Junkyard Find: 1979 Fiat 124 Sport Spider

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1979 fiat 124 sport spider

For as long as I have been poking around in American automobile graveyards (35 years), the presence of the occasional Fiat 124 Sport Spider has been a constant. Even while Pininfarina-badged, Malcolm Bricklin-imported 124 Sport Spiders were still available as new cars in the United States, I was seeing 20,000-mile late-70s examples about to be crushed.

Nowadays, most of these cars show signs of decades-long outdoor storage after awaiting restorations that never came. Here’s an extremely rough and rusty one that I spotted in a San Francisco Bay Area yard a couple of months back.

How many of these cars have we seen in this series? Many. This ’71, this ’73, this ’75, this ’76, this ’78, this ’80, this ’80, and this ’80 (plus this ’80 in the Junkyard Treasures Series on Autoweek). That doesn’t count the many I didn’t bother to photograph, of course.

Like many older cars found in Bay Area wrecking yards, this one has ancient military-base parking permits. Having grown up in a Bay Area city with a huge Navy base, I’m familiar with the acres-wide long-term storage lots on bases where soldiers and sailors stored their often-quite-hooptified vehicles, and this car has the look of one that spent 25 or so years at the Mare Island Naval Complex (not far from this yard), getting the paint burned off by the sun and the metal rusted by the rainy winters.

Cars do rust in California, sometimes very thoroughly in the case of close-to-the-Pacific parking places, and they tend to do it from the top down. This car has rust where rainwater gathered and where the paint failed.

This is the only Fiat 124 I have ever seen with air conditioning. This looks like an aftermarket (probably dealer-installed) unit.

With only 86 horsepower available from the 1,995cc Fiat Twin Cam four-cylinder engine, acceleration with the AC on must have been leisurely. This car had a curb weight of 2,240 pounds, which gave it 26.05 pounds for each horsepower; compare that to the 62.5-horse/2,338-lb 1979 MGB and its 37.41 pounds-per-horsepower (or to the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and its 15.26 lbs/hp ratio).

Worth restoring? Hell no, not when you can get a nice one for five grand. Some useful parts are here, though, and we can hope that they get rescued before The Crusher digests this old Italian.

“Engineered for the Eighties.”

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3 of 22 comments
  • Hamish42 Hamish42 on Jul 09, 2017

    There were actually two Fiat sports cars in those days. Mine was the little one, the 850 Spider. 2-seats, soft top, rear engine, electrical problems that took your breath away but a total high-rev little blast of a car. Mine was mustard yellow. No knobs, everything was a toggle switch. And it was my first car with an FM radio except the car was too noisy to hear it. Loved it every day. Always will.

  • HotPotato HotPotato on Aug 06, 2017

    Yes! The 124 was the Big, Luxury Spyder for fancy people. My sister had its bouncing baby brother, the 850 Spyder, in college...I suppose that signified 850 ccs, because "that washing machine engine," as my dad called it, couldn't have been packing more than one liter. My god, that little 850 Spyder was cute, bright red and sized perfectly for a 10 year old...I freakin loved it. By the time I was of driving age, there were plenty of beautiful 124 Spyders and Alfa Romeo Spyders for that matter available in the local Auto Trader for very reasonable prices: it was the Age of the Miata and the pretty, classic Italians had cratered in value. No 850s left to speak of by that time though, they'd all died of rust or parts shortages. Well, except for one: the screaming-orange one owned by the weekend racer up the street. Every weekday morning he'd give the thing an Italian tuneup: redline it in first gear, then floor the brake pedal to absolutely no effect...when the car eventually drifted to a stop of its own accord, he'd redline it in reverse and then ineffectually floor the brake pedal...back and forth he'd go until the racing pads had warmed up enough to safely drive the car to work. I suppose he did the same thing in the work parking lot every day after work too. Nutty SOB, in the best way.

  • SCE to AUX Love it, and the price is a bargain, actually. The clean exterior is nice.Also, this caught my attention: "105mm throttle body"... that's a lot of air flow.
  • Tassos I predict this will be a big hit and conquer new markets. Housewives will be lining up to grab them, and the dealers will charge $200k a unit. Why? Because they already buy SUVs and crossovers they never needed, which have much less interior space than their minivans. So they will sacrifice a bit more of that space, but at least they will not drive identical looking crossovers with their accursed neighbor's wife.I also predict the Tesla Plaid and even lesses Teslas will beat the living daylights of this idiotic vehicle, and without even breaking a sweat.
  • Bobbysirhan I fully expect to be reading about the last-of-the-line Challenger Demon 170 Redeye Widebody three years from now.
  • Dougjp Finally, luxury/strong performance in a compact size car. Unlike the Civic R, the market for this segment has predominantly automatics buyers. Yet year after year, it appears Acura can't make such a car. They did have a 10 speed with torque (Accord), which counters the thought that they can't make a torque capable automatic.Oh well, look elsewhere I guess.
  • Analoggrotto The real question, how many years or months after the end of production will this vehicle be completely eliminated from the street? Neon lights, yellow spoiler covers, idiotic stripes, brazzers license plate frames, obnoxious exhausts and all.