Fiat 124 Spider 2000 (1999)




I began craving a two-seater convertible sometime in 1994. I looked at MGs, and drove out to someone's field to look at a 1957 Triumph Herald, which turned out to be rusted in half. Miatas were too expensive then, and I didn't like them anyway.

One day, in the paper, I saw a rather long ad for a wrecked 1980 Fiat 124. The guy lived in Waco, so we drove out to look at it (setting speed records in the Scirocco along the way), and it turned out to be a very nice car, except for smashed front and rear passenger side fenders. It was fuel injected, which impressed me since I really didn't know much about these cars, It ran great, but the front fender seemed to be pushed against the tire (actually the subframe was bent, but I was ignorant then and didn't realize how bad the damage was). Otherwise, it was pristine. It was cream, and the Lancia Beta wheels on it had a dull gold finish. Not exactly my style, but it looked OK. He wanted a thousand for it, and I decided to get it, thinking the body damage could be repaired for another thousand and I'd have myself a pretty decent little car.

So I bought it, and returned with Mark to tow it home, and there it sat for a month or two while I thought about what to do with it. After some time had pased, I managed to hammer out the fender so it didn't rub the tire too much, and got to drive it. It had a custom suspension, but it handled like crap - my first clue that all was not quite right. I drove it a little in the following weeks - it pulled to the right but not too badly, and other than denting the oilpan on a gas station storage tank cap (the suspension lowered the car about an inch) it seemed OK. I started thinking about getting the body fixed, and then one day the transmission began popping out of fourth gear.

One day Andrew, Mark and I were going to see a movie - Forrest Gump, actually. Andrew and Mark were in his Volvo 240 Turbo, and I was in the Fiat, and driving rather fast. Andrew took the cloverleaf from I-30 to 635 a little fast and I followed him at about 70mph. The car started to drift a little, and I let off the gas, and then everything went completely to hell. The bent frame caused the car to pull to the right, and when i let off the gas it went even more to the right, and then the back end lost it and I spun. I hit the brakes, which just made things worse, and the car came around sideways and the wind across the car blew my cap off. It was sliding backwards, beginning to come around again, and I thought, hey, maybe I'll just stop in the road, when the front passenger fender hit the guardrail, bounced, and the rear fender hit - exactly in the same spots the previous owner had smashed. The curb nearly ripped off the subframe, and the rear bumper was stuck underneath the guardrail.

I was all right - Andrew had seen the whole thing in the mirror and returned. We got the car loose and it started, and I drove it home, although not much faster then 15mph, since the front wheels were splayed out and steering it was like steering a ship in a heavy sea. The car was ruined - the firewalls were crinkled, the trunk was bent, and the subframe had about a 20-degree bend in it. It was scraping the road.


So the car sat under a cover at my apartment for a couple of years. I had it towed to Shade Tree Enginetrics in late 1996, and it sat there for another year while I did other stuff and thought about it occasionally. I finally went to do something about it in the summer of 1997 - I had decided to try and find a body and transplant all the nice mechanicals and interior from mine into it. Shade Tree had a few around - I had almost decided on a blue one with a bad motor when i walked around the other side and saw where a shredder had scraped down the entire car, creasing it. I was disgusted and it was hot and dusty and the locusts were flying around and i was ready to go back into the office, when I saw a heretofore unnoticed black one sitting by the road. I went over and looked, and it seemed ok - it was missing the drivetrain, and the interior was trashed, but it wasn't rusty and the body was all right. I went back inside and asked Robert about it, and that was the one I eventually chose. It was a 1982 model, made in March, one of the last ones before Pininfarina took over.

So after four years, and ungodly amounts of money, I finally had my convertible. I first drove it at night from Dallas to Austin, and it was fantastic. It was nothing like the old cream car. It handled well, had a surprising amount of torquey power, and was just loads of fun.

It ended up being my daily driver for a couple of years. It was pretty reliable - I had the transmission rebuilt (same one from the old car), an ANSA dual exhaust installed after the old one fell off, and a new fuel pump, but after that little flurry of problems, it was steady as a rock. Then, in late 1999, some bimbo in a Jeep pulled out in front of me and nearly ripped off the front fender. I managed to get an insurance settlement, but spent it on tuition. So it's been sitting ever since.