Cheap Italian: 1974 Fiat 124 Sport Coupe

I have a very long list of cars that I’d love to own, but most are well out of my budget. There is one car on the list that I can actually afford and I keep a constant eye out for. The only problem is that they are extremely hard to come by these days. The car in question is the Fiat 124 Sport Coupe! Yes, I already own a 124 Spider, but having a coupe would give my convertible some company and I’d be able to enjoy Italian driving year round. The coupe you see above is even the same year as my Spider! It’s a bit rough and has some rust issues, but I’ve seen much worse saved. If it weren’t in Florida, I’d already be on my way to pick it up, but it’s just a little too far away for me. You can find it here on craigslist in Miami though with an asking of $2,800 or best offer.

At one time, I would have stayed away from a Fiat that wasn’t perfect, or as close as one can be. Finding parts for them use to be a huge challenge, but in the past few years parts supply has improved massively. And as a result, prices have come way down. When I started restoring my 124, replacement fender lips were $150 per wheel. Today, you can get those same panels for half that price. The fact that you can get every piece of metal for these now gives me hope for this coupe and could make it a reasonable project to undertake.

Here is my favorite part of the 124, the fantastic 1.8 liter twin cam engine! If well maintained, they run incredibly well and have an awesome exhaust note. You won’t be beating any V8s off the line in stock form, but it’s more than enough engine to have fun. And there are lots of upgrade options to unleash more power from this little 4 cylinder. As is, it’s produced a healthy 118 horsepower and I’ve seen highly tuned engines producing 200 or more horsepower. With the smooth shifting 5 speed, the coupe has a top speed of 115 mph, which isn’t too bad for a mid ’70 budget Italian!

Besides rust repair, this coupe is also going to need a new interior. Finding a replacement dash will be one of the biggest hurdles to overcome, but I’m sure with some hunting you could find a replacement. Of you would have the original one refinished, either way that is going to be the most expensive part of this project. I’ve watched prices for 124s climb quite steadily since purchasing mine in 2009 and as parts supply continues to improve, I see these only becoming more desirable and valuable. I really do wish this one was closer, so I could go take it for a spin and check the seriousness of the rust! If the shock mounts are solid and the floors aren’t too bad, I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

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Comments

  1. Ben T. Spanner

    I bought a 1974 brand new. Two of my friends had Fiat dealerships. I picked my new car up on a Saturday afternoon, and help them lock up the shop. They were going to mid-Ohio.

    On the drive home, the volt meter went to zero. I called my other friend, their competitor, for advise. He said the big orange wire had fallen off the fuse box. He was right. I put it back, and crimped it down.

    I bought an earlier engine, and used the distributor and other parts to eliminate some of the smog strangulation. It ran much better, with 32 MPG at 75 MPH. The inside door handles broke (replaced with earlier metal ones), drivers seat seam split (re sewn). The only warranty repairs were a front wheel bearing and the clock.

    Some kid had to have it, when it was 3 years old. It took him only 2 weeks to blow it up.

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  2. Geoff

    I owned the earlier 1.6 124BC fitted with twin webers. A fantastic car to drive and really well geared for mountainous and winding roads – you can feel the northern italian influence! I left a v8 in my wake going through a series of switchbacks (zigzags) up a cutting driving this car, much to the disgust of the other driver. An absolute gem of an engine.

    Coupe body by Bertone, spider body by Pininfarina – but both called 124s

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  3. Eric_10cars Eric 10Cars Member

    Definitely a great engine. Just don’t allow the timing belt to break, as it is an interference engine. Years ago I bought a 124 sedan for $75 with no rust and a great interior. It had blown #4 piston and ruined the head. The cylinder walls were unscored and the crank undamaged. As such, I got a piston and connecting rod and installed them without issue. The head was unusable, so I found one in a junkyard in South Carolina and they shipped it up to me (via Greyhound bus, if you can believe it and I picked it up at the bus station – don’t expect that’s possible these days). It was in fine mettle, installed it with new gaskets, and the car ran great….150 compression across all 4 cylinders. Sold it for $1500 and more than doubled my investment. A friend had a 1973 Spyder that had a similar head issue and the local garage that ‘repaired’ it did such a lousy job that my friend had issues with it for over a year until they finally got it right. I’d love to have another one for myself.

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    • Josh Mortensen Josh Staff

      Yeah if you do the proper service on the timing belt, these things run great. Owning one, I’ve talked to a lot of people that owned 124s when they were new. From what I’ve gathered, some had serious issues the day they left the dealership, while others were amazingly dependable. Chances are if it’s still on the road today, it will be well into the future as long as you keep the timing belt in good shape.
      Side note – you can still ship stuff through Greyhound. If they have space for it in the bottom of the bus, they will haul it. And it’s usually considerably cheaper than shipping through a freight line.

