Fairly rare: 1972 Fiat Sport Spider

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At least among Americans, Fiats have not usually had a good reputation for selling quality-built cars. Many years ago, they earned the derogatory term “Fix it again Tony” for mechanical issues. And Fiat always had a well deserved reputation for early rusting. After many years of trying to sell Fiats in America, things eventually got bad enough that by 1983, Fiat cars were no longer sold in America.

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Nonetheless, Fiats have always been appreciated by drivers interested in sports cars. They were fun to drive and offered low cost entry to the romance of driving an Italian car.

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In 1968, Fiat launched the 850 coupe and spider models in America, both of which were relatively inexpensive, and very fun to drive. I had the opportunity to drive a friend’s 850 when it was nearly new, and can attest to its high fun-to-drive quotient. I can also attest to its unreliability, as it was generally in the shop as much as it was on the road.

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The 850 model was rear engined, extremely light weight, and quite well equipped for its period, with disk brakes up front and really comfortable sporty interiors. They did rust at a rate that was bad enough that the Federal government issued a recall for them ten years after they were sold.

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So this 1972 Spider Sport convertible offered for sale here on craigslist in Scottsdale, Arizona and claimed by its seller to be rust free is an unusual car to see nowadays.

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According to the seller, the car runs well. It needs paint, and appears to be missing its top, but the seller says they are available at relatively low cost. The engine compartment looks incredibly clean. Is it all original?

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According to the seller, every part is still with the car, “even the sun visors are in a box of parts.” The interior also looks very clean and original, with just a few flaws in the upholstery. The head gasket and other gaskets are said to have just been replaced. The asking price of $3,800 seems quite reasonable for this car. If you want a relatively unusual sporty – and very good looking –  car you can drive daily and you don’t mind taking care of its mechanical needs on a regular basis, this car might be right for you.

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Comments

  1. Jim B

    I bought one of these for my son when he turned 16 in the Valley for $800. he drove it throughout high school and loved it. I taught him the most important rule of owning an 850: never try to turn left with oncoming traffic approaching. ALWAYS leave enough time for that little car to get out of its own way.

    I always tell people, 850s are amazing little cars, but they drive like you’re being pushed down the street by a sewing machine. Not a lot of power, but terrific handling and a very nice interior, as these images depict.

    I hope it goes to a good home. After that listing the other day with the 850 graveyard, I was actually kind of depressed LOL.

  2. Dave Wright

    Not a good car for sure. They raced in the H production class with the Bug Eyes that rarely had any trouble beating them. Many times because of a DNF.

    • jim s

      i remember them running in scca racing. great fun to watch the different lines they needed in the corners..

  3. boxdin

    Hi fun quotient low price I say go for it

  4. jim s

    if it rust free this would be a interesting driver/project but not sure it can keep up with todays highway speed. they were fast on autocross course back in the day. nice find.

  5. Spitty 72

    Had a red ’72.
    Four words…
    Fix
    It
    Again
    Tony
    ‘Nuff said!

  6. Rando

    “Romance of driving an Italian car” LOL. A friend had an X1/9 and the “romance” was resetting the timing about every 30 miles. No amouont of tightening would keep the distributor in time. Would haved been a really fun car if not for that.

  7. Howard A

    It’s always been hard for me to believe Fiat was/is the #1 selling car in Europe. I never owned one ( the old man wouldn’t let an Asian, German, or Italian car in his driveway) but had friends that had them and they were awful cars. The guy across the alley bought a 850 coupe in the early ’70’s. It was a cool little car, but had transmission problems right away. It sat at the dealer for a long time waiting on parts, and when he finally got it back, it lasted about 2 months and began to grind again ( not to mention a broken window regulator and inoperative gas gauge). After sitting at the dealer again, he ended up trading it.

  8. Rancho Bella

    They are fairly rare alright………..kitchen object, they absorb moisture like sponge and end up swiss cheese

  9. Diavolino

    Y’all are a bit tough on old Fiats. My dad had an 850 Spyder that I used to sneak out for a drive when I was 16. Great little car. Beautiful. Had to rev it quite a bit to get anything out of it, but it was quite reliable. Rust got the better of it in the end. I also had an X 1/9 that was completely reliable after I replaced the timing belt. Never had a single problem with that car. I kept the oil clean and it ran great. Those were great handling cars. Not super fast, but glued to the road and the interior was super cool.

