Which Find is For You? Sonett vs 124 Spyder

Fiat vs Saab

Robert J sent in two separate barn finds in the San Francisco area that have been listed on craigslist and he posed an interesting question. Which of these finds is for you? Both cars are cheap project sports cars, but that’s about the only similarity that they share. One is a Saab Sonett III and the other is a Fiat 124 Spyder. Both cars have their pros and cons and both need work, but we think this is an interesting comparison to make, as they are both fun little cars. Find the Sonnett here and the Fiat here. Thanks Robert for sharing!

Saab Sonett III

The seller of the Sonett isn’t even sure what year it is, but is looking for the paperwork. It looks to be fairly complete, but the seller admits it is missing a few pieces. It hasn’t run in years, but they believe it shouldn’t be to difficult to get it running again. The seller is asking $1,200 for it, which is a tad higher than what the seller of the Fiat is asking. The Sonett is a much different car than the Fiat. Besides being a coupe, it is a fwd fiberglass bodied Swede with a 1700 cc V4.

1968 Fiat 124 Spyder

With an asking price of just $700, this seems like a good price for an early 124 Spyder, but it is in rough shape. Being a late ’60s Fiat means it has rust issues, as most 124 Spyders do. As Alfa Romeo Spyders and GTVs go up in value, the 124 is becoming a more affordable twin-cam alternative. In comparison to the Saab, this rwd Italian is powered by a 1608 cc straight four. The motor and transmission are out of the car, so it’s hard to say what kind of condition they are in.

1968 Fiat 124 Spyder

Both of these little cars are fun to drive, but are completely different experiences. They both have some racing heritage, but one is targeted at warm climate cruising while the other is better suited on snowy roads and gravel. Finding parts for either shouldn’t be all that difficult, as they both have dedicated followings. One could consult performance numbers, but that hardly seems like the best way to compare these as each has it’s strengths and weaknesses in straight line performance and on the curves. You could compare them from the standpoint of style or technology, but even that doesn’t seem fair. This one really boils down to what you plan to do with the car, whether you prefer to repair metal or fiberglass, and whether you want a roof or open sky above you. So with all that in mind which is the barn find for you?

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Comments

  1. rancho bella

    I like Fiats and Sonett’s……….but I guess I’ll lean towards the Sonett. Wait……I like those twin cam engines in the Fiats and they are quite comfortable……ahh forget it.

  2. Mark Wemple

    Easy one. The Fiat. The 124 has to be the most under appreciated sports car ever built. Great handling, reliable, yeah you heard me, easy to work on, best top ever and great looking. Built by pininfarina along side Ferraris and I the engine was designed by Lampredi, of Ferrari fame. And if you want to go nuts you can create a rally replica.

  3. NOSLEEPATALL

    I have a friend that is a SAAB fanatic that has one. Interesting car but way to Kit Car for my tastes :(

  4. MikeH

    The 124 is one of the most fun cars of it’s era–a Miata with soul. An Italian car is like a sensuous woman—sometimes erratic, sometimes unpredictable, but when all is good, it’s very, very good.

  5. Mark E

    The Saab is more easy to work on mechanically (Ford derrived V4), the interior appears to be good (which is a rarity) and it sound like with a battery and a few hours work you could drive it home!

    Note to Josh: AFTER paying for it and receiving the title!! ^_^

  6. paul

    After all this time the Sonnet is probably the better choice because of the fiberglass as opposed to the Fiat that rusted quite quickly. But the 124 in it’s day was a wonderful car to drive other then a little odd seating position & after years of owning English cars when I did step up to this car the top was a dream the twin cam & it’s very free revving engine were great.

  7. rj

    I own a Fiat Spider and I’ve had a few, but in this case, I’d opt for the Saab. Looks like a lot of money needs to be invested in the Fiat. However, I don’t know what kind of premium a nice 1968 Fiat Spider 1600 brings over later examples.

  8. Moxman

    I think I’d prefer the Fiat. I always loved that classic Italian body style. The dual cam four is a pretty nice engine too. Top that of with a drop-top (no pun inteded), and you have a great sports car. With today’s technology, rust removal is no problem, so I’d go Fiat all the way.

