Quantum Leaps: The ‘17 Fiat 124 Really SHOULD Have Been the New Alfa Spider

quantum leaps the 17 fiat 124 really should have been the new alfa spider

When Fiat first merged with Cerberus-owned Chrysler to become FCA, American fans of Italian marques — long ago orphaned by the likes of Fiat, Alfa Romeo, and Lancia — were positively drooling at the possibilities. “We might get the Lancia Delta,” read the headlines, and we were full of hope.


That hope didn’t lead to much more than missed opportunities in most cases, but the biggest miss of all was the 2017-2020 Fiat 124 Spider.


THE WORST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS


There’s an old joke that claimed Canada was the greatest missed opportunity in human history. “Canada,” the joke goes, “could have had French cuisine, British culture, and American technology … instead, it has British cuisine, American culture, and French technology.”


That was a laugh riot in the ‘80s before Airbus redefined global aviation technology, chefs like Gordon Ramsey revitalized British cooking, and people like Kim Kardashian and Donald Trump – well, let’s just say that American culture hasn’t gotten any better since then.

Similarly, the Chrysler/Fiat marriage is a tale of what might have been, and everyone from journalists to enthusiasts to CEOs was dreaming big.




“In Europe, Lancia is an undersized, underdeveloped brand, with nothing bigger than the Delta,” said the late Sergio Marchionne, who was chairman of the paired Fiat/Chrysler company, FCA. “Chrysler, which has a true global reach, has nothing smaller. Put them together and you have a full line-up.”


That badge-engineered Lancia Delta/Chrysler PT Corsa never came to pass, though. Chrysler brass apparently got cold feet at the last minute, questioning whether or not American car buyers would swing on a compact, premium hatchback. The thing was de-contented to bring costs down, a sedan body was slapped on the Delta platform (because sedans were a thing you could sell back then), and the Dodge Dart ( along with its Consumer Reports reliability rating of minus 81) was born.


That badge-engineered Lancia Delta/Chrysler PT Corsa never came to pass, though. Chrysler brass apparently got cold feet at the last minute, questioning whether or not American car buyers would swing on a compact, premium hatchback. The thing was de-contented to bring costs down, a sedan body was slapped on the Delta platform (because sedans were a thing you could sell back then), and the Dodge Dart ( along with its Consumer Reports reliability rating of minus 81) was born.


Over on the Fiat side of FCA, another bad decision was driven by a similarly total lack of understanding of what the good parts of Fiat/Lancia/Chrysler were when the powers-that-be decided that it would be a good idea to buy a bunch of Mazda MX-5 Miatas and convert them into new-age Alfa Romeo Spiders.

WAIT, WHAT SPIDER


That’s right. The Miata project was originally supposed to give birth to a reborn Alfa Romeo Spider. A deal was struck in 2012 to have Mazda build a modern interpretation on Dustin Hoffman’s famous ride in the Graduate complete with a front-mounted 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, manual transmission, and rear-wheel drive — and all of that would be backed up with classic, Pininfarina-inspired styling and a Japanese sense of build quality, reliability, and (there’s really no nice way to say this) rustproofing.


Alas, that’s not what we got. So, how did it become a Fiat?


Simple: Marchionne decided that any car wearing an Alfa Romeo badge must be built in Italy. That fact — the where it was built, not the how or why — outweighed everything else, in Sergio’s opinion. But the deal with Mazda was done. The purchase orders were signed and sent. What to do?


Why, make it a Fiat, of course! Apparently, you can build a “Fiat” anywhere, and the old 124 Spider is every bit as desirable as the classic Alfa Spider, right?


Right?

As dubious as that sounds, the Fiat product planners decided that this should be an American play, and decided that what the Mazda really needed to appeal to an American audience was styling based on the forgettable Fiat spider of the 1970s, along with a bigger trunk, softer suspension, and more power courtesy of a turbocharged “Multiair” engine.


For those of you keeping track, we could have had an Alfa Romeo Spider with classic looks inspired by the original, a top-shelf Italian leather interior, and all the reliability and solidity of Mazda’s legendary track-rat Miata baked right in … and we don’t even have to guess what that would have looked like. We’ve seen it! It was the Alfa Romeo 2uettottanta concept from 2010, and it was GORGEOUS!

Instead, we go whatever passes for an Italian’s idea of an Americanized suspension, a bigger trunk, and an engine that, while well received in the early 2010s when it debuted, can be best described in 2022 as “ not what you really want.”


Our time-traveling hero could have solved all of this. He could have grabbed Marchionne by the lapels and shaken the certain knowledge that Americans have no idea where their cars are built, and most of them don’t care. If it says “Alfa” on the nose that’ll be enough. What’s more, he could have reminded Sergio that no one who ever tried to keep an old Spider on the road (or Alfasud, of Milano, or 164, etc.) would look at having access to Mazda’s national parts and service network as a bad thing.


Today, there are fewer new Fiat dealers than when the 124 Spider was first announced, and a fair number of CJDR stores will actively avoid doing work on Fiats, even if they know full well that they’ve got Chrysler bits under the hood … and there is very, very little chance of the Mazda Fiats ever becoming classics. It’s too bad, too, because that Japanese-Italian fusion could have been very tasty, indeed.


[Images: Alfa Romeo]

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  • Tane94 Tane94 on Jul 23, 2022

    With an automatic transmission, the Fiat 124 is a far better cruiser than the Miata.

  • Bronze Spider Bronze Spider on Jul 23, 2022

    I own a bronze 124 Spider Lusso. It is an absolute blast to drive. Fun, fast enough, and I have never had so many people compliment a car I owned. The more aggressive front end sets it apart from the Miata. IMO it looks much better than the Alfa spiders pictured in this article. These look like a Miata with an Alfa Romeo emblem on the front. Now the reason for its demise, it is an extremely small warm weather car that is only comfortable to drive for about 150 miles at a time. It is only for fun outings and would not even be a good commuter car because of the ragtop. I think it will become a "regular" man's classic because it will stay relatively inexpensive, has sports car looks, a convertible, and most are being driven "for fun" .

  • Terelaad The entire plant is just a toy for the rich.
  • Seanx37 If it made economic sense, it would have happened decades ago. No one would insure such places. And few are going to take $60-150k electric cars off road unless they are very wealthy
  • MaintenanceCosts Seems pretty obvious that they're leaving room for a SRT with the 2.0T and the electric motor. The R/T will probably be slower than the GT given the extra weight, but without the 9-speed it will be a much nicer drive.
  • Art Vandelay Lawyers would Eff it up. That and the NIMBYS. I agree with you, but it ain't gonna happen
  • EBFlex They are getting rid of the Charger and Challenger for a modern day Neon?just end it Dodge, you had a great run
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