Rare Turbo: 1981 Fiat Spider 2000 Turbo

The 1981 Fiat Spider 2000 Turbo is the factory turbo sports car you have when the factory isn’t involved. The brainchild of Fiat USA, only around 700 examples were produced. They rarely appear on the market today, especially examples that are as beautifully preserved as our feature car. It belongs to a dedicated enthusiast, and its overall condition suggests that he is meticulous in his approach to caring for his collection. However, he has reached a point where he needs to downsize, so this little Fiat has been listed for sale here on Craigslist. It is located in Edgewater, Florida, and the owner has set the sale price at $14,990. A big thank you has to go out to Barn Finder Pat L for spotting this little gem for us.

The owner of this little Fiat is passionate about this brand, and his enthusiasm is demonstrated by how beautifully this one is presented. The Light Blue Metallic paint shines nicely, with no significant flaws or defects. I believe that the trunk lid may have received a touch-up at some point because there appears to be a slight color mismatch between it and the surrounding panels. The panels themselves are as straight as an arrow, with no signs of dings and dents. All of this leads us to the eternal question of rust, and it is here that we appear to have struck gold. The Spider shares one trait with so many of its brethren in that it was shockingly prone to catastrophic rust problems. However, this car has avoided that fate, and it appears to be completely rust-free. This is significant because if a Fiat from this era has survived for this long without problems, that suggests that we are dealing with a real beauty. It would still pay to perform an in-person inspection to confirm this, but it shows enormous promise. The trim and chrome seem to be in good order, as do the glass and the decals. The soft-top has rarely been used, and the owner states that it is in as-new condition. The Fiat wears Minilite-style alloy wheels, and while these aren’t original, they suit the vehicle’s character.

When it comes to the question of longevity with a Fiat, the only thing that is more fragile than the panels is the interior trim. An otherwise spotless car can often be let down by trim that has split, cracked, broken, or fallen off. That fate hasn’t befallen our feature car because the interior generally looks far better than average. The armrests on the doors look slightly odd, and I’m not sure what the story is there. Some cars featured armrests that contrasted the door trims, but I’ve never seen a pair quite like this. It is one of the few faults that I can spot because the remaining trim and the dash are in excellent order. If the buyer doesn’t like the armrests, they can also find a vinyl dye that will provide a closer match to the rest of the trim. The original radio has made way for a CD player, and speakers have been cut into the door trims. An aftermarket wheel is also present, but the rest of it looks as it would have when it rolled off the production line.

It’s when you slip behind the wheel that you realize that this isn’t your average Fiat Spider 2000. Everything looks pretty normal until you spot the boost gauge perched neatly in the center of the gauge cluster. It seems that someone is trying to tell the driver something.

With the boost gauge giving us the first clue, we lift the hood to find what makes this Spider special. When it rolled off the production line, it was just like its brothers. That means that the 1,995cc DOHC 4-cylinder engine would have produced 102hp. In this case, those ponies would have made their way to the rear wheels via a 5-speed manual transmission. Point it at a ¼ mile, and the journey would have taken 17.4 seconds. That was respectable at the time, but it wouldn’t have had your pulse racing. Fiat USA Inc. could see there was some potential locked away in this little car, and they were determined to unlock it. When the cars rolled off the boat and onto American soil, Fiat US transported some of the vehicles to a company called Legend Industries, located in Long Island, New York. This was a company with experience in the field of forced induction, and at the time, they were also developing a twin-turbo DMC-12 that DeLorean intended to take to market. Anyway, Legend fitted the boost gauge and bolted a turbocharger to the unmodified Fiat engine. Utilizing Bosch fuel injection and a low boost setting of 6psi, the power figure rose to 120hp. That doesn’t sound that impressive, but we are talking about a 20% increase. Torque also increased from 110 ft/lbs to 130 ft/lbs. However, it was acceleration that was the big story because the ¼-mile ET was slashed to 16.2 seconds. That’s an improvement that any driver would be sure to notice. At that point in automotive history, turbochargers could be notoriously fragile. However, that was less of an issue than for many models at that time. If the turbo gave up the ghost, an owner could ditch it and still have a four that performed as Fiat intended. The news with this one is positive because the owner had the turbocharger rebuilt in 2020. The Spider is in excellent mechanical health and is ready to be driven and enjoyed.

No one can be certain how many Spider Turbos were built by Fiat USA, and there are no records available from Legend Industries. The company was never paid for the work that it performed for DeLorean (surprise!), and Legend folded soon after DeLorean collapsed. The consensus places the total at around 700 examples being sold during 1981 and 1982. How many survive today is unknown, but with their legendary susceptibility to rust problems, the total will be low. This one is a gem, and the asking price seems to be competitive when compared to the few that have sold in recent times. So, if you are on the hunt for a classic Italian sports car but don’t mind the thought of owning something a bit unusual, maybe this is the car for you.

