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The Fiat 124 Spider: History, Generations, Specifications

All things Fiat 124 Spider on Automobile.

Fiat 124 Spider Essential History

The launch of the Fiat 124 Spider for the 1966 model year coincided with the debut of the new Fiat 124 sedan. Just as the 124's predecessors, the Fiat 1200 and 1500 Cabriolet, had been based on the Fiat 1100 sedan platform, the new 124 Spider was similarly based on a slightly shortened, rear-drive 124 sedan chassis. Styling of the 124 Spider was by Tom Tjaarda, an American designer working abroad at Pininfarina in Turin, Italy, and echoed both Tjaarda's previous Chevrolet Corvette Rondine concept car and the production Ferrari 275 and 330 GTS sports cars.

Lampredi Engine

While the 124 Sedan came standard with a pushrod inline-four, Fiat hired ex-Ferrari four-cylinder engine designer Aurelio Lampredi to create a new dual-overhead cam cylinder head to fit on a slightly modified 124 block. The belt-driven Fiat twin-cam engine that resulted was highly praised and went on to become a Fiat group staple, doing duty in Fiats, Lancias and even some Alfa Romeos into the 1990s. The engine also became the winningest engine of all time in the World Rally Championship.

Fiat 124 Spider Engine Variants

When the 124 Spider arrived on U.S. shores for the 1968 model year, it came with a 1.4-liter version of the Lampredi engine. Through the years, capacity increased to 1.6-, 1.8-, and finally 2.0-liters. Unfortunately, U.S. emissions standards meant that capacity changes mostly helped restore lost power to an increasingly detuned engine. By 1979, the first year of the 2.0-liter 124 Spider, the U.S.-spec carburetor was actually smaller than the one fitted to the earliest 1.4-liter examples, and horsepower was an abysmal 86 hp.

The introduction of fuel-injection in 1981 helped things somewhat, bumping output to 102 hp, but suffice it to say that U.S. Fiats were significantly handicapped with regard to power compared to their European brethren, which were getting closer to 120 hp.

Fiat 124 Spider Chassis & Performance

The 124 Spider's platform featured strut-type suspension up front and a solid axle rear with Panhard bar, coil springs, and trailing arms. Brakes were hydraulic discs at all four corners, and an early standard four-speed manual gearbox was quickly replaced across the board with the once-optional five-speed unit. The 124 Spider had a wonderfully simple folding top design that could be operated one-handed by the driver from the front seat at a stoplight.

By comparison, many English sports cars in the late 1960s were still using drum brakes and convertible tops that had to be assembled, almost like a tent, and rather agricultural overhead-valve engines.

Fiat 124 Spider Becomes Pininfarina Azzurra

At the end of 1982, Fiat left the North American market. Pininfarina, having just ended production of the Lancia Montecarlo at its factory and seeking a new business opportunity to replace it, took over production of the 124 Spider, rebranding it as the Pininfarina Azzurra. The car remained mostly the same as when it was a Fiat, but the interior was slightly revised with a new center stack, and the front brakes were increased in size. Malcom Bricklin handled importation and service in the U.S. market. The Azzurra was discontinued after the 1985 model year, leaving the Fiat 124 Spider on hiatus until the launch of the new 2017 model year Fiat 124 Spider. This model is essentially a badge-engineered Mazda Miata built in Japan with FCA Group engines, and is different enough that we won't touch on it here.

Fiat 124 Spider Highlights

Fiat Abart 124 Spider Rally

Fiat was heavily involved in World Rally Championship events in the 1970s, and after the brand's purchase of aftermarket Fiat tuner Abarth in 1971, it used the Abarth facilities as its racing department. The Fiat Abarth 124 Spider Rally came out of this, with a redesigned independent rear suspension replacing the standard solid axle, lightened bodywork, a fiberglass hardtop, and a slight performance rework of the 1.8-liter Lampredi twin-cam engine. In Stradale (street) homologation trim, the 124 Spider Rally made 128 horsepower. Later 16-valve all-out rally race variants would lean on 200 hp by the time they were replaced with the Lancia Stratos in 1975.

