The iconic Fiat 124 Spider turns 50 today, having crossed five decades with elegance, sportiness and Italian-flair
- The Fiat 124 Sport Spider was first introduced at the Turin Motor Show in 1966 and became the pinnacle of the evolution in the thrilling yet accessible convertible car segment led by Fiat since the end of World War II
- The original 124 Spider was designed by Pininfarina, long-time partner of the auto maker and a respected name in automotive car design worldwide
- The Fiat Abarth 124 Rally version was also introduced in 1966 with a more powerful engine, fibreglass roof and bonnet, aluminium doors and considerable weight reduction. Tuned by the Abarth Racing Team, the car made its début in the 1972 season and continued racing until 1975
- The second generation roadster, introduced in 1968, proved very successful and some 27,000 cars were built from 1969 to 1972
- In 1983 the last development came with the 136 HP “Volumex” with volumetric turbocharger, designed mainly for the US market and selling over 200,000 units worldwide, 75 percent in the USA
- In 2016, the Abarth badge finds a home on the iconic 124 Spider, designed to fascinate a new generation of fans with its best-in-class power and performance combined with stunning Italian design
“The Turin Motor Show under the sign of optimism” was the positive-sounding title of the 48th edition of the event held in halls of Torino Esposizioni in 1966 and the Fiat 124 Sport Spider was the star of the show.
This model was the pinnacle of the evolution in the thrilling yet accessible convertible car segment that Fiat had led since the end of World War II with models such as the 1100 Spider in 1954, the 1200 and the twin-shaft 1500 Bialbero in 1958, the 1500 S and the 1600 S in 1961.
The 124 Sport Spider was designed for motorists seeking brilliant performance at an affordable price. The press dubbed it a “modern event” not just a simple car. It was modern because the quest for mobility was satisfied by a product that could excite and was reasonably priced, with a convincing and personal style, thrilling performance and innovative technical solutions, particularly mechanical.
The 124 Sport Spider was an evolution of the 124 saloon but was also a genuine sports car designed by Pininfarina, long-time partner of the automaker and a respected name in automotive design worldwide.
The 1966 124 Sport Spider: a world automotive legend was born
The 124 Spider expressed the most attractive style and proportions of its time: an enchanter among the enchanted, it stood on that Fiat stand in November 1966 by two beauty pageant winners and actress Marisa Solinas. The car had a Vinilite rear window and two side windows that retracted when the top was folded down.
The model picked up most of the mechanics of the Fiat 124 saloon but was designed from the start with some quintessentially sporty features. The name of Pininfarina was in itself a guarantee of design and interior elegance and as a whole the 124 Sport Spider stood out for the overall high quality of its finish, its accessories and its colours.
The car was 3.97 metres long and its exterior style was modern, restrained and well-proportioned. Its streamline side was enhanced by the rear wing that dipped slightly in the connection to the front wing.
The front end was flat and compact with a light look determined by the recess housing two slightly retracted headlights. The air intake presented an original hexagonal shape, while the bumpers were stark, wrapping and free from overriders. The tail was characterised by two slightly upward inclined fins forming a concave line connecting to the boot profile.
The design of the windows and the windscreen, and details like the handles, headlights, seats and colours, were all characterised by research focused on utility and elegance.
The interiors were also carefully crafted with anatomic seats, wood trim and a complete dashboard: instruments included a speedometre, an electric oil pressure gauge, a coolant thermometre and an electronic tachometre.
With the same rear-wheel drive, the Spider version was powered by a an inline 4-cylinder displacing 1438 cm3. With dual overhead camshaft and valves arranged in a V, it developed 90hp at 6500rpm and enabled the car to reach a top speed of 170 km/h.
Other features placed the model in the premium sports car segment: five-speed gearbox as standard equipment, radial tyres and sporty two-spoke steering wheel.
The elegant style, engine performance, stability and safety of the model – deriving from the four disc brakes with vacuum brake booster and the presence of a Panhard track bar for better load arrangement on bends – secured success in terms of sales and image from the first months.
The 124 Sport Spider was priced at 1,550,000 Lira, approximately half a million more than the saloon. “Cromodora” alloy rims and hard top were available for an extra 65,000 Lire. About 25,000 units of the first series were made until 1969.
A few adjustments to live the American dream and the début of the second series
In 1966 the Italians were singing along to the cover version of The Mamas and Papas’ song and dreaming of escaping from grey skies and winter days to the freedom of a new life in California too.
Meanwhile, bolstered by the good market response, Fiat was working on the development of the model that would be launched in the USA in 1968. The Americans loved the proportions and quintessential Italian style of the Spider, as its top that could be quickly and easily folded directly from the driver’s seat.
