic projects to take care of. Three years ago I had a concussion so I wasn’t driving it, and so I let the aircraft mechanic’s young apprentices trace down all the electrical shorts and fix them. It was a win/win – the mechanic didn’t always have things for the boys to do without his direct supervision, and playing with the car motivated them to do their other work promptly and efficiently. So now I don’t have to shift, steer through corners, and give hand signals for turns all at the same time anymore! :)

      This one has almost no rust, looks really pretty in the BRG paint the guy had decorated it in. I’ve bought a new canopy for it but haven’t worked out yet how to get it installed. Any tips?

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