One of the things I find most fascinating about the auto industry is the stories that make up its history. These stories only ever go back about a hundred years at most – so you don’t have to memorize the names of a bunch of kings or remember dozens of different dates (you can if you want to, but I’ll skip that part). There are a lot of cars around in one form or another with a strange and storied history, and today we’re going to take a look at the Fiat 124 Spider.
So stick around and learn something about this gorgeous Italian sports car, maybe you’ll pick up a tidbit to use at your next cocktail party to ingratiate yourself with your guests (are cocktail parties still a thing?). If you already know all there is to be said about this car then you’re good – better luck with the next article you choose to read. For the rest of you, here’s a tale about a true Italian legacy and why it’s now made in Japan.
The Fiat 124 Sport Spider
Our story begins in Italy with Fiat, also known as FIAT, also-also known as Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino – hence FIAT, and later Fiat. In case you were curious, that Italian name basically translates to “Italian Automobiles Factory, Turin,” which makes sense since they were an Italian automobile factory located in Turin, Italy. Though I think we can all agree that “Fiat” sounds better than “Iaft.” Okay, where was I..?
Oh yeah, so in the 1960s Fiat was returned to the ownership of the Agnelli family, which had originally founded the company but lost control of it after World War 2 due to their connections with Mussolini. Right around that time, developers at Fiat working with designers at Pininfarina (they’re an Italian automotive design company that will come back into this story later) decided to introduce a new sports car to the world. After some time designing and developing it, the world received a triple threat: the 124 Sport Spider, the 124 Sport Coupe, and the 124 Sedan.
All three of these vehicles shared some basic elements, but the Fiat 124 Sport Spider had a shorter platform, a shorter wheelbase, and was a convertible model. The original Fiat 124 Sport Spider was released in 1966 and produced by Fiat until 1981. During that time, different versions were released with various model numbers: the AS from 1966 to 1969, the BS from 1970 to 1971, the BS1 from 1971 to 1972, the CS and CS1 alternately from 1973 to 1978, the CS2 in 1979, and the CS0 from 1980 to 1981.
Got all that? No? That’s okay – the point is that there were seven different models released by Fiat during its initial run from 1966 to 1981. Well, actually eight – there was also a high-performance variant developed based on a rally version called the C-Spider Abarth or CSA model, which was released in 1972. Additional models were released in other markets, such as…
The Fiat Spider 2000
Here in the US, the Fiat 124 Sport Spider was released starting in 1968 and became quite popular for its unique Italian styling and convertible top, which was noted by many people for how easy it was to take down and put up. In 1969, an upgraded version was released that included four-wheel disc-brakes and a five-speed manual transmission. There was also an optional three-speed automatic transmission available on American models from General Motors starting on versions released in 1979.
Starting in 1979, Fiat rebranded the vehicle and sold it as the Fiat Spider 2000, which was produced with an upgraded 2.0L engine providing more power for the car. The engine in the very first model was a 1.4L engine, which was upgraded to a 1.6L engine in 1973, then a 1.8L engine in the Abarth Rally version. Beyond this more powerful engine and some other features, however, the Spider 2000 was essentially the continuation of the earlier 124 Sport Spider. More about the history of the Fiat Spider 2000 is on Automobilemag.com.
The Pininfarina Spider Azzura
The Spider 2000 was available until 1982, at which point Fiat ended production of the sporty and beautiful convertible. At that point, Pininfarina took over production – remember them? They were the company that helped design the original Fiat 124 Sport Spider, and they didn’t want to see their hard work simply disappear. And so, starting in 1983, they released their own version of the Spider in the US and Europe.
Here in America, it was called the Pininfarina Spider Azzura, while the European model was dubbed the Pininfarina Spidereuropa. Originally released in 1983, this version was only available until 1985 and used the DS0 model number. It used the 2.0L engine that Fiat had ended their run with, though the engines in the later models from Pininfarina produced greater horsepower.
In 1985, Pininfarina had other projects in the works, however, including a deal with General Motors. And so, production of the Spider Azzura was brought to an end with only about 1,500 of the final model-year Spiders produced. And for three decades, that was the end of this story…
The Fiat 124 Spider
That is, of course, until the Los Angeles Auto Show in November of 2015 when the Fiat 124 Spider was revealed! Designed with Mazda and using the fourth-generation Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster as inspiration, the revealed 2016 Fiat 124 Spider featured numerous systems very similar to the MX-5. Its engine and shock absorbers were unique, and its exterior style and design were a distinct callback to the Spider of yesterday, which brought a fresh approach to an Italian classic.
Development of the modern Fiat 124 Spider began in 2012 when Mazda and Alfa Romeo announced a joint project to produce a rear-drive platform that both of them could use. Alfa Romeo and Fiat are now both owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, so use of this platform to develop the Fiat 124 Spider was a logical next step. The Alfa Romeo sports car developed using this platform is made only in Italy, to keep the brand intrinsically connected to its roots.
Fiat vehicles are made in numerous factories, including locations outside of Italy. The current Fiat 124 Spider is actually manufactured at an assembly plant in Hiroshima, Japan via their agreement with Mazda. And so an Italian classic became a product of Japanese engineering.
Today, the current Fiat 124 Spider is available in one of four different trim levels, including a high-performance model called the Abarth – an ode to their roots in the 1970s. The modern Fiat 124 Spider has a 1.4L MultiAir Turbo engine that can produce up to 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, which is paired with a six-speed transmission – both automatic and manual transmissions are available. The Spider of today is a luxurious sports car with a convertible top and the sensibilities of classic beauty, with surprisingly fair pricing for what it has to offer.
Would You Like to Know More?
Really, at this point, the only thing left to know is what it’s like to drive. For that, words won’t really do the trick; you’ll have to head to your nearest Fiat dealership to experience it for yourself. Then you’ll have some stories of your own to tell…