  10. Scott Sanders

    This was my first car! I must have replaced the manifold-muffler-exhaust assembly three times in two years, which as a single part shouldn’t be called an assembly at all. I’ll never forget when that gorgeous steering wheel broke off in my buddy’s hands; that look on his face was priceless. Good thing we were turning into a gas station at the time. So lightweight four guys once picked it up and moved it to the next parking spot with me still in the driver’s seat. Easily the prettiest car I’ve ever owned. I will never stop loving it no matter how problematic our relationship was.

  11. bcavileer

    When maintained like the typical ‘American’ lead sled, they quickly failed. But when checked regularly, tuned and oil changed they were just as reliable as any other machine. Having ran Fiats over 100k without overhaul, Renaults to 80k and countless Triumphs (including the maligned TR7) to high mileages without incident, IMHO the reliability factor is a bunch of … ah malarkey! Check your stuff before setting off. Takes minutes, the rewards are great. If you cannot, you are in the wrong hobby. Buy a Ford and drive till it ‘tells you to visit the dealership’. And BTW , Lucas stuff can be fixed 99% of the time by cleaning connections. Bone simple technology and you can actually take a bullet connector apart, see the problem, clean it and be on your way without spending a fortune. The European stuff may not be ‘powerful ‘ but they are interesting and well mannered handlers. Any 60’s vintage domestics want to try keeping up through the twisties with me?

  12. Ross W. Lovell

    Greetings All,

    Had the “optional hopped up version” the 900S. The extra 50cc of snarling fractional horsepower meant I couldn’t use wheelbarrow tires any longer.

    Rust was their big issue and the associated problems that come when the metal on a negative grounded car ceases to pass electrons to power things.

    Had the optional hard top, I think that was the only other option available.

    Honestly, a fun car. If I had known how to weld and fabricate then, I’d still have it.
    Great mileage, not fast but fun, you had to shift in the powerband or you’d be rewarded with the sound of horns.

    The engine was bulletproof, but when I purchased the vehicle the previous owner had spent a fair bit of money on parts by Dallara which were apparently supposed to make the car quicker/faster…….can’t picture it going slower.

    bcavileer, love Italian cars, not Italian metal, Alfas, Fiat, and a Stratos have made me keep my garage clean at various times…….all were handicapped by iron oxide disease.

    Was so looking forward to the XJS without Lucas………and then I noticed the twin six system by Marelli. Always fun when 1/2 of your ignition drops out and the excess gasoline lights up your cat converter……and I thought no one could be worse than Lucas, silly me.

    Still, Italians know how to build fun cars.

  13. George

    One of the most beautiful small sports cars ever. It’s in a category with some pretty lovely machines……..but fragile and rusts easily……Then again, so do Maseratis of the same period.

  14. Tim

    Friend of mine bought one back in the late 70’s for his girlfriend who lived upstate – rode with him to deliver it & when we finally arrived we put up on the rack at my grandfather’s garage-just 6 years old & rusted beyond comprehension. Junked it the next day.

