By on October 12, 2011

Imagine, this tiny Italian sports car hanging on long enough to evade the junkyard until the second decade of the 21st century! We have no way of knowing how many of its 40 years were spent as a “get to it someday” project car, under a tarp in a side yard, but it doesn’t have the weeds-and-mouse-poop look of a car that spent many years outdoors. I found this little jewel in the same Denver self-serve yard that gave us this ’79 Alfa Romeo Sport Sedan.
The Spring ’74 Fresno State parking sticker indicates that this car spent at least some of its early years in California.
This rear-quarter metal repair uses an innovative-yet-puzzling technique.
In ’71, car shoppers could pick up an 850 Sport Spider, complete with 58-horsepower engine, for $2,294. 58 horsepower doesn’t sound like much, but keep in mind that this thing only weighed 1,590 pounds. Compare that to the ’71 VW Karmann Ghia convertible, which weighed 300 pounds more yet packed only two additional horsepower (not to mention the price tag of $2,750). Keeping in mind the VW’s far superior reliability, perhaps a better comparison would be with the ’71 Triumph Spitfire, which dragged its 1,620 pounds about with a miserable 48 horses and cost $2,649. The 850 looks like a pretty good deal.
Look, it even has a Bertone body. Why, you’d have been crazy to take the Spitfire over the 850!

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23 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1971 Fiat 850 Sport Spider...”

  • avatar

    That thing has an interesting radiator arrangement. Is it up against the firewall with the big fan pulling air in from the cowl?

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    There is a scoop under the radiator that gathers air pointed to the front.

    I’ve had several of these and have friends that have too. We all drive Miatas now. It is so sad that the British and Italians just gave up on innovation. Those 850’s had such severe rust problems that they were recalled for safety reasons. They would just break in half. Brand new cars would have evident rust on the dealer lot.

  • avatar

    My brother had one of these (in red, of course). I remember three things.
    When riding in it, you would look out the side windows and be at about the same height as bumpers on the American cars (newly 5 mph collision capable).
    The second thing was that you could lean on an opened door and it wouldn’t close properly – because the hinges bent – no doubt a reflection of the low weight.
    Finally, the last thing was that it wasn’t particularly happy to start in Midwestern winters (my father said it preferred a Mediterranean climate).

  • avatar

    BS on the ’71 Spitfire only having 48hp, 68 is more like it!

    • 0 avatar

      68, but that’s 687 SAE Gross. (Mind you, the same applies to the Fiat and the KG as well.)

      • 0 avatar

        I dyno’d my ’74 Spitfire at a Saab Club event a couple years ago – 62hp at the rear wheels. But my car has a ’69 small-bearing high-compression 1296 engine (bored to 1330) with dual SU carbs, a header, and a more sporting cam and exhaust. So with drivetrain losses I am pretty happy with the 62hp! Probably 80hp or so at the crank. Goes pretty good even with my fat butt in the driver’s seat.

        They raffled of a really lovely FIAT 850 Spyder at the Carlisle Import Show a few years back.

  • avatar

    Spitfires did not get down to 48hp until the catalyst equipped 1500s of ’79-’80. A ’71 would have had a 60-some hp 1296cc motor.
    They wieghed a good bit more than 1620lbs too, my ’74 is under a ton, but not a lot under. They are rather solid little cars.

    Which cannot be said for the FIAT – a buddy had one in High School, and while great fun when it ran, that was seldom, and you could hear it rusting away.

  • avatar

    A buddy in the air force had one of these – bright blue. It was fun to ride in, but I can’t imagine what insurance cost. He was single as I was, and all I could afford was an “assigned risk” policy that cost me $33.00 a month back then! That was for a clean record, but single in the military was the kiss of death.

    Back to the car; I don’t recall him having any real issues with it and he owned it as long as I knew him, but he may have gotten rid of it after he got married. He then drove a full-size van!

  • avatar

    Love it. I saw one of these on the street last Sun. A beautiful day for a ride with the top down. It was parked across the street. A guy and his wife/gf jump in to leave and he tries to start it. Crank crank crank, crank craank craaank. Just as I’m about to be rude, he tries again and gets into that half cranking half running on one cylinder mode. Then it catches, he looks over at her with a “I told you it would start look” Then off they went for an evening drive. With just a hint of oil smoke trailing them. I’m sure they had a great time, but I would park it on a hill.