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      • Eric_10cars Eric 10Cars Member

        That’s interesting, Josh, about Greyhound. BTW, while I was shade-treeing in the early 80s, I bought the tools and shim kit for 128s and 124s. I still have them all these years later, hoping to find a 124 on which to use them 🙂

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  4. Dave Wright

    Buy an Alfa and save the grief………these are better than the 850’s but that is not saying much. The best Fiats were the 50’s cars that used the little pushrod engines, some of those cars with pininfarina bodies (they look similar to an Alfa) are nice and the engine will stay together if not driven hard. We used to say Fiat, like many of the British makers couldn’t see past there own borders. They were never robust enough to survive well with the speeds and distances we have here in the states. They were fine if used 2.000 miles a year in Milan and your brother in law was a mechanic that you wanted to support.

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    • Eric_10cars Eric 10Cars Member

      Oh, I don’t know about that, Dave. I worked on a number of 128s and 124s, and 131s here in the south. They lasted well over 100K miles. My friend’s Spyder had over 150K on it when he finally got rid of it in Atlanta in favor of a 1985 Nissan 300ZX. He did have rust issues with it in the rockers and got them fixed during the course of his ownership….that despite the Fiat living in NC and GA for its life.
      The 850s were despicable little cars with their sewing machine rear engine. I had to rebuild one of those engines for a customer after 35K miles. Cute but terrible.

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      • Dave Wright

        I could get a Yugo to go that many miles too…….but what would have to be done to keep it serviceable and on the road? That is the rest of the story…………I bought my (ex) wife a 128 to drive to work when we were in Germany. She thought my 65 Mercedes 300SE was too big and we had a small garage, the little car was pretty new and was serviceable. The Mercedes would turn out of our narrow street and go right into the garage, it took 2 stabs to get the little Fiat in……just wouldn’t make the corner. I sold it soon after and replaced it an Alfa Giula that was much better. I am sure the Fiat survival rate is as low as there is.

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      • Scott

        Far from being “despicable,” the 850 simply demanded regular maintenance, especially oil changes and valve adjustments. With regular care, they were (and are!) great little high-revving engines. 48 years on, my 850 has its original motor and transmission, fluid changes and seals being the only service parts needed. It may need a clutch soon, with about 60K miles on the original. Hard to complain too much about that.

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      • Dave Wright

        So……..150,000 miles. What is that 7 timing belts?

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  5. AMCSTEVE

    FIAT

    F-ix I-t A-gain T-ony

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    • Eric_10cars Eric 10Cars Member

      Some truth to that….rust and electrical issues. They used a lot of relays before they became popular and the wiring wasn’t the best. As I recall there were also regular front end issues on some of them. The 124s and 128s were pretty decent, but the 131s seemed less well put together.

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      • Dean

        Seriously I hear this comment about Fiats all the time. Mostly from folks who never owned one. Name a car from the period that didn’t rust and had great electrics.

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  6. Fred W.

    My friend had a ’71 that looked identical to this one, around ’75. Was beautiful when he got it. Took me for a hair raising ride and showed me how controllable it was when he drove off on the dirt median at 70mph. I was impressed. However, 2 years later there were holes in the body you could put your fist through. This was also in Florida.

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  7. Mark P

    I had a ’75 128, loved it. I was aways wondering about the throttle control on the dashboard. A little knob that you pulled out and twisted and it locked the gas pedal in a certain position depending on how far out you pulled it. I only used it once when I was stuck in some sand. Got the wheels spinning in the sand, locked the throttle with the knob then we both got out and pushed. When the car hit the pavement it took off a bit and came to rest against a building. Ah the 70’s and being young, drunk and stupid.

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    • Dave Wright

      Great story……….sounds like a Laurel and Hardy skit…..somehow, I can visualize it.

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  8. Eric

    I have a 69 124 coupe and looking to upgrade to the 1800 head engines. If anyone has a lead on parts LMK. Especially the dash……

    Cheers!!

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    • Darren

      Eric check the Fiat 124 Sport Facebook pages? Or Mirafiori.com
      You’ll need to upgrade the springs with the heavier 1800 engine. 🙂

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      • Eric

        Thanks Darren – planning to put Koni and lowering springs. I’ll also need to reinforce the lower beam.

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  9. Royal Ricci

    Sort of reminds me of an RX2. I would love to drop a rotary in this.

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  10. Bruce Best

    I like the earlier two head light version better for looks but everything they say about being fun to drive is true. I have had more Alfas of different types including GTV’s and have driven the sedans that belonged to friends as well as these. They are very close. I think the Alfa’s have better mechanicals and materials but then they were generally more expensive.

