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A look at how the new Fiat 124 Spider stacks up against the original
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Monday, December 21, 2015
Fiat 124 Spider Brochures
While we are waiting for the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider to arrive at Fiat Studios next summer, here's a look back at the iconic original Spider with the help of some original period brochures.
I've owned two early 70s Fiat 124 Spiders and driven and worked on countless others. Sophisticated, comfortable and good looking, these were very refined cars in their day. Still are. They are a masculine car with a genuine performance heritage spelled A-B-A-R-T-H.
The Fiat 124 Abarth Rally is one of the most attractive cars ever produced. But more than just a beautiful car, it had a serious competition pedigree. Use the link below to read more
The original 1966 124 Sport Spider came with a revolutionary twin-overhead cam engine created by the legendary ex-Ferrari engineer Aurelio Lampredi. Car enthusiasts should note that before the Fiat Twin Cam engine, double-overhead camshaft engines were the exclusive domain of only expensive cars. Lampredi's design with its igneous yet simple valve actuation and economical belt drive camshafts enabled this high-performance engine architecture to be feasible in less expensive cars.
Lampredi's design with its ingenious yet simple valve actuation and economical belt drive camshafts paved the way for this high-performance engine architecture's use in nearly all modern cars. These Fiat engines could easily turn 7 - 8,000 rpm which totally surpassed their British competitors low revving, push-rod engines.
In addition, the adoption of a five-speed gearbox and four-wheel-disc brakes as standard equipment set the pattern for all sports cars that followed.
It is probably more accurate to say that the original Mazda Miata has more in common with the Fiat 124 Sport Spider than any British roadster of the day.
Road Test Magazine said of the original Fiat 124 Spider:
"What the Fiats offer is this: they take the roughness out of owning a sports car once and for all. They're quiet, comfortable smooth and easy to get in and out of. "
" ...A sense of extreme lightness comes when you drive the car....they don't tire you out so much as you might expect in a car in this class to. Here's one sports car you can jump in and take off cross country and know you're going to arrive relaxed and comfortable..."
"...Everything seems well thought out, neat, where it should be, with big round dials for speedometer and tachometer, handy switches and covered gear shift lever; it seems as if this car should be in a higher class..."
Specifications of the 1974 Fiat 124 Spider show it had a 1756 cc twin overhead cam engine, 5-speed gearbox, and four-wheel disc brakes. This car outclassed the antiquated British roadsters competition in every way.
In 1975, Fiat changed the elegant chrome bumpers to these much larger ones to meet US bumper specs. No matter, the 124 Spider's design was strong enough to pull it off.
The 124 Spider elegant interior features genuine wood, comfortable reclining bucket seats, and sexy Veglia Borletti instruments.
The Fiat 124 Sport Spider was never a cheap car. In 1977, it cost $6,250 or more than twice that of a base Fiat 128. For perspective, an average car was about $4,300 and a Corvette was around $9,000.
Designed by Pininfarina and debuting in 1966, the Fiat 124 Spider looked good then and still looks good now, some fifty years later.
One handed convertible top operation was a revelation in 1966. This car set the standard for convertible top operation we use today.
In 1978 Fiat upped the engine size from 1756cc to 1995cc and the Spider 2000 was born. While the exterior looks nearly the same, Fiat significantly upgraded and enhanced the trim, functionality, and performance of the Spider for the next decade.
The Fiat Spider 2000 featured many upgraded systems like a modernized electrical, and available electronic fuel injection. An automatic transmission was also offered as well as power windows.
The larger 2-liter engine of the Spider 2000 changed the character of the Spider from a lean athletic sportscar to a more mature and torquey grand tourer.
The 1981 Fiat Spider 2000 brochure highlights the available creature comforts such as power windows, leather upholstery, and automatic transmission.
In 1983 Fiat, the third-largest car company in the world at the time pulled out of the United States. However, the Fiat Spider 2000 would continue to be sold. The design company Pininfarina, who had previously built the body and shipped them to Fiat for final assembly, eventually took over the complete manufacturing of the Spider in 1981 and worked out a deal to continue selling the Spider under the name Pininfarina Spider Azzura. These were manufactured and sold until 1985 when Pininfarina switched its assembly line over to manufacture the Cadillac Allante.
The 1981 Fiat Spider 2000 Turbo was the first turbocharged convertible available in the United States.
All told, nearly 200,000 Fiat 124 Spiders were made between 1966 - 1985. More than 170,000 Spiders were sold in the United States between 1968 and 1985 of which approximately 8,000 remain on the road.
Images: Abarth image courtesy FCA NV, Brochures from author's collection