    • 0 avatar
      dvp cars

      ……..Fiats weren’t the only “park-on-a-hill” candidates. For those unfamiliar with the process (like Floridians), it involved driving around innumerable blocks, looking for an empty (and free, if you had money you would have already bought a new battery/generator/starter) space on a downhill slope…..not just any spot, though, you needed one where nobody could park ahead of you, giving room to turn the car out from the curb.
      When it came time to attempt the bumpstart, you had to factor in things like engine temperature, manual choke setting, hill gradient, and which gear to pop the clutch in…….I always preferred 2nd, but some swore 3rd was better. You usually only got one shot at it, so you had to get it right the 1st time………failure meant pushing the lump out of harm’s way and looking for a payphone to call your buddy with the towrope. All in a day’s commute, circa 1960.

      • 0 avatar

        With a Golf GTI you can actually get lucky sometimes. I once arrived at the airport after a long flight in the small hours of the morning. My trusty Golf was parked in a remote corner of the multi-storey car-park. I was looking forward to getting home and a bit of sleep, but my GTI’s battery couldn’t summon up enough electrons to operate the starter motor.

        There was nobody around to ask for help, thanks to my crazy arrival time. Home was an hour away, so phoning for help was only a very last resort. Out of desperation, I pushed the Golf out of the parking space by myself and pointed the nose in the right direction. I then managed to get it up to bit of speed, jump in, put it in gear (think it was 3rd but it was long ago) and pop the clutch. To my immense relief it started on the first try and I was on my way.

      • 0 avatar
        Mike Bevington

        Alternator, not generator. If your battery was completely dead the biggest hill in town wouldn’t start you. Otherwise, the car was so light that you could open the door, push a few feet in a flat parking lot, jump in and bump start in 2nd. Who needs a starter?

  • avatar

    I drug a 850 Spider home to Georgia from Ohio in the mid 1990s. It was a basket case. I realized I had too many projects and tried to sell it, no takers. I ended up parting it out on ebay and sending parts all over the world. I made about 4x what I was asking for the whole car. I donated the shell to be used as a prop for the church vacation bible school.

  • avatar

    I looked at one of these before buying a ’68 VW beetle. 5,000 rpm in top gear at 70 mph didn’t seem conducive to a long engine life.

  • avatar

    The rear quarter treatment are spot-weld pins. You weld the pins on, usually on top of zinc-oxide spray -then pull out the pins with a slide hammer and grind them off. They are not intended to stay and be painted.

  • avatar

    Yikes, look at that fan.
    The first thing I would do if I had one of these would be and electric fan conversion. Probably would free up 8 precious hp’s when you give the work to Mr. Lucas.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      That might be difficult since it the fan is driven off of the water pump unless you have a seperate electric motor/fan. A rear engine car that is water cooled with a rear radiator is bound to have issues. Porsches, the Fiat replacement for the 850 X/19 and even the lowly Fiero had the radiator up front.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    A Friend of mine owned one in the early 70s. He and I drove it from Chicago to NYC in about 18 hrs. one Christmas. We fitted the two of us, our luggage (not a whole lot) and his German Shepperd in the car. But it rusted out so badly that you could see the road between your feet within a couple of years.

    He replaced it with a Vega!

    A couple of cars later, he bought a new 1991 Toyota Camry Wagon. After 20 years and 160,000 miles, he still owns, it is his daily driver, and it runs like a top.

  • avatar

    I spy a 300zx in the background there with an odd hood opening… hmmm.

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    Back in the 1960’s my mum bought one new .It would carry 4 of us (3 brothers )at 90 MPH with out any problem what so ever. In fact the only trouble it ever gave was a bearing in the alternator which died ($5 repair) The engine was the same basic unit as in the multipla etc etc and very easy to work on.
    Although we lived in rainy new Zealand it never showed one spec of rust.
    The body and Mechanicals were far superior to the Spitfire with it’s ancient Standard 10 engine ( excessive crank end float was first discovered in these i think…) and rubbish suspension,not mention the loose fitting body work which always looked as they had all been in accidents and badly repaired when new.Mums was stark white with the early style lamborghini Miura headlights . I always wanted another but such a car was unknown here in Australia until i was surfing ebay last year and there it was…but at $3500 and now very sad ,there it stayed.

  • avatar

    Oh boy, one of the first of my many cars I had.. Pueblo CO in 1975 for this one… (ended up smashed under the rear tandems of a fuel tanker truck when my brother borrowed the damn thing)..

    These things were a blast to drive.. We set up a little street track out in Pubelo West and ran the wheels off this thing.. Would love to find another..

  • avatar

    I remember these cars having a centrifugal “oil filter” which was built in to the crank pulley. You separated the pulley and all the non oil matter was packed to the outside of the pulley into a sought of grey thick paste. Neat little car though, wish I had one now. Probably gets great mileage!

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