Junkyard Find: 1971 Fiat 124 Sport Spider

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

In my 30 years of crawling through junkyards, one thing has remained constant: there’s almost always a Fiat 124 Sport Spider to be found. Crusher-bound 124 Spiders are about exactly as common now as they were in the early 1980s, and I suspect they’ll be just as common in 2032. I usually don’t even bother to photograph them (though I have documented this ’78 and this ’75), but lately I’ve developed some affection for the sports car that made the MGB seem reliable. Here’s one— a little older than most— that I spotted in a Northern California yard earlier in the month.

Genuine Pininfarina design here!

The Fiat Twin Cam engine in this car displaced 1438cc and made a decent 96 horses in ’71, but that number dropped a lot when emission laws and net horsepower ratings came into play. The Twin Cam got bigger as the decade went on, but the power got smaller.

Look, a number on the door. Race car!

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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  • Cleek Cleek on Mar 01, 2012

    I can remember the '70's spider maintenance section of the manual had "check for leaks" in its periodic listings.

  • Mike_Aldea Mike_Aldea on May 14, 2012

    I dispute the idea that the Fiat 124 Spider was mechanically unreliable. I drove my 1971 Fiat 124 Spider with the 1608cc engine for 130k miles before selling it. During that the entire time I owned that car I only replaced the following: * OEM exhaust when it rusted out with a dual wall aftermarket one * Water Pump * Alternator-Voltage Regulator which was a combined unit * Timing Belt as part of normal maintenance. * Convertible Top when the rear window became too scratched and yellow to see clearly * Seal Beam Headlamps with European Quartz replacement units for better performance. None of this was unusual for a 1970s era automobile. The only reason I sold the car instead of restoring it was due to the bad corrosion through the rocker panels. Because the car was unit body construction and not body on frame it would have been prohibitively expensive to try and repair. Eventually that corrosion was going to lead to dangerous body flex. The corrosion problem was not that unusual for an imported vehicle here in the Northeast rust belt. Rust prevention on automobiles has come a long way since then. I was so happy with my Fiat that in 1982 I encourage my girl friend to buy a used 1979 Fiat 124 Spider. She enjoyed that car for many years. But between the raised ride height to bring the headlamps up to the federally mandated minimum height and the heavy federalized bumpers it did not handle as well as my 1971 nor was it as quick. Those monstrous bumpers also really ruined the lines of that classic Pininfarina design.

  • 3-On-The-Tree Lou_BCsame here I grew up on 2-stroke dirt bikes had a 1985 Yamaha IT200 2-strokes then a 1977 Suzuki GT750 2-stroke 750 streetike fast forward to 2002 as a young flight school Lieutenant I bought a 2002 suzuki Hayabusa 1300 up in Huntsville Alabama. Still have that bike.
  • Milton Rented one for about a month. Very solid EV. Not as fun as my Polestar, but for a go to family car, solid. Practical EV ownership is only made possible with a home charger.
  • J Love mine, but the steering wheel blocks dashboard a bit, can't see turn signals nor headlights icons. They could use the upper corners of the screen for the turn signals. Mileage is much lower than shown too, disappointing
  • Aja8888 NO!
  • OrpheusSail I once did. My first four cars were American made, and through an odd set of circumstances surrounding a divorce, I wound up with a '95 Nissan Maxima which was fourteen years old and had about 150,000 miles on it.It was drove better, had an amazing engine, and was more reliable than any of my American cars. This included a new '95 GMC pickup that went through five alternators in under two years while the dealership insisted that there was no underlying electrical problem while they tried to run the clock on the warranty.That was the end of 'buy American'. I've bought from Honda and VW since, and I'll consider just about anything except American now.