    • paul

      Their are many great new products to remove rust assuming their is any metal left, to remove rust from.

  9. Robert J

    I’m completely on the fence here…which is why I sent this in. Someone posted a Citroen 2CV project on the cheap today as well (one of my favorites) , but I am driving my Jensen Healey (with Ford V6) every day, the MK1 VW Cabriolet is in the shop and the Mercedes bus and Volvo 122S are both undergoing massive repairs by my hand at the moment. I justifiably can say that my hands are full but truth be told, if I had another parking space I might consider the Sonnet….or the Fiat. :)

    • Horse Radish

      Mercedes Bus ?
      What have you got ?
      We need to compare notes . I have several between 1960 and 1972….
      your taste in the other cars is along the same lines of what I like and have also…
      Alex

      • Robert J

        Hi Alex;

        You have several? How cool. Do you have a 319D? Those are really high on my wish list. I have a 1972 Mercedes 306D, which is a rebadged Hanomag with an OM615 engine in it.

        There is a picture of it here, although it now sports a bull bar:
        http://vintagebus.com/gallery/image/2103948b.JPG

      • Horse Radish

        Robert J.
        Yes, a couple of 319 gassers, a 321H and a 309.
        Not sure I want to let go of any right now ;^}
        I am in So. Cal , You in Nor Cal ?

  10. Robert J

    One additional thought;
    is that people forget just how fun these small cars can be. I sold my little two-seater to someonea while back. His wife had him sell it back to me. I am so happy that (s)he did because it is such a joy to drive a true vintage sports car daily. We all make compromises, perhaps we have our reasons.
    I recommend heartily that once in a while, we don’t!

  11. jim s

    i will take both cars for just $1900!

  12. ConservativesDefeated

    Easy choice. I owned a 1978 Fiat Spyder.great little revver.and the build was surprisingly good. Wonderful seating posiiton and that twn cam is the bomb. Also had a 124 hardtop before that one. Have nothng bad to say about either of them other then some tinniness in the bits.

    But I also would buy one that is original and has been cared for.

  13. Bryan Cohn

    Interesting choice. I’d lean Fiat for much of what has been said above. I love the line, “A Miata with soul”. That sums up both my Miata race car and the Fiat 124/Spider in one statement!

    The bigger question for me, a Midwesterner who has traveled extensively across the country because of motorsports, does every old Cali home have a collection of weird and wonderful cars out back? Every time you turn around it seems like a car comes out of a lean two in Cali and in the photos you can see other desirable cars, boats, bikes, etc.

    Is it the sunshine, surf and bikini babes? :)

    • BTG88

      Maybe in the 1960’s. Now it’s high taxes, traffic and illegal immigrants. Ask me how I know. There’s a reason that no one calls it the ‘Golden State’ anymore.

  14. Jim-Bob

    I think this is one of those times when cars from two different posts from the same day could be combined to make one very cool vehicle. I would take the Fiat 124 and use it for a parts car for a Soviet Lada 2101! The Lada is very similar to a 124 underneath, so it’s a match made in heaven. Even the wheels look similar to a Lada’s, either the original or the new ones (model 2105) that are built in a Suzuki factory in Egypt today. So, yes, my idea DOES require a trip to a former Soviet block country to find a suitable donor, but is that so bad? Bulgaria I believe is now part of the EU, so the trip should be fairly simple. Either that or a nation in the Russian sphere of influence might make a nice trip this time of year. Plus, buying a genuine Soviet market (SUDM) Lada would bring with it all the cool markings in Cyrillic rather than boring old English.

  15. Thayer

    Great comments all around. I would be looking at that Fiat if it wasn’t 2000 miles away, but if the engine is original, it will be the smaller 1438cc variant, not the 1608cc, that was available from ’71-73. All the engines made after that had a wider bore spacing but the heads were never changed to match. (the outer two cylinders breath a little different than the inner two) I had a ’72 1608 for a few years (smashed by a rusty old F150) and they are indeed wonderful cars. Great handling and rev as happily as anything out there. Like an MGB with more style and more engineering.