The second version was introduced in October 1969, again at the Turin Motor Show, as part of an overall revamp of the range. It maintained the rear-wheel drive arrangement and the typical sporty driving feel despite the number of cars with front-wheel drive that were being presented in that edition of the event.
It came with either the traditional 1.4-litre or a new 1.6-litre engine. The latter, also with four cylinders and dual overhead camshaft, had two double barrel vertical carburettors. It delivered 110hp and reached a top speed of 180 km/h.
The braking system was of the independent circuit type. From the point of view of appearance, it had a new grille with honeycomb radiator. The most obvious difference was the two significant oval-shaped humps on the bonnet needed to accommodate the larger engine. The rear lights clusters were modified and a reversing light was added. Radial tyres and waterproof top completed the standard equipment. Hard-top and light alloy rims were available as optional equipment.
The roadster had evolved while remaining true to itself, with its elegant design by Pinifarina, and was as successful as ever. Some 27,000 units were made from 1969 to 1972.
The sparkling Seventies welcome the third generation
The 1970s were years of major cultural and social changes. They were years of freedom and transgression, of turmoil and innovation. New cultural issues that would be current until the present day came into the foreground for the first time, such as the social function of education, the relationship between school and employment and creative communications.
The Fiat 124 range was completely renewed and an array of mechanical and style improvements were introduced to enhance performance, comfort and elegance. Designed in international perspective from the start, the 124 was the turning point in the evolution of the Fiat production in the mid-sized engine sector and the beginning of the 1970s was the pinnacle of its success.
Fiat introduced a new generation of the Spider in 1972: the style was basically unchanged but minor tweaks had been made to the dashboard, like replacing the chrome-plated instrument panel with a black one and the addition of a clock.
The most substantial news concerned the engine because both the “1600” and the new “1800” engines of the Fiat 132 were fitted on the Fiat 124 Sport Spider. Displacement was 1592 cm3 for the “1600” and 1756 cm3 for the “1800”. Power was 108 and 118hp with top speeds of 180 and 185 km/h, respectively.
The 124 Sport Spider was successful as a result of its timeless appeal and unchanged driving pleasure despite the social unrest of those years which tended to penalise the showiest models.
After 1972 the model would also be remembered for its memorable racing triumphs And the launch of the the Fiat 124 Abarth Rally for racing and road use. Compared to the standard production model, the Fiat 124 Abarth Rally Gr.4 benefited from a more powerful engine, fibreglass roof and bonnet, aluminium doors and considerable weight reduction. Tuned by the Abarth Racing Team, the car made its début in the 1972 season and continued racing until 1975.
Production of the 124 Sport Spider continued from June 1974 until 1982 for exports to the United States where the model was still very successful. The style remained the same. The only change concerned the adoption of energy-absorbing bumpers, as required by US safety standards, and the introduction of a 2-litre 87 HP engine starting from 1978.
In 1981, Pininfarina displayed a new model called “Spider Europa” at the Geneva Motor Show. The appearance was essentially the same with upgrades focusing mainly on safety and comfort. Under the bonnet was a 1995 cm3 twin-shaft four-cylinder engine that delivered 105 HP. Handling was as excellent as ever and fuel efficiency was improved. The last development came in 1983 with the 136 HP “Volumex” with volumetric turbocharger. It was designed mainly for the US market and continued the success of the model with over 200,000 units sold worldwide, 75 percent of those in the USA.
The new Abarth 124 Spider makes its way to Australia
In 2016, the Abarth badge finds a home on the iconic 124 Spider. Offering best-in-class power and performance combined with stunning Italian design, the Abarth 124 Spider is designed and built for thrills, with its four-cylinder turbocharged 1.4 Turbo engine producing an unrivalled 125kW @ 5500rpm and 250Nm @ 2500rpm, paired with a choice of a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearbox with paddle shifters.
Built with a pure performance focus, the Abarth 124 Spider arrives with a comprehensive list of standard performance components; including a mechanical limited-slip differential, sport suspension and Sport Mode selector as standard. The Abarth 124 Spider also boasts standard Brembo brakes and Bilstein shock absorbers, along with leather-and-Alcantara sports seats. And to ensure that iconic Abarth soundtrack accompanies every drive, the 124 Spider is equipped with a chrome quad-tip sports exhaust as standard.
The Abarth 124 Spider has been engineered to deliver responsive handling and an excellent power-to-weight ratio in an agile rear- -drive package.
The Abarth 124 Spider perfectly embodies the Abarth spirit, and is the perfect car to carry the iconic brand into the next fifty years.
From 1966 to 2016: fifty years of a legendary model which continues to fascinate with its stylistic developments and constant engineering quality with an eye to its successful past.
Happy birthday, 124 Spider!