Junkyard Find: 1976 Fiat 124 Sport Spider

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

So many Fiat 124 Sport Spiders get junked, and the process has been going on for my entire junkyard-prowling career. In the three years of this series, we’ve seen this ’71, this ’73, this ’75, this ’78, and this ’80, and we might as well add the 124’s little brother, this ’71 850 Sport Spider. I don’t even photograph every 124 Sport Spider I see, because they’re almost as common in wrecking yards as ’85 Camrys. Today’s ’76, however, holds the Junkyard Find record for Scariest California Beach Neighborhood Rust.

Cars that live within a block or two of the Pacific Ocean in Northern California (I found this car in one of my favorite East Bay yards during a recent drive around California in a new Mirage) often rust in a weird top-down pattern. For example, the truly frightening ’84 Toyota Van we saw last October. California cars with bad weatherstripping often rust inside the trunk, as water leaks in and sits for months during the long, rainy winters. This Fiat managed to rot from both types of California rust.

How does this even happen?

This car comes from the era of separate emissions requirements for new cars sold in California.

I have quite a collection of these SLOW DOWN lights, which were used to warn of an overheating catalytic converter (presumably the CATALYST indicator light warned of some other cat problem). Ferrari 328s had them, too.

Definitely not worth restoring, but maybe someone will grab the Twin Cam engine for a nicer Fiat.

Given how cheap these cars are, we see surprisingly few 124 Sport Spiders in the 24 Hours of LeMons. I can think of a couple of Twin Cam-powered examples, and then there’s the Volkswagen TDI-powered Smokey Unit Fiat. This car is pretty quick, but its real advantage in endurance racing is its tremendous range on a tank of diesel.

The last owner of this Fiat was against Proposition 86.

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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  • Allan850glt Allan850glt on Mar 02, 2014

    That thing is scary rusty! Hell, I live in Buffalo and even with our long winters and heavy use of salt, never have I seen something so rusted away in my 35 years. Even having lived deep out in the sticks (Orleans County) for a few years during my adolescence, not even old relics left out in fields or friend's awful field cars, nothing looked like this. Some lazy owner obviously never bothered to wash or wax this little thing. I need a tetanus shot just looking at it.

  • Dannew02 Dannew02 on Mar 11, 2014

    Actually that's what most cars end up looking like where I live (Wisconsin) I've personally owned and daily-drove cars this rusty. WHen the stolen STOP sign used to cover the hole in the floor falls onto the street because there's more hole than floor, it's time to look for a bigger sign... GOing thru puddles and the splash gets the headliner wet (and the under dash wiring, so you have to wait for it to dry out to resume your trip) was always fun, too. American cars seemed to rust just slightly slower than imported cars, or maybe there was just more mass to dissolve. This is why I've never been in an air-cooled VW, or the Datsun 510s I keep reading about online, because every one of them sent to my part of the midwest dissolved before they were 10 years old.

  • Billccm I think we will see history repeat itself. The French acquired AMC in the 1980s, discovered they couldn't make easy money, sold AMC off to Chrysler. Jeep is all that remained. This time the French acquired FCA, and they are discovering no easy profits. Assume an Asian manufacturer will acquire what remains of Chrysler, but this time Jeep and RAM are the only survivors.
  • William I feel very sorry for those who attempt to use an attack on a product as a way to deprecate an individual whose politics they disagree with. They delude themselves and mislead others.
  • Arthur Dailey Have to admit that I love that interior colour. And also like the upholstery on the seats and the inside of the door panels. And when was the last time you saw a door hanging coffee cup holder? Some here probably didn't know that such a device existed.
  • Buickman this is about cars. I miss Robert.
  • 28-Cars-Later Can we end debt slavery next? Its getting to the point where its no longer voluntary.