13 Mar 2019

Most Collectibles Are Cool – Fiat’s 124 Spider is Quietly Cool

It was, I think, the summer of 1967, and Fiat’s all-new 124 Spider was the cover subject of Road & Track. If, like me, you had taken mental ownership of MGs, Triumphs and Healeys over the years, the new Fiat offering was decidedly different. Instead of an agriculture four (or Healey’s six) with pushrods running up and fluids leaking out, the Fiat offered dual overhead cams, along with a refinement that spoke clearly to the ‘60s and not – like the Brits – the  prewar ‘30s. And while the Fiat’s +2 bench was better suited to tennis gear than your toddler, it still provided more day-to-day utility than could be found on a British showroom.

What was attractive then, from the late ‘60s to the mid-‘80s, is attractive again. While Fiat’s return to the U.S. hasn’t done much to generate interest in the current lineup, the visibility would seem to have revived interest in the earlier Spider. And for perspective on what to look for in today’s collectible Fiat market, there are few better resources than Robert and Cindy Rodgers, the partners behind Nevada, TX-based Shadetree Enginetrics.

In Shadetree’s service of vintage Italian, Robert and Cindy have compiled a credible perspective on what to look for in an older Fiat, as well as what to avoid. Built from 1966 to 1985, the Spider enjoyed an abnormally long run. And within that twenty years Fiat and (later) Pininfarina offered five powertrains, ranging from a 1.4 liter four at launch to a 2.0 liter four as production wound down.

For collectability, Robert suggests 1972 models as the sweet spot, featuring the 1608cc four, thin chrome bumpers and a rev-happy nature. Of course, you also can’t go wrong with the last of the series, built in 1985. Cars to avoid are the 2.0 liter motors with carbs (1979 and early 1980), Spiders equipped with the automatic trans, and Spiders with rust.

Despite Fiat’s reputation for disposability, the motors – again, according to Robert – were practically indestructible. Offsetting that is the very poor quality of many aftermarket parts, and after several owners you know you’ll find aftermarket parts. The 124 Spider of 30+ years ago is a charmer, something Fiat’s current Miata-based offering can’t really claim. And the Rodgers’ Shadetree shop (www.shadetreeenginetrics.com) is as easy to find as the new Fiat dealer. And will probably be around longer.