Fiat Spider 2000 Turbo

In the 1982 model year, Fiat developed a turbocharged Spider 2000 for the North American market, partnering with turbo specialists Legend Industries. These 2.0-liter cars made around 120 horsepower, or about what the stock 2.0-liter naturally-aspirated engine made in Europe, but were more complex to service. Just 700 or so were built before Fiat left the North American market at the end of 1982, and far fewer remain in existence today.

Fiat 124 Spider Buying Tips

An original Fiat 124 Spider makes an excellent first classic car due to strong parts availability and low parts cost (yes, really!), an easy-to-work-on front-engine configuration, and low cost of entry. Generally speaking, collectors will gravitate toward 1974 and earlier model years for their slim chrome bumpers. Cars built after 1975 came with larger, federally mandated 5-mph safety bumpers, which added weight and cluttered the svelte look of the Spider. That said, the 1975 and later big-bumper cars are often more plentiful in the marketplace and cheaper to purchase.

The 2.0-liter engine from 1979-on in the Spider 2000 doesn't make much more horsepower than earlier versions, but does have significantly more torque, which is helpful in today's traffic. The downside is that 2.0-liter engines were stroked, not bored, for more capacity, which means they aren't as rev-happy as earlier over-square engines. Don't want to hassle with carburetors? Choose a 1981-on Bosch fuel-injected model for greater reliability.

Above all, buy the best 124 Spider your budget allows. There are plenty of rusty $500 restoration projects (more aptly described as "parts cars") out there, but with driver-quality Spiders available for as little as $5,000, why bother? A well maintained 124 Spider will give decades of service; a neglected car will be an exercise in frustration. Be sure to buy a car that's been loved by its last owner, ideally one who's kept service records and receipts.

Fiat 124 Spider Articles on Automobile

An approachable and affordable Italian classic.

We drive 500 miles in a 1979 Fiat Spider 2000

We talk to the designer of the classic Fiat 124 Spider 

Fiat 124 Spider Recent Auctions

Fiat 124 Spider Quick Facts

  • First year of production: 1966
  • Last year of production: 1985
  • Total sold: 198,000
  • Original price (base): $3,181
  • Characteristic feature: The quintessential affordable Italian roadster, the original Fiat 124 Spider is proof that a Pininfarina-designed classic sports car doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg.

Fiat 124 Spider FAQ

Is the Fiat 124 Spider reliable?

Fiat got a bad reputation in the U.S. for building mechanically troublesome cars that were prone to rust. Truth is, a well-kept, well-maintained Fiat 124 Spider is no less reliable than most other classic cars of the same era. If you're the kind of car owner who is neglectful of basic maintenance or don't have adequate dry storage, you may be biting off more than you can chew, however.

How many Fiat 124 Spiders have been sold?

Between 1966 and 1985, approximately 198,000 Fiat 124 Spiders were produced, making surviving examples relatively easy to find today.

Has Fiat stopped making the 124 Spider?

Production of the original Fiat 124 Spider ceased in 1985, though beginning in 2017, Fiat began producing a new 124 Spider based on the Mazda Miata and built in Japan by Mazda using Fiat engines.

Who makes the Fiat 124 Spider?

From 1966 to 1982, the Fiat 124 Spider was built by Fiat in Turin, Italy. From 1983 to 1985, Pininfarina built the car (rebadged as the Pininfarina Azzurra) in Turin. The new Fiat 124 Spider from 2017-on is built by Mazda in Japan.

1981 Fiat 124 Spider 2000 Fuel Injection Specifications
ENGINE 2.0L DOHC 8-valve I-4/102 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 110 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 5-speed manual
LAYOUT 2-door, 2-passenger, front-engine, RWD convertible
EPA MILEAGE 7/10  mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 163 x 63.5 x 48.2 in
WHEELBASE 89.8 in
WEIGHT 2,291 lb
0-60 MPH 10 sec
TOP SPEED 112 mph