Fiat 124 Spider 1968-1978
Article by Mark Trotta
The Fiat 124 Spider debuted in 1966, immediately winning praise from critics. Standard equipment included a twin-cam 4-cylinder motor, five-speed manual transmission, and four-wheel disc brakes. The stylish body was built by Pininfarina, the same people that designed the original Nash-Healey, Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider, and the Ferrari 250 GT.
Riding on a wheelbase of 90 inches, the Spider's suspension was conventional for the day. Independent coil-over struts were fitted up front, with a solid rear axle. Early series models used trailing links and a torque tube. During 1968, the rear suspension was revised with upper and lower radius arms, and the original torque-tube driveshaft was replaced by a conventional driveshaft.
Unlike most sports cars of the sixties and seventies, interior accommodations were surprisingly roomy. In most classic British roadsters, anyone above average height would feel cramped, but not so in a Fiat Spider. The seats go back far enough, and if there's two people in the car, you're not touching shoulders. Trunk space was excellent, and the convertible top, which can be raised or lowered at a stoplight, was virtually leak-free.
Fiat Twin-Cam Engine
The heart of the 124 Spider is a twin-cam four cylinder motor, designed by Italian automobile and aircraft engine designer Aurelio Lampredi. Formerly employed by Ferrari during their successes in the early fifties, Lampredi also designed Fiat's long-lived SOHC engine, as well as managing their Abarth factory racing group from 1973 through 1982.
The Spider's iron-block, aluminum-head engine revved to 6,800 rpm in stock trim, and was easily upgraded. Originally displacing 1438cc, the powerplant increased in stages. It's final displacement of 2000cc would be used on turbo engines powering the Alfa-Romeo 155 Q4 and Lancia Delta Integrale into the early nineties. A three-decade production run makes it one of the longest produced automotive engines.
Fiat Spider 124AS
The first version of the Spider, the 124AS with the 1438cc engine, was produced from 1966 until 1969. These early models featured smaller tail-lamps and a driveshaft inside a torque tube, which was changed in 1968 to a more conventional open driveshaft. Interior heater controls were mounted to the dash, changed to console-mounted around 1968. These early 124AS models are rare and very few were imported to North America.
Fiat Spider 124BS
The second-series of Spiders, still with the 1438cc motor, were produced from 1970 until 1973. Differences from the early models include larger tail-lamps, front grille, and dash gauges with a black background.
In 1970/1971, engine size was increased to 1608cc, advertised as 1600cc. Weighing slightly over 2,000 pounds and putting out about 100 horsepower, 0-60 mph times for the Spider were in the ten-second range and top speed was about 110 mph.
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A smaller engine displacement of 1592cc was seen in 1973. Early seventies Spiders were the best performance years until the fuel-injected models appeared in 1980.
Fiat 124 Abarth Spider
The 124 Abarth Rally model was developed for World Rally Championship competition. A specially-tuned motor with twin Weber carburetors and redesigned exhaust manifold helped produce 128 horsepower. Independent rear suspension was added to improve handling.
A lightweight fiberglass hood and trunk lid, both painted black, helped reduce weight, as did alloy door skins. All Rally models ere equipped with roll cages and a permanent hardtop.
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The Fiat Abarth Spider competed with notable success, winning the 1972 European Rally Championship. Produced from 1972 to 1976, a total of 1,013 Abarth Spiders were built, the last versions being offered with an optional 16-valve cylinder head.
Fiat Spider 124CS1
Produced from 1974 though 1978, the Spider 124CS1 was equipped with a larger, air pump-laden 1756cc (advertised as 1800cc) engine. Although the Fiat Spider engine was of an efficient design, cars sold in the U.S. were required to have pollution devices, regardless of whether they were really needed. In order to continue selling to its largest market, Fiat complied by adding on smog equipment, which burdened the motor, choked performance, and caused driveability issues. An air pump was added, along with restrictive manifolds, tiny carburetors, scores of vacuum lines, and other emission controls.
Starting in 1974, Fiat began phasing-in changes to comply with upcoming 1975 federal regulations. This included bumpers that would withstand 5-MPH impacts. The Spider's attractive chrome bumpers were replaced with heavy, energy-absorbing bumpers. Rear license plates were moved from the bumper to the middle of the trunk lid for better visibility. Overall height was raised to meet new U.S. safety regulations, and California-bound Spiders required catalytic converters.
Ignition distributors on 1975 through 1978 Fiat Spiders housed two sets of breaker points. The auxiliary set was to provide an additional ten degrees of timing advance, helping the engine to comply with emission standards, and also help starting and running until the engine warmed up to normal operating temperature. Whereas 1971 through 1974 Spiders were equipped with manual chokes, 1975 and later models had a water-heated automatic choke.
If you're looking to restore an affordable classic sports car, consider a Fiat Spider. Aside from the changes brought about by safety and emissions regulations, the Spider changed little in its 18-year production run. There are many aftermarket suppliers, parts interchangeability is good, and most maintenance can be done by the owner.
Read More: Fiat Spider History (1979-1985)