    Rust is the true killer of these with bad plastics being number 2. But restore and enjoy. As for the 850 coupe what an amazing beautiful, small slow car. If I won the lottery it would be my first purchase. Not good for much more than getting something from the store but I never knew somebody that had one who took care of it that didn’t smile when we went out to drive it. Some things you love in spite of their flaws and the 850’s were like that in both coupe and convertible form.

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  11. Jubjub

    Love this bodystyle. Too bad they painted it white. That funky green is the quintessential ’70s Fiat color!

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  12. Ken Powell

    I drove what I think was a Fiat 128 hatchback that my brother owned in high school. This was the funnest car ever. It was great on roads with tight turns and the motor was just awesome. You could feel every bump but you easily controlled understeer and oversteer. It really felt like the best, coolest go cart ever. My Sport
    Fury was faster but a lot less fun.

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  13. Bryant MacDonald

    These were great cars and had reliable engines if you maintained the valve adjustment and changed the timing belt when called for. As to the former you needed a shim kit. The coupes were also more prone to rust than the spiders and if you look at the top of the fenders in the engine compartment you will see that they are flat. Great place to put your tools while tuning the car but also a great place for water to pool. The electrics were always a little funky. Sometimes the headlights would go out on my 72 spider. A quick slap to the bottom of the dash would cure the problem for a couple of months. Also, they use a weird cable and plastic gear system to raise and lower the windows. The gear is easily stripped if your passenger tries to turn it in the wrong direction. I also would not consider the 5sp “smooth shifting”, being rather coarse, delicate, and not appreciative of fast gear changes.

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  14. Mark

    I have probably owned a dozen Fiats over the years- from the 124/2000 Spiders (including a Spider Turbo), X 1/9’s (I drove one of those across the country), an 850 and my personal favorite, a 1979 Brava coupe. This living in salty New England. All those supposedly horrible Italian cars and I broke down exactly once, when the rotor flew off the distributor shaft and took out the cap on the way into Boston. I walked up the corner to a foreign parts store, bought a new cap and rotor, and was back on the road in ten minutes. I actually preferred the earlier 1600cc engines for their rev-happy nature.

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  15. rando

    Car guys kill me. You guys heap praise upon this, but let a Pinto or Vega show up and it’s all POS talk. These things are every bit as bad as a Vega or Pinto and cost way more $$$ to keep running. They rust just as bad. They are just as finicky. Ok, the Vega may have been one of GM’s WORST engines ever. Good idea, stupid execution. I just don’t get how this car is so much better than an equivalent. Oh wait, it’s foreign and exotic? Go ahead and blast me with the thumbs down.

    I drove a friend’s X1/9 for a while and had to adjust the timing pretty often. You could tell when the distirbutor moved. Stop, turn it till it ran somewhat correctly. Rinse and repeat. I mean like 2 or 3 times in a 30 mile drive. No amount of work would keep it right. And every Fiat I’ve ever seen was as rusty as anything else comparable.

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    • justajoe

      Hey, Rando
      I had both a ’71 124 Coupe, and a ’78 Monza (with the v6) at the same time. Completely different cars, and if I had to sum up the difference…Fiat cared about their cars, and GM didn’t. And it showed, in ways other than being prone to rust. I could write a book, but I won’t.

      I can’t speak for others on Barn FInds, but I’d rather read about cars designed with more in mind than just another dime in the bank.

      Oh, and one of the most amusing mods I did on my 124 was to slap on the Holley-Weber from a 73 2 liter Pinto. Bolt on, tinker with the mixture, go play. So, there were definitely good things about ‘merican compacts then.

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  16. Dave at OldSchool

    Rust is generally the problem, and very expensive to repair on these coupes . Although a late 60’s Series 1 coupe may be worth the effort, the later S3 coupes like this one are not in so much a demand as to expect big increases in value, so finding a solid one is a good idea.

    I have to disagree with Dave Wright as to the motor and mechanicals

    ……. the Lampredi ( Ferrari) design is recognized as one of the best production car motors ever designed, and is capable of producing LOTS of power. Alfa poured a lot of money into USA racing in the 60’s…..Fiat did not… which to a big extent is responsible for the lack of respect in the US..
    The timing belt was a big advance in engine design…. not a detriment to design…and actually makes the motor more DIY user friendly than the chain drive Alfa.. the belts last very well, and make engine head service simple. We’ve built a lot of these motors for racing , from 1400cc to 2liters, and they are great motors with excellent durability. NEVER had a problem with a distributor, which by the way are standard with dual points for performance.
    Mated to a great 5 speed ..and 4 wheel disc brakes, the lighter Series One Coupes with the performance based 1608cc motors are the most fun to DRIVE…. same applies to the early Spiders.

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  17. Gregg

    Had a 1970 124 coupe, my first new car. $3200. Dark red. Still miss it today…..unfortunately someone in a Lincoln came down an exit ramp on the interstate and hit me head on in the right lane……I lived, the car didn’t……

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