Junkyard Find: 1978 Fiat 124 Sport Spider

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

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?

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • And003 And003 on Apr 06, 2012

    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.

  • Timspider Timspider on Dec 30, 2013

    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 fiatspider.com, 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.

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    • KathieSpider KathieSpider on Sep 29, 2017

      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?

  • Lou_BC I've I spent the past few days in what we refer to as "the lower mainland". I see Tesla's everywhere and virtually every other brand of EV. I was in downtown Vancouver along side a Rivian R1T. A Rivian R1S came off as side street and was following it. I saw one other R1S. 18% of new vehicles in BC are EV'S. It tends to match what I saw out my windshield. I only saw 2 fullsized pickups. One was a cool '91 3/4 ton regular cab. I ran across 2 Tacoma's. Not many Jeeps. There were plenty of Porches, Mercedes, and BMW's. I saw 2 Aston Martin DBX707's. It's been fun car watching other than the stress of driving in big city urban traffic. I'd rather dodge 146,000 pound 9 axle logging trucks on one lane roads.
  • IBx1 Never got the appeal of these; it looks like there was a Soviet mandate to create a car with two doors and a roof that could be configured in different ways.
  • CAMeyer Considering how many voters will be voting for Trump because they remember that gas prices were low in 2020–never mind the pandemic—this seems like a wise move.
  • The Oracle Been out on the boat on Lake James (NC) and cooking up some hella good food here with friends at the lake place.
  • ToolGuy Also on to-do list: Read the latest Steve S. fiction work on TTAC (May 20 Junkyard Find)