Pristine 1981 Fiat Spider 2000

Now here’s a head-scratcher. It’s a 1981 Fiat Spider 2000 for sale here on Craigslist at a modest $4,500 in the vicinity of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Visually, it’s probably the best example of this notoriously-prone-to-rust sports car I’ve ever seen. Everything is great except for one little problem—the fuel-injected two-liter won’t start.

The owner has been proactive about the problem—he’s replaced the fuel pump, the fuel filter, the fuel lines, the airflow sensor, electronic ignition and plugs, and several relays. Still, no go. “It turns over but won’t start,” he says. Can you imagine how frustrating that is, doing the work and still having the car be dead? Thanks to Russell Glantz for this submission.

The listing has an air of desperation to it: “If there is a mechanic who has regularly worked on these older fuel-injected Fiats, and who might know how to get it running, I’d be glad to hire you to work on it. (I can bring the car to you).” Now there’s an offer! My guess is that the owner would take less than $4,500, which does seem a lot for a car that won’t start.

But there’s so much right about this Fiat. The paint is great, with no rust, even in the trunk. The interior appears faultless. The convertible top is new and has only been up and down a few times. The all-synchro five-speed manual is reportedly in good condition. Love those clean wheel arches. And then there are all those new parts.

If you know the fuel-injection systems on these cars, there’s a good deal here. The problem could be something really simple, or a bigger issue with the injectors themselves. My guess, though, is that because so many of these rotted out, complete fuel-injection systems should be available from parts cars. I know of a Spider sinking into the earth a few miles from me.

The nice thing about this car is that, unlike so many of our BarnFinds, it needs practically nothing else. The car looks ready for a Concours d’Elegance, complete with a pair of leather driving gloves sitting next to the parking brake. The owner has had the car for 15 years and affirms it’s a lot of fun to drive—when it’s running.

There are a lot of parallels between this car and the 1976 Alfa-Romeo Spider I owned, right down to the two-liter engine and five-speed. If I’m not mistaken, they shared door handles, too. And both handled like Italian thoroughbreds. I could put the top down on my Alfa without even getting out of the car, and I bet you can pull off the same trick on this Fiat. So what’s your next move? Do you have the mechanical skills to get this beautiful car back on the road where it belongs?

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  1. Rex Kahrs Member

    New spark-a-lators?

  2. Frank Sumatra

    Last summer I helped a very close friend’s widow sell his 1981. We started at $4000 and this car may be an order of magnitude better. Very well-priced.

    • Clive Roberts

      I have exactly the same problem with my 1983 BMW 833i. I have changed everything but still no spark at the plugs. These problems can be very difficult to solve. My local dealer was also flummoxed.

  3. SubGothius

    These had the exact same Bosch L-jet FI system used on many other Euro models of that vintage, so anyone familiar with that system should be able to sort out the fault in this one; there’s even troubleshooting guides out there.

  4. RLH

    Have the same car with 20k. Ignition switch contacts will corrode over the winter. Spade terminal on fuel pump power lead will do the same. I keep a spare ignition switch in the glove box. Can be swapped without tools if stranded. In my case it was an instant fix.


    Is it spark or fuel. He keeps flipping between them. A non start can be tough sometimes, but you have to figure out what you are working with.
    Too bad I am 500 miles from Harrisburg.
    Seems like a nice car

  6. Mario Schwarz

    I wish I was closer. I’m in Florida. I’ve worked on many L-Jetronic systems over the years and never had one I couldn’t get running.

  7. TimM

    Another inexpensive two seater sports car!! Are we seeing a trend here!!!

  8. Maestro1 Member

    I’m sorry I’m so afar away. These are wonderful cars when running well.

  9. John

    I know its blasphemy, but why not put webers on it?

  10. arizman2

    I have a nice set of 40IDF carbs with factory Fiat manifold that would bolt right up. I’d try that and junk the fuel injection

  11. Mountainwoodie

    It’s raining Spyders that won’t run! Whats up with that?

    There’s got to be a mechanic in Harrisburg who can work on the FI. The driving gloves are a nice touch,, harking back to days the seller ran the twisties, downshifting like AJ Foyt.

