Fiat 124 Spider 1968-1978
The 124 Spider debuted in 1966, winning immediate 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.
With a wheelbase of 90 inches, Spider suspension was conventional for the day. Independent coil-over struts were fitted up front, and the solid rear axle used radius rods and a transverse link, which helped prevent axle wind-up during heavy braking and acceleration. 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 are surprisingly roomy. Anyone above average height would feel cramped in most classic British roadsters, but not so in a Spider. The seats go back far enough, and if there's two people in the car, you're not touching shoulders. Trunk space is excellent, and the convertible top, which can be raised or lowered at a stoplight, is virtually leak-free.
Fiat Twin-Cam Engine
The heart of the 124 Spider is a well-engineered twin-cam motor, designed by Italian automobile and aircraft engine designer Aurelio Lampredi. Formerly employed by Ferrari during its 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 upgradable. 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.
In 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. Early Seventies Spiders were the hottest 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 had rollcages and a permanent hardtop. The 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 1974-1978
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. Air pumps were added, along with restrictive manifolds, tiny carburetors, scores of vacuum lines, and other emission controls.
In 1974, engine displacement was increased to 1756cc, advertised as 1800cc. This model year began the phasing-in of the upcoming 1975 federal regulation, requiring bumpers to withstand 5 MPH impacts. The Spider's attractive chrome bumpers were replaced with heavy, energy-absorbing 5 MPH bumpers. Overall height was raised to meet new U.S. safety regulations, and California-bound Spiders required catalytic converters.
1975 through 1978 Fiat Spider distributors housed two sets of breaker points. The auxiliary set provided an additional ten degrees of timing advance, helping the engine to comply with emission standards, and also providing easier 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.