  16. Bob

    Ohh. No contest. The ’68 Spiders (with an ‘i’, not a ‘y’) are as rare as hen’s teeth since the first official model year was 1969. As the person listing the car said, there were only 150 or so imported as 1968s. Depending on the potential rust issues, this car could be very valuable fully restored, providing a correct 1438 engine could be found. The 1608 did not make its appearance until the 1970 model year, so the engine provided is from a later car. Although, the larger engine would make the car a better driver with more power and torque.

    Fiat 124 Spiders have been much maligned over the years, not entirely without cause. But when properly sorted and cared for, these are terrific little cars. And parts are easily available and fairly cheap. I had a 1969 when I was in high school (won’t say how long ago that was) and have 1978 now. Plenty of room for my 6’2″ frame, comfortable even when it’s cold (great heater), four-wheel disc brakes, dual overhead cam engine and a real 5-speed. Even in 1966 when the car was first introduced in Europe. And I can’t say enough about the top. What other car from that era can you put the top down at a stop light with out getting out of the driver’s seat?

    $700 for a very early Spider seems like a no-brainer, again depending on the potential rust issues and condition of the engine. If you’re near and want a good project, go buy it and put this rare baby back on the road. You will be well rewarded.

    • paul

      My late 1966 Alfa Romeo Duetto had an equally easy to operate top.

      • Bob

        True enough. I didn’t mean to exclude Alfas. In fact, the comment could apply equally well to almost anything from Italy in the ’60s and ’70s. The top on my 1963 1200-based Cabriolet was equally easy to put up and down.

  17. John

    I truly wish there were Fiat 124 Spider “bodies in white” like there are for so many British classics. I would buy this 124 and one of those in a heartbeat. I had an early 124. It was wonderful. I could find nothing to fault in it, except that its body was made of some sort of water soluble material. To say they rust is an understatement. Mine seemed to go away as I looked at it. But it was beautiful and probably brought me back to the world of sports cars and away from the muscle cars of the same era.

  18. Tom

    I owned and nationally raced MGAs and MGBs. Later I created ads for Fiat, and consequently had one as a company car, including a 124 Spyder. And for the life of me I could not see why Americans embraced the MGB over the Fiat. The 124 has rollup windows, a one-hand top, twin cam engine, 4 wheel discs, a great gear box and much better styling. I rallied ours in New England events and loved its comfort and willingness. More recently I bought a Bad One in Florida and was obliged to drive it to Indianapolis in November, without most bits working, thinking to restore it, and was amazed that the trouper got us home alive. Whereupon I sold it, not wanting to press my luck. I’d take the 124 any day; parts are plentiful and cheap. (But personally I’d rather begin with a better one. than the one advertised.)

    • Bob

      Tom,

      I’m totally with you. I am absolutely cramped in an MGB. And don’t even get me started on Spridgets. I can even drive those because I can’t get my knees clear of the steering wheel! I always get a kick out of people when the raise or lower the top on an MGB. It’s an out-of-car better with two people kind of experience. Always cracks me up.

      The Fiat club I belong to often has outings in partnership with the local MG club (and a Jaguar, Triumph or Austin Healey sometimes thrown in for variety). Many of these outings involve hundreds of miles and multiple nights. With all the driving and given Fiat’s unearned reputation, whose cars do you think inevitably break down? You guessed it, the British makes. Only once in all the trips we took did a Fiat let anyone down and that was due to a fuel pump failure which could have happened to any car that was 30+ years old.

      I just don’t understand why the British cars get such a pass from American motoring enthusiasts. As I said in my original post, Fiats, when well sorted and cared for, are incredibly reliable cars.

  19. Rustowner

    I’ve had both of these models at one time and I’d personally opt for the FIAT all day long. Lots of soul, easy to fix & a great driving car. If only they would last a bit longer when exposed to corrosives elements you find while driving……like air.

    • Horse Radish

      you forgot the other ‘Fiat’ corrosive elements :
      people and time….
      .
      .
      ..
      just kidding.
      I like Fiats, but have to admit of all the ones I’ve owned I have never had one driving…just projects, for the day when I run out of stuff to do on all my other cars.

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