  15. Chas

    Like so many other foreign cars of the period, these 850 Spiders got a bum rap here in the states, and although they had their quirks, includng a penchant for early rusting and some mechanical glitches, they are not nearly as bad as their reputation would have you believe.
    I own several Fiats, including a 1967 Fiat 850 Spider and it is a fun little car to drive and really quite reliable. The problem, like most foreign cars purchased in the states in the 1960’s and 1970’s, is that there was little or no dealer support, so even cars that were only a couple years old, could not get proper care or maintenance.
    In addition, American owners were used to sterile American iron that required absolutely no interaction or maintenance from the owner, whereas these, and most other foreign cars, required that the owner would take an active part in maintaining and tuning the machine.
    Finally, heavy fisted, hammer head American mechanics did not understand the more delicate alloy engines and necessary maintenance, and either discouraged owners from buying or keeping these cars, or repaired them by grabbing a bigger hammer.
    As a result of all of these factors, these cars became worthless very quickly, and two or three year old Fiats were purchased for a few hundred dollars, by students or other idiots who did zero maintenance, and neglected obious concerns, and were then surprised when the car developed serious complications or failures.
    A perfect example, is that owners will tell stories of driving a Fiat for many months or years “that was always overheating”, and they would never find out why. As a result, they would not replace the leaky waterpump or stuck thermostat. They were then “surprised” when the head gasket blew after a long trip when they didn’t top off the radiator.
    These type of stories are the ones that are remembered and retold. However, those of us who owned and drove Fiats that were properly maintained can tell stories of cars that covered more than a hundred thousand miles without issue. Even the rust resulted from cars being designed in countries where salt and sand were not used on the roadways like they are here in the states. We have to remember that other countries did not have the resources to waste like we did here in the states, so cars were developed with really thin sheet metal and alloy engines to reduce costs and weight to develop more efficient cars.
    I have owned lots of Fiats in the day, and still own several today. None of my cars are restored. Each is a well preserved original car. They are all rust free, and reliable and a blast to drive. Couple that with extremely low prices, and you have the formula for loads of really cheap fun. Parts are available and cheap. I just replaced the water pump on my 850 Spider for less than $100.00. That repair took less than a half hour to do. Try to do that with your modern Toyota.
    Having said all of that, these cars are downright anemic, and really require high revs to squeeze any speed or fun out of them, but a skilled driver can accomplish this with a little practice. They handle reasonably well for a rear engine car, and they turn heads everywhere you go. The pedals are so close together that you have to turn and thread your foot beneath the brake pedal to step on the accelerator, and you must remember to turn and unthread your foot to apply the brakes or your shoe will be stuck BENEATH the brake pedal. Much easier to drive barefoot!
    The first year for these Spiders was 1967 (not 1968 as stated above), and the first year model was designed by Bertone had beautiful integrated headlights with lens covers like the E-Type Jaguar only smaller, and a beautiful rectangular body with softly rounded edges. These first year cars are the most beautiful and therefore the most desirable.
    In 1968, DOT had prohibited the use of lenses over the headlights on any car sold in America, and required an 8 inch sealed beam headlight. The nacells had to be altered to accommodate those new light housings, which also required an alteration to the front fenders in order to smooth the headlight nacelle transition to the fender. This really destroyed Bertone’s intended lines and the later cars are much less attractive than the first year cars.
    Still pretty, fun and a blast to drive. I highly receommend one of these as a lot of fun for low money. More smiles per dollar than almost any other alternative. Just check carefully for rusty frames before you buy.
    Chas

  16. Ross W. Lovell

    Greetings All,

    Chas, agree with most of what you said.

    I rode motorcycles so I was prepared for the engine’s power. Honestly amazed at the fact is moved it that well.

    Thought the engine was well built the carb, less so, mine had dualies courtesy of Dallara. Personally, thought the engine was bulletproof but always drove as if it was 900cc and not a V8. Never understood radiator placement but it worked.

    The Rust was a big problem, so much so Fiat left the U.S. market for what 4 decades. Marchioness knew he had to make the current offerings better and has seemed to do so from what I’ve seen.

  17. Mark-A

    In the UK we gave Tony (or should it actually be Toni) a miss, was always Fix It Again Tomorrow/Today 😉

  18. Rex Rice

    My wife’s 850 Spider was a terrific car. She bought it from my brother who had let all maintenance slide. Some rust repair, new clutch, new timing chain, (all easy as the engine pops out from the rear), new top and paint and it was a beautiful car. She drove this car daily for almost 5 years with no issues. It was loud with the Abarth exhaust, that became much quieter when the hardtop went on in the Fall. 4 bolts removed the soft top completely and the hard top slipped on. At 6500, it touch 80 & would do that all day if you could stand the screaming. It used no oil and got very good gas mileage. In the Spring, the soft top came off and the topless season began. At 130,000 miles, I asked her to sell it before something happened. Me bad. She could still be driving it.
    The “Fix it Again Tony’ has been replaced by ‘Fantastic Italian Automotive Technology’ and ‘First In Affectionate Transportation’, or for you naysayers, ‘Fetch It Another Tow.’

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