1980 Fiat 124 Spider – $3200

“Fuel injected classic convertible sports car. Designed by Pininfarina (of Ferrari, Maserati, Jaguar, Alfa Romeo, etc. fame) Red/black 5-speed. Excellent mechanical condition., recent paint on a sound body (ie no rust), good exhaust, near new radials on five Fiat factory mags. Air cared and licensed for reliable daily driving. Money needed for tuition. Serious inquiries only. 604-522-6588″

Well, summer appears to have finally descended on the waterlogged streets of Vancouver, and with it so too have the convertibles. Sliding out from beneath tightly wrapped car covers and dug out from mounds of garage-borne hockey gear, skis, and snowshoes, the Miatas, Alfas, and MGs are out in force these days, giving their owners at least one thing to enjoy about commuting in North America’s second-most congested city. And if you’ve found yourself sitting on Highway 99 northbound and looked over at one such slightly-happier-but-probably-still-miserable fellow commuter in just such a car with even the slightest envy, then Cars You Should Buy has found the car for you: a 1980 Fiat Spider. A car produced under no less than three names for a whopping 19 years (it was known as a Fiat 124 Sport Spider form ’66 to ’79, then as a Fiat 2000 Spider from ’79 to ’82, then as a Pininfarina Spider from ’83 to ’85), it provided the auto-buying public with an Italian counterpoint to the ubiquitous MGB that wasn’t an Alfa Romeo, and by the ’80s had earned a reputation for being a pretty standard-issue, old-school sports car. Granted, its 2.0L inline four cylinder did benefit from Bosch fuel injection, and it was capable of producing 105 horsepower for the North American market (European models made 120 horsepower), but it’s combination of a leaf sprung solid rear axle and a pretty pedestrian powerplant left it largely outclassed and outgunned by the then-new rotary powered RX7, Nissan’s lusty inline sixes, and front-engined Porsches.

But 30-odd years later, in Vancouver’s glowing sunshine, it’s the Fiat’s shapely body that really sets it apart from its contemporary (and largely forgotten) competitors. Looking eminently more “Italian” than the British cars of the same era, the Fiat’s at once restrained, and stylish. Sadly it’s also a Fiat, which means it’s a damn good thing that it looks good sitting still, because it might do that a lot. Not renowned for their reliability, the Spiders are notorious for egregious rust issues; not a good thing on a spritely monocoque such as this. Areas to check include the front shock towers, all four wheelarches, around the trunk, the entirety of the floor, inside the sills, the firewall, and at the suspension mounting points. The engine, although relatively robust internally, is typically only slightly better sealed than a sieve, with oil leaks being a frequent occurrence. Check the low-slung oil pan for dings, as it’s gasket surface is a pretty common culprit for leaks, especially after it’s been bounced off a speed bump or two. Also, the timing belt absolutely must be checked on any Fiat Spider you’re thinking of buying, as engine damage that’s best described as “catastrophic” awaits the buyer that doesn’t ensure his engine timing is spot-on: although fuel injected, the engine retains the lobe that drove the carbureted engine’s mechanical fuel pump on its oil pump drive shaft, and should the timing belt break, the nonexistent fuel pump’s drive lobe will interfere with the crank and can crack the block. Similar thought appears to have been put into the Fiat’s electrical system as well, with crappy grounds and corroded connections oftentimes earning their fair share of swear words and anger whilst trying to diagnose an erratic electrical issue. Thankfully, this particular car claims to be rust-free (although I’d be checking that… bring a magnet along!) and although it certainly won’t be utterly reliable forever, it’s a prime example of a great car for someone looking to dip a toe into car maintenance. Simple, well-supported by a network of enthusiasts, and benefitting from 19 years of car (and parts!) production, it’s a simple vehicle that will reward anyone with a halfway decent set of tools, a workshop manual, and a modicum of patience. And if that sounds like you, contact the seller by clicking the hyperlinked advertisement above! And then take that damned back bumper off…

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