Junkyard Find: 1971 Fiat 850 Sport Spider

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

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!

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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  • RandallJ RandallJ on Jul 03, 2012

    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..

  • Bellerophon Bellerophon on Mar 31, 2014

    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!

  • 1995 SC PA is concerning, but if it spent most of its life elsewhere and was someone's baby up there and isn't rusty it seems fairly priced.
  • CanadaCraig I don't see ANY large 'cheap' cars on the market. And I'm saying there should be.
  • 1995 SC I never cared for the fins and over the top bodies on these, but man give me that interior all day. I love it
  • 1995 SC Modern 4 door sedans stink. The roofline on them is such that it wrecks both the back seat and trunk access in most models. Watch someone try to get their kid into a car seat in the back of a modern sedan. Then watch them try to get the stroller into the mail slot t of a trunk opening. I would happily trade the 2 MPG at highway speed that shape may be giving me for trunk and rear seat accessibility of the sedans before this stupidity took over. I ask you, back in the day when Sedans were king, would any of them with the compromises of modern sedans have sold well? So why do we expect them to sell today? Make them usable for the target audience again and just maybe people will buy them. Keep them just as they are and they'll keep buying crossovers which might be the point.
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X As much problems as I had with my '96 Chevy Impala SS.....I would love to try one again. I've seen a Dark Cherry Metallic one today and it looked great.