car news Fun

Spotted: a 1978 Fiat 124 Sport Spider

September 8, 2023

In 1966, Fiat introduced the 124, a compact square sedan. In the end, the model may have become even better known as Lada, but that’s another story. As was common at the time, the practical sedan also served as the technical basis for more sporty models. Similarly, the same year saw the introduction of the Fiat 124 Sport Spider, a convertible version.

Fiat 124 Sport Spider sets its own course

Those who do not know better probably would not immediately say that the regular Fiat 124 and the Fiat 124 Sport Spider have anything to do with each other. Nothing remains of the sedan’s square shapes. The convertible was a lot lower and, above all, had more elongated, graceful lines. The car was designed in collaboration between Fiats own American-with-Dutch-roots Tom Tjaarda and Pininfarina. In 1967, the Fiat 124 Sport Coupe was also added to the lineup, but again it had its own look, especially the later model years.

Wide range of engines

Although the Fiat 124 Sport Spider shared its technical platform with the sedan, the convertible did have a sportier chassis with shorter wheelbase. The engine lineup was largely similar, but many engines were slightly modified for sportier performance. When introduced, the 124 Sport Spider had a 1.4-liter four-cylinder with 66 kW (90 hp), but over the years the model has had a pretty wide choice of engines. The largest was a 2.0-liter with an output of 99 kW (135 hp) in recent years. Furthermore, just about every possible intermediate engine content and power variant has been available. Drive was always to the rear wheels, via a four- or five-speed manual transmission. A three-speed automatic was also available in America and Japan.

Fiat 124 Sport Spider in rallying

Under Abarth’s direction, the Fiat 124 Sport Spider also had a lively rallying career. That also led to an extra sporty Abarth version for public roads. That was the Fiat Abarth 124 Rally, also known as the 124 Abarth Stradale. This was a homologation model for the Abarth rally car based on the 124 Sport Spider, instantly recognizable by its matte black hood and fender edges.

Long career

In the end, the Fiat 124 Sport Spider remained in production for quite a long time. In 1981 Pininfarina took over production from Fiat and continued until 1985. In the end, nearly 200,000 copies were produced. Interestingly, as many as 75% of them found their way to America. In fact, between 1975 and 1981, the model was only available in North America. Although technical improvements have been made over the years, the 124 Sport Spider has never really undergone a facelift.

The spotted specimen

The one we spotted is a 1978 Fiat 124 Sport Spider 1800, which has been in the Netherlands since 1994. The RDW still adds “US” to the type name, suggesting it would be the American version. Just from the absence of the sidelights, we can see that this is not the case. Furthermore, the type designation makes it clear that the 1.8-liter four-cylinder is under the hood, but which power variant (64 kW (87 hp) or 87 kW (118 hp)) is not recorded.

Although the car has a private owner, the Fiat bears inscriptions from a garage company. So it seems that the 124 Sport Spider is being used (in part) as a nice signboard. The Fiat looks very nice, so that’s good advertising as far as we’re concerned.