By on February 29, 2012

After yesterday’s yesterday’s ’71 Fiat Junkyard Find, we should check out the slower, uglier version of the 124 Sport Spider that resulted from Fiat’s attempts to meet American safety and emission standards. Fiat did a better job than British Leyland in this department (e.g., black-bumper MGB, Malaise Spitfire), but that’s clearing an extremely low bar.
As I mentioned yesterday, there appears to be an unlimited supply of forgotten 124 Spider projects in the garages and back yards of America, which results in a steady trickle of these cars showing up in junkyards. Every year since the early 1980s, the number of junked 124 Spiders remains pretty much constant. Of course, you don’t see them on the street these days, but you really didn’t see many 25 years ago, either.
If there are any Denver-area restorers who haven’t abandoned their 124 Spider projects, this intact spare-tire hardware will be a nice find.
Even though these cars were really fairly terrible, I must admit they are a lot of fun to drive. Fiat was very good at making slow cars feel fast.

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33 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1977 Fiat 124 Sport Spider...”

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    This one in particular looks like it would have been an easy resto. What a waste…

    • 0 avatar

      I owned three 124 Fiat Spyders back in the 1990’s and they were great cars. The back “seat” was great for riding around with three people. Cheap to buy and fix (spent a lot of time and money with Apple Motors here in Denver). Still wish I had one.

      • 0 avatar

        I bought my son a 1977 Spider in Longmont about 5 years ago. He loved it for high school and we spent a ton of money on the drive trane and other big repairs it badly needed including a new top.

        Anyway, he is in college now in Florida and took my Crown Vic (for reliability) as the daily driver and asked us to sell his Spider so he can save-up for a CJ after graduation. It is a fun extra car to drive but nothing you want to be driving in poor weather to get to work everyday in the winter given its age and dated safety systems.

        If anyone wants to buy a good running Spider with nice paint and new top send me an email. I own a BMW Z3 already which corners better along with 6 other cars so really have no use for one more convertable. I think $4,000 would be a fair price. It is in Loveland, Colorado. Sometimes it gets hot so maybe a radiator is in the future ($300) but it starts right up and is fun to drive.

        My email is [email protected]

  • avatar

    Don’t rag on my Fiat, man! Slow cars can be fun to drive (as noted) but slow cars can also make pretty good time if they are simply driven. As I have pointed out (endlessly I suppose), my extra-slow 2001 VW diesel has (or used to have) a good 90 hp, but all you need to do to get down the road is use it all. I will once again point out the time I passed a Corvette just to get to the head of a long line of cars backed up behind a tractor-trailer.

    So don’t rag on my Fiat, man!

    Besides, every car was slow back then.

  • avatar

    Yes, what Markp said.

    My admittedly zippy but still 67hp ’83 Civic never felt all that slow for it got up to speed decently enough, even though I shifted at roughly 3000rpm or so, bet the car would do even better if I let the car’s rpm run above that point before shifting…

    It never felt wanting for power as it WAS light enough.

    What Markp says, use it all is the key to driving these small, slower cars.

    As to the 124 Spider, I see these around Seattle, some restored, some not so much, but they ARE driving, mostly during the summer months, along with the occasional Alfa and the even more occasional 850 Spider. All this because Fiat came back into the country.

    Now, I see the new 500 quite often, often enough that I suspect the vast majority of them are owner occupied.

  • avatar

    What’s that red thing there next to the Fiat? an Alfa?

    • 0 avatar

      It’s a ’92 Passat GLS/GLX. The “grille” is inside the Fiat in one of the pictures. I had a ’90 GL; it breathed through that circular hole that should have had a VW badge in it. This design deserved a mention in yesterday’s discussion of grilles & aerodynamics. Most extreme example of grille elimination I can think of.

      • 0 avatar

        Is that the VW badge in two parts on top of the Fiat’s dashboard?

        Edit: Ah, no, I see it had two round air vents up there:

    • 0 avatar

      There is a fine looking BMW E30 on the other side. Le Mons racer, anyone?

  • avatar

    This one is surprisingly rust-free, looks like a viable project car.

    It’s a shame; Fiat made some attractive cars like this one, and with 4-wheel disk brakes it was ahead of its time. They allowed themselves to become associated with poor quality/reliability/durability and were forced to flee the market in disgrace.

  • avatar
    I've got a Jaaaaag

    I like that pictures include a time honored self service junkyard tradition, stashing the parts you need later in a completely different make and model. I have not done that as second generation Blazer parts are plentiful, but I have run across many non blazer parts in the trucks I have been stripping.

  • avatar

    I wish there were sports cars this size around now, with a bit of back seat room and a bigger trunk. Miata is just too small for me, most others are too expensive or have even smaller trunks (Mini ragtop) Incidentally, my personal barometer for trunk zis a beach chair, umbrella and backpack.

    • 0 avatar

      Speaking of the Miata, everyone knows Mazda used the equially troublesome Lotus Elan as the inspiration for the original runaway hit. When the novelty eventually wore off, instead of trying to come up with something completely original, it would have been nice if they had used, say, the 124 Spider as the model for one of the next generation Miatas.

      Imagine a reliable, well-built 124 Spider…

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    **Sigh** Pininfarina drew up one of the best looking roadsters of all time, then turned it over to a bunch of ham-handed goofs and bean-counters who totally messed up the execution of this potentially great design. These cars should be classics, but between the terrible electrics, the horrible Fix-It-Again-Tonuy drive gear and the truly poor-excuse for a poor-excuse materials choices, this car never really realized the awesome potential of its design….