    Ran when parked. I’d spend the money to get it running first……………before I tried to sell it..unless the cost to do so exceeded any hope of recovering said expenditure.


    • Howard A Member

      Hi Mw, I know, I should keep my big mouth shut ( leaning back thinking, hmm, a Fiat that won’t start, how odd) I apologize to Fiat lovers, it is a cool car, but how dare these folks say British cars have poor electrics. Besides, I’ve found, no spark while cranking, is probably the ignition switch shorting out. I think all these cars, regardless of brand are just going to need tinkering. You have no business buying one otherwise. Those cam belts on an interference engine still scares me enough not to ever have one.

  12. araknid78

    nice car

  13. Mike

    Sounds like a job for Ant Antstead and Mike Brewer!

  14. Louis Chen

    No problem, just bring the car down to Texas and take $15oo I’ll take this Italian beauty off and running in no time. I recently got a 2010 Audi A4 not running for $500 after the owner also gave up trying to get running! C’mon down..times a wastin’ y’all..

  15. Keruth

    I’ve had a few of these, all FI, and they are dead simple basic systems.
    Turn on the key and listen for the fuel pump, that’s the first relay, check pressure at the cold start injector (40psi). The Fling It Around Turns group have plenty of helpful, knowledgeable members to talk to.
    Good price, even not running. Wish I was closer, too!
    Oh, and there is nothing like a FI system for reliability, imho!

  16. Larry Member

    Could the timing chain have jumped teeth on the sprocket?

  17. chrlsful

    tough to keep puttin $ into a car ya wanna sell anyway.
    Gotta B fair w/wrenches and a meater.
    I C that crooked farina patch (last pic above), seems like lota bubles under the paint…? I’m not so sure. MIne (3, 4?) were all pre-FI, damn, 1 on here or the other channel hada turbo. I must B gettin old if they were after my time…

    • Eric B.

      I can’t be the only one that doesn’t understand this.

      • Steve Bush Member

        Howard, thanks for letting us in on interference engines being one of your biggest phobias. Now; I think most of us can agree that both Italian and British cars of this vintage can be troublesome, especially if used as a daily. So; Howard and anyone else, what if-you had to make an emergency 1000 mile round trip to deliver an small, yet important item to a friend or family member. But the only transportation choices were this and a similar vintage MGB and both were in mint condition, which would you pick? You could bring all the tools and spare parts that fit in the car, including the luggage rack (no trailers or support vehicles), and you could bring an assistant and you would have 36 hours (so you could sleep/eat). You wouldn’t want to make this overly dangerous.

  18. GeneMak1

    Air, Ignition and Fuel. That’s what it takes to run a car. Just run through each. I would guess the problem is at the switch, a relay or even the ECM. Is there any spark coming through the plugs?

  19. John H

    Wow, I want to know the location of the hermetically sealed chamber where this was stored! I’m about 25 miles from this one, and even when Fiats of this vintage were still out and about I can’t remember seeing one more than maybe a year or two old that looked as good. By year two they were already on the return to Earth journey … or not running and stashed in a garage.

    All the mechanics I knew who were familiar with these have retired but I’d agree with others here and look at the ignition switch first.

    Really nice looking Fiat. Shame I don’t bend well enough to get in and out of low, small cars.

  20. David F

    Try the replacement of the $90 Bosch fuel pump relay, located elbow glove box, unless you know the fuel pump is running and you have fuel pressure. The one on my ‘81 Spider became intermittent and would quit suddenly, leaving me dead in the water. Then, just without reason, start working again. Took years to pin it down. Now I carry a spare! Bosch L-Jetronic system, very common system and part, easy to get. Good luck. A great car, as I’ve had mine 25 years.

  21. Rick

    I love it when people post that the best way to reach thlem is by phone, but they do not post a phone number.

    • DayDreamBeliever Member

      Second time in a couple of weeks that people don’t seem to know how to read or use Craigslist ads.

      The number is there.

      Click on the “Reply” button top left, then click on the button for the #.


      No room for another project, and no place to store it out of the weather either. Otherwise, PA isn’t that far from Michigan…….

      • Rick


  22. Rick

    If I had this car in my possession, I could make it run.


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