An old friend recently posted a photo of a classic red Fiat 124 Sport Spider – the affordable Italian sports car – that he owned years ago in Paris. It look like a still from a Francois Truffaut movie but it reminded me that I had an unfinished piece about the original of this 1960’s icon and its revived version that debuted at the LA Auto Show in 2015.
The original Fiat 124 was launched at the 1966 Turin Auto Show. It was designed by Pininfarina, styled by Tom Tjaarda and manufactured by Fiat between 1966-1980. It first sold in the US in 1968 but by 1975 the car ceased to comply with stringent US regulations. Fractionally under 200,000 Spiders were built – 75% taken by the US market.
Powered by a four cylinder double OHC with an aluminium block that was designed by ex-Ferrari chief engineer, Aurelio Lampredi. Early models carried a 1,400 cc capacity that gradually grew over the production run to a 1,995 cc capacity by 1979 – when it was rebranded the “Fiat 2000 Spider”.
In 1972, Fiat produced a sports version – under Abarth’s designer Ing. Colucci – that saw great success as a rally car. A retail version badged the Fiat 124 CSA (C-Spider-Abarth) was launched but only 1000 were made.
In November 2015, following the fruitful collaboration between Fiat Chrysler brands, Mazda and Fiat, the re-imagined Fiat 124 – that echoes some of Pininfarina’s design of the earlier car and so of its MX-5 heritage – was launched. It uses the same platform as Mazda’s new MX-5 Miata – the fourth generation of this Mazda franchise. The car has a 1.4 litre Multiair inline-four engine that delivers 140 HP (Europe) and 160 HP (US).
Coming bang up to date in 2017; you know when printing your Easyjet boarding pass – Why print? because you’ve forgotten how to add your pass to your iPhone’s wallet function – the printer is low on ink and the paper lags as the bottom section of the Board Pass is printed. You can virtually hear the squeezing of your printer cartridge as it produces some inappropriate car hire or hotel ad. Not this time imagine my surprise when an ad for a 124 Abarth Spider drops out of the printer……. And this is despite the Abarth Spider’s dismal performance – on an admittedly wet Eboladrome” track – on Amazon’s “The Grand Tour”, where it managed to be placed last of nineteen cars tested.
I do worry to what extent, other than the virtue of re-imagining a classic like the 124 Spider, this is an exercise in nostalgia harvesting. Given the risks and costs associated with creating the wholly new, I do understand why a car maker will seek hooks on which to hang hats prior to production. Does the success of the re-imagined Mini, VW Beetle or the Fiat 500 smooth the possibility of success for this addition to Fiat’s range or are they just standalone good cars?
Finally, a relevant post-script from Wadell Media’s TV show the “World’s Most Expensive Cars”. When seeking to sell film actor, James Mason’s beautiful white, with red hood/hide, 1965 Mercedes 300 SE Cabriolet, the auction house reasonably anticipated that its value would be augmented by its provenance, a deflating comment was reportedly heard from a twenty-something potential purchaser in the auction’s audience: “Who’s James Mason?”.
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Images by Fiat Chrysler and Hemmings Auctions.