    Love to see THIS design language redone in a modern roadster or coupe…but now we live in a world where there’s only demand for one small roadster…and the Miata rules it.

  • avatar

    I owned one of these back in school, a ’75 (I believe).

    Ran it for 1.5 years after buying it from a guy that had just replaced the top (for $450) and just wanted that money for it…set of studded snows got me thru 2 Colorado winters.

    Despite its reputation (and a loss of 3rd gear), the car never stranded me, could be fixed with my rudimentary mechanical knowledge and was sold to an eager buyer in SF, delivered by yours truly in a Baruthian solo road trip from Boulder to SF in same vehicle.

  • avatar

    My piano teacher, Mrs. Schofield, had one of these. I exhausted her with questions about it and requests for rides. She said it was a frankly terrible car, which my 10-year-old mind simply couldn’t process.

  • avatar

    I turn 30 this year.

    That puts me at an age where all of these 50-90hp roadsters look the same to me: oxidized paint, clouded plastic windows on the top, leaves in the interior, cracked dessicated tires and a mounded pile of tar that used to be oil drips under the motor.

    They all look the same to me.

    It wasn’t until relatively recently that I knew good versions of these ever existed. To me the crappy, soon-to-be-junked (or sold to a drag racer) past-their-prime malaisemobiles owned by dudes past their own prime are the norm.

  • avatar

    I own a ’73 Spider. All you have to do is update the electrical, switch to electronic ignition, and understand basic maintenance and you’re good to go. The cars ride better than most newer econoboxes, have enough power for the fun factor, and can be completely rebuilt as needed with readily available parts. They have 4 wheel disc brakes, a 5 speed transmission, and are an absolute blast to drive. Find one without rust (not that difficult if you take your time when looking), and enjoy a great summertime convertible.

  • avatar

    Just don’t try to adjust the valve clearance. Shims for God’s sake! Who else used shims?

  • avatar

    I can live with shims for the valves….. it’s not something that you have to deal with very often. However when my friend with a Spitfire told me he had to top up the oil in his carburetor I thought that he -must- be kidding. He wasn’t.

  • avatar

    I forgot about the Fiat’s shim valve adjustment. The procedure was not all that difficult but of course you had to have the right tool and the right shims. It would have been a pain to do, but I never had to do it to mine in the 100K miles I drove it. I had also forgotten about putting oil in the carbs of our old Triumph TR-3. Now that I did have to do occasionally. But that was simple: unscrew, squirt, retighten.

  • avatar

    I’ve been thinking one of these would be a great candidate for a swap from any modern 2wd small truck. Lots of great options in the junkyards. Can’t imagine it would be any tougher or more expensive than trying to restore the awful FIAT mechanicals.

    Think 4.3 Vortec and a 5-speed. . .

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve been told the longitudinal 60 degree V6 from the ’90s Camaro is a good match. 200ish horsepower in a light, reasonably compact package. Sold a ton of them so parts are cheap and readily available.

    • 0 avatar

      I rebuilt the 2.0 twincam in my Brava (necessary due to neglect by previous owners). This was my first attempt at rebuilding an engine. After dealing with one annoying oil leak (aux shaft), it ran fine and didn’t drip.

      So long as you replaced the timing belt before it broke (FIAT said every 38K miles IIRC), it was a decent engine. Changing the timing belt was a pain, but that was the only wart. Mine had Bosch FI, started easily, ran great, and always passed smog.


  • avatar

    @Darkhorse: yes, the 2005 Toyota’s borrowed the Jaguar system for valve adjustment … pull the cams and then get at the buckets … I liked the fiat system a lot better …

    Folks forget that Fiat influenced the Miata also … with that nifty one hand convertible top. Before that, the early MG’s has a two piece, 3 arm frame you had to line up and them place into sockets, and then slide two ends into the brackets, and fasten three clips and then the clamps on the windshield header .. Imagine doing that in the dark or in a pouring rain. I don’t have to imagine … I did it more times than I care to remember …

    The Fiat top, by comparison was easy. Pull over, reach around and pull … clamp to the windshield header and no rain … and the top also included two small rear side windows for better visibility …what a revelation … the British improved their tops but never came close to such an elegant solution.

  • avatar

    Q. What was on that gas flap – chromed scripture?

    Just curious seems novel.

  • avatar
    Maratona Man

    I remember this car — when I tried to remove the throttle cable, my elbow sank into a pool of urine in the carpet… the afterlife of this car as a portapotty is almost as bad as an Alfa that had turned into a brothel (the parcel shelf was full of used condoms).

  • avatar

    Amongst classic car enthusiasts in Europe the Fiat 124 Spider is very popular. It’s a simple car and the knowledgeable owner can do a lot of DIY on the car. Spare parts are abundant and plenty and there are many dedicated Fiat 124 clubs and enthusiasts around to help keep them in good working order.

    I read mainly classic car magazines and all of them have the same thing to say about the Fiat 124: a generally reliable design with a few quirks but nothing to dramatic. The biggest problems on these cars is rust. Most of the Fiat 124 Spiders you’ll see in Europe are actually reimported California spec models.

    I’ve been toying with the idea of buying an example. They’re very handsome cars and above all fun to drive. These are cars for purists. These people won’t mind working on this car on the weekend. It’s part of their hobby. In fact the many classic car owners I know are just that. They have a daily driver but their classic car is their weekend driver or project.

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