Dusty Little Frog: 1972 Fiat 850 Spider

Those of you who have been around here for a while already know that I’m a bit of a Fiat fan. After buying my 124 Spider, I gained a serious interest in these fun small Italian sports cars. I also quickly learned how badly these things can rust, so when I spotted this 850 Spider here on eBay in Rockford, Illinois, I was quite surprised to see just how solid it is! The seller claims it has been in storage for the past 30 years, which seems likely given the lack of rust holes. These rear engined 850s can be a blast to drive, but given their low resale values and high restoration costs, it’s always best to buy the nicest one you can find.

I really wish the seller would have cleaned it off for at least a couple photos. Don’t get me wrong, I want to see the car all covered in 30 years of dust, but I also want to see it cleaned up so I know just what I’m buying. The paint looks shiny in the areas that aren’t covered in dust and I don’t see any rust bubbles. I do see one spot that paint is flaking off in the engine bay, with some bright red showing through. It’s possible that it’s primer, but it could also suggest that this car has been repainted at some point in time. If that’s the case, it looks to have been a quality job, but I can tell you from experience that with these Italians a respray can be hiding some ugly repairs.

You would think this 850 would be powered by an 850 cc engine, but this ’72 actually has a 903 cc engine in the boot. With 52 horsepower the top speed is around 90 mph, which is far faster than you would ever want to go in an 850 Spider. The seller hasn’t tried to start the engine yet, but states that the previous owner tried to without any success. They claimed it wasn’t getting power to the starter. It could be as simple as installing a new starter/solenoid or the engine could be seized and will need to be pulled out and rebuilt/replaced. I would definitely ask the seller to at least try turning it by hand before bidding. With a current bid already over $4k, you are going to want to make sure the engine isn’t seriously damaged.

The interior is also going to need some work. The dash looks to be in great shape, which is a major plus. It’s going to need a new seat cover and seat foam on the driver’s side. The passenger’s side doesn’t look bad and could probably be left alone. A good cleaning would go a long way to improving the overall appearance of the interior. I really like the gauge layout and shifter in these, it looks quite sporty for a budget Italian. Again, it would have been wise for the buyer to clean things a bit, so we can see how the rubber and plastic bits are looking after all these years.

While I might seem overly critical of this car, I actually really do like it. I love the color, the 903 is a solid little engine and I even like the frog eye style head lights of these later cars. I just have lots of experience fixing poorly done rust repairs on my Fiat, so I’ve learned to be cautious with these cars. They can be great fun, are actually easy to work on and parts supply has greatly improved over the past few years. If the engine turns by hand and there isn’t any rust in the floors, I think this could actually be a fantastic buy, but I would want to check it out closely just to be safe. So, would you have the courage to test out the claimed top speed?

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Comments

  1. DrinkinGasoline

    It ain’t easy, being green 🙂

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  2. Eli

    Not trying to burst you balloon but I remember seeing these cars st auction when I was selling cars in the late 70s and they were headaches back then after only a few years from New. The 124 Spyder on the other hand was worlds. better and not a bad car. Good luck.

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  3. Bill

    Cool little car. The problem is that they were known to start only by accident. Fun to look at as it sits since it’ll be doing a lot of that.

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  4. Kevin

    Had one in the 70’s in college. It was a $375.00 junker then and is an old $4,000 junk now.

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  5. DrinkinGasoline

    My Uncle messed around with 60’s Fiats for awhile. When the 70’s offerings came out….he was out. I know less than nothing about them, just took his word for it. 🙂 I do know that just recently, I had the misfortune of being supplied with a Fiat 500 as a rental car…..what a clunky little rattle trap. Never again.

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  6. Iron Mistress

    I had one in the late 60’s. It was a fun little car, but I also was able to do all the mechanical work myself.

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  7. olddavid

    I had a 124 Coupe and a later girlfriend had a Spider. With the 5 speed and good tires, they could go into the corners with anyone. This car, however, was underpowered and over-priced. $5000? Are they really worth this? Or is someone buying an old memory of a youth gone by?

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  8. Bobror

    The eBay post says this is the original color(note that it doesn’t say original paint) so I don’t think that red in the engine compartment is pealed paint indicating a red car. Hard to say what that red spot is from that picture but I don’t think one can assume that there is red paint under there.

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    • RH FACTOR

      Looks like a ballast resistor to me.

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  9. Dave W.

    Had a ton of 850’s in the 70’s. Easy to work on. I liked picking them up for a couple of hundred bucks and getting them back on the road. Have had many spiders and coupes. One sedan and even a racer which was basically a hardtop spider. Still have my handy dandy valve lash adjusting tool in my tool box.

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  10. Jim M

    I have one of these that my father bought new and to me it looks largely original. Almost none still have the front trunk mat it place and that one looks to be in one, or two pieces. The dash hasn’t been cut to install a radio and it has an importer installed center radio console that is quite rare. Some small parts are missing and it looks like the spare tire and jack are missing but it’s mostly complete. I’d want to see under that front trunk mat to see what the battery compartment and the cross member look like. That is one of the worst areas where these cars rust. The rockers look good and the dash is uncracked which is almost unheard of in these cars. The top is not original and was not installed correctly, but that is nitpicky. This is probably better than 90-95% of the 850 spiders you will find out there and I can believe
    the mileage is correct.

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  11. johnj

    I think these are really a neat little car. I have been looking for a place to put the 800cc triple from my little used Polaris Indy Snowmobile. It would add about 100 HP and since it’s just a toy anyway why not make it fun!

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  12. Rex Rice

    My wife bought a ’72 850 with both tops. I thought it was a joke but installed a new clutch and a way she went. It turned out to be a great car. The engine screamed at 70 but would go all day. Four bolts removed the soft top & installed the hard top. I drive my 124 daily but would like to have the 850 back.

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  13. Rob Jones

    I had a ’73 850 coupe and it was actually pretty reliable. De-cambered the rear and lowered the front an inch or two and with some decent tires auto-crossed it with some success. Engines are dead simple to work on and I found it to be pretty reliable, even when running the p*** out of it.
    I do have some recollection of keeping a selection of spare fan belts though. This was after a run down I-95 from Baltimore to Virginia, trying to get back to Army Reserve summer camp in time and throwing a belt in the process.
    I made it to a closed gas station, [3am or so] and “borrowed” a fan belt from a junk farm tractor that actually fit. Again if I recall that crusty farm tractor belt lasted the longest.
    robj

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