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Comments

  1. Jcs

    One of the world’s prettiest little sports cars, both inside and out.

    This example looks exceptionally nice indeed, and would be in my garage tomorrow were it not for the low mile 2KS2K currently occupying its spot.

    Somebody get over there and snag this one pretty quick, she won’t be there long.

    Like 13
  2. Bultaco

    The wheel is stock. I think made by BWA. All Spiders after about ‘78 had them.

    Like 3
  3. Fred W

    I would have to lose the bumpers – car would look awesome without them. I pass by one regularly (earlier non turbo) sitting on a vacant lot, top up, windows down, exposed to weather and vandals for the past 10 years. Very sad.

    Like 4
  4. ClassicCarFan

    This one certainly does seems to be in good condition and truly is a rare version. As noted, one of these that is not rusted to hell is a nice change.

    However, on the subject of the turbo upgrade.. I think the author got it right first time “That doesn’t sound that impressive”. 120 bhp is less than 18% increase on the stock motor. hardly worth the extra expense and complication of adding the turbo plumbing. I guess back in 1981 slapping the label “Turbo” on anything was a marketing ploy as much as anything, a bit like the ” i ” badge when fuel injection was relatively new and exotic.

    This turbo upgrade kid of reminds me of the “Cosworth” Vega…potential to be a truly hot version but in reality by the time it went on sale it was barely much more powerful that the standard motor and you kind of wonder what the point was.

    Like 2
  5. Dean Wilson

    I recall reading an article about the development of this engine by Legend Industries. They said that they had zero engine failures with the Fiat turbo unlike the initial Delorean turbo motor which lasted less than a minute on the dyno. Considering how much horsepower the rally cars produced with this motor it is not surprising.

    Like 1
  6. Bunky

    So- 100×20%=20. OK. Moving on. This is a beautiful, rare, desirable car in what looks to be excellent condition.
    I bought a ‘75 Fiat 124 Spyder for my wife when my youngest son was born in 1983. When he grew up it was given to him. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in a fire a couple years ago. My son took the insurance money and bought two more. We love them. Yeah, they’re finicky, and not super powerful, but they’re a blast to drive! Noisy, windy, top down fun! Having a little more horsepower would be icing on the cake.

    Like 2
  7. chrlsful

    had 3 of these (even its grandfather the 1200) in different yr, motor sz & transmission. Never the turbo. Mother hada few in the later yrs (80s). Really nice in my experience. She even had at least one of the sedans (128) plus a few 850s, and finally the Lancia BCoup ah. Fiat may have been bigger than GM at one point.
    All fantastic cars. “the fix it again” never seemed an issue. But we were not typical us. ofa owners, liked tinkering, spending some attention…

    • Mary

      When my husband and I were shopping for a car to replace our Cortina, we were introduced to the Fiat dealership mechanic. He said that if you take care of them and do preventive maintenance, they will last indefinitely. To me that seemed the logical way to take care of any car. He forgot, however, to tell us to stay away from college students late to class and no time to stop for a red light. The 128 still ran great, but it was a “banana car” after getting T-boned and no longer ideal for a couple.

  8. Paul T Root

    I remember reading in Road & Track that the 0-60 time was faster with the automatic.

  9. matt

    I bought a ’68’ Spider in ’74’ and I was still doing some painting as a side job since I had just graduated from college, and I painted mine this color ( or very close to this )
    That car was a lot of fun, ran great, and put the top down basically with one hand, and a fun 5 speed trans.
    This one looks very good, someone will be happy when they buy it !!

    Like 1
  10. Brett Melancon

    I also own one of these special cars. They are rare and indeed historic when you factor the early turbo tech that was used. Very interesting to drive and while not fast, the extra midrange punch of the turbo is quite nice.

  11. JAMES SIMPSON

    I sold parts for the Fiat models at Celiberty Motors during the 80’s and 90’s. We even restored Turbo Parts! We did a huge business in selling every tiny and unique part- right down to the plastic clip that holds the seat belts onto the carpeted threshold! Bet you did not know there was a clip there! HA! Such is the esoterica of these cars. Few really appreciated a “DOHC cam, 5speed all syncro tranny, Weber carbureted, Power assisted 4 wheel disk brake, power window, vehicle at the time. Yet, any Fiat 124/2000 is a Bargain right now for what you get! Steal one before they appreciate.

    Like 1
  12. ClassicCarFan

    Geez….I know we live in era where many people prefer to ignore facts and education is frowned upon…. but lets clarify the math for the challenged..

    Original non- turbo motor 102 bhp. Turbocharged motor 120 bhp

    120 minus 102 = 18 extra hp. 18 divided by 102 = 0.1764
    18 bhp is a 17.64 % gain over the original 102 bhp… like I said, less that 18%

  13. Araknid78

    Very nice car. I would love to own it. I often miss my ’78 that I sold in 2014

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