TR8owner
TR8owner HalfDork
5/31/15 1:11 a.m.

Been offered an early 1971 Fiat 124 for a psalm. Near perfect body but needs some maintenance. I've never owned any Italian car although my best buddy had a 69 1750 GTV. I appreciate them for their looks but hear anything Italian is a lot of fuss. Reminds me of my ex wife who was also of Italian ethnicity.

I'm sure I'll likely reluctantly pass on this mostly because I've only got enough garage space for my three TR8's, but can somebody enlighten me how finicky 124's really are? As somebody who was weaned on British cars maybe I shouldn't be so fearful of Fiats. Fiat guys, please enlighten me.

VClassics
VClassics Reader
5/31/15 12:42 p.m.

In 1972 I bought a used '71 124 Spider with about 8K miles on it. In the next two years, I put another 75K miles on it. The only thing that ever broke was the switch for the heater blower. I did have it dealer serviced at the prescribed intervals, but there's nothing one couldn't do with basic tools and knowledge I didn't have back then. I'd love to have another one.

racerdave600
racerdave600 SuperDork
5/31/15 1:57 p.m.

Italian cars are pretty much a step up from British cars in terms on maintenance. TR8s are a bit different from my older TRs though, so not sure how they stack up. But my Fiats and Alfas, compared to say my TR4, were poster children of reliability. Of course they were a lot newer then. As long as the car is not abused and doesn't need everything, it shouldn't be that difficult. Performance wise, it won't come close to the TR8 though, so not sure what you'd gain other than to pass it along for a profit.

Kenny_McCormic
Kenny_McCormic PowerDork
5/31/15 2:15 p.m.

Other than the usual old car lubrication and adjustment schedule, the valve lash maintenance (shim OVER bucket) is kinda involved. Unlike the Fiat SOHCs, you can actually get the necessary tools for the DOHC, so it's no huge cams out deal.

EDIT: Forgot about the timing belt, that's easy though, and if it's like the SOHCs, dirt cheap. 25,000 miles sounds right, maybe 3 years on the age, I'd go with 2 to be safe.

BoxheadTim
BoxheadTim GRM+ Memberand UltimaDork
5/31/15 4:39 p.m.

I'm surprised nobody's asked the question - which Fiat 124? They made the Spider, sedan and coupe. The tin worm likes to consume all of them but otherwise they seem to be pretty robust.

stu67tiger
stu67tiger Reader
5/31/15 6:13 p.m.

I had a '70 Spyder. In '72 the rockers rusted through. So if this car has lived anywhere but in the high desert, run away. Or at least bring magnet when you check it out. Great handling, great feel and sound, and the easiest convertible top of that era.

Stu

maseratiguy
maseratiguy Reader
5/31/15 7:19 p.m.

I've had an '83 Alfa Spider for a few years now. A flywheel sensor went once, other than that it has been wonderful and no problems. In the nice weather it is my DD. If it has been maintained it should be good. I think many Fiats/Italian cars get a bad rap because when they hit the shores in any numbers they had disc brakes, OHC motors, and 5 speeds at a time when most mechanics knew drum brakes and pushrods. Thus they weren't maintained as they should have been, (which is also more than the average sbc). I could be all wrong on that hypothesis, but...... Also yes, Fiats rusted pretty badly but what didn't rust in 1972?

TR8owner
TR8owner HalfDork
5/31/15 7:54 p.m.

In reply to maseratiguy:

In my wildest imagination I'd love to take a base 124 and modify it into a tribute Abarth car. Guess I'll have to pass on this one though. Its hard enough justifying three TR8's. But if I had only one more space in my garage.....

Rupert
Rupert Dork
6/1/15 8:33 a.m.

Since you're already used to Lucas electrics being quirky, Fiat's should make you feel comfortable and at home. But the rust worm can be pretty bad. Other than rust, I've always loved them.

Woody
Woody GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
6/1/15 8:37 a.m.
BoxheadTim wrote: I'm surprised nobody's asked the question - *which* Fiat 124? They made the Spider, sedan and coupe.

In this country, sedans and coupes are so rare that when someone mentions a Fiat 124, they are almost always referring to a Spider.

rconlon
rconlon HalfDork
6/1/15 10:27 a.m.

I have owned mine since 1999 and over 50,000 miles. I would recommend the Fiat 124 series and in particular the very handsome Spider to anyone wanting a relatively modern and reliable old style sports car. Now, every part is available from a few great vendors who ship to your door. Maintenance is what I would call normal. What is mostly missing is a local mechanic willing and able to specialize in them if you don't do your own maintenance. This was true when they were first sold and it has not changed. My Triumph friend was offered a 1978 124 Spider for a song a few years ago. He was rather embarrassed that the car (sold as non-running) only needed a battery and fuel when he picked it up that he still pushed it onto the trailer. He has driven it for 5 years now as his older Triumphs sit or get sold. I hope this one goes to a good home and gets used for a few more years. Cheers Ron

NOHOME
NOHOME UltraDork
6/1/15 10:58 a.m.

I pulled the engine and gearbox out of a 124 sedan and stuffed it in an MG Midget. While the swap was rough, the engine and gearbox were a dream.

I got the drivetrain out of a 5 year old car because it was already rusted to the point where it had to come off the road. Those cars had a gift for rusting. I always thought that the original car would have been a nice ride itself.

spitfirebill
spitfirebill PowerDork
6/1/15 1:20 p.m.

If you are passing on this car, care to tell us where it is?

And I agree with the rust comments.

Jerry From LA
Jerry From LA Dork
6/1/15 9:17 p.m.

The engines are totally stout. They have huge valves for a 1600 - 1800 and a great short block. I've built 11 or 12 twincam engines. There are subtle differences to the engine in yours (a 1608cc if original), vs the '73 1600 (1592cc) and the later 1800-2000 engines. Parts swap easily between the 1592 - 1800 engines, particularly the 1592 head which have no EGR passage. Depending on who you talk to, the 1600 to 1592 or 1800 swap possibilities are more limited (revised water jacket openings, etc.). However, the Italians assemble cars out of whatever happens to be laying around so it's possible your car may have some unorthodox stuff in it from the factory.

If you decide to throw in an 1800, be aware they changed the bore spacing of the block but did not change the combustion chamber spacing in the head. So two cylinders and their valve gear are slightly off center.

Make sure you change timing belts every 25,000 miles. It's an interference motor no matter what the year. This Lampredi engine design is the first commercially available vehicle with a timing belt so they're harder on belts than anything coming after them. Just change the belt and the tensioner too.

The trannies cannot be killed except if the trans pan gasket goes south. Then they lose all the lube quickly. However, I ran one dry, fixed the gasket, filled it up with lube and it worked fine.

The starter has three bolts. Reaching the third bolt requires two elbows in one arm so it's a test of your manhood.

the Naugahyde used in the interiors is fairly robust but they sewed it all with cotton thread. That thread rotted 20 years ago. There are kits available, however. Parts support is very good.

This is a car that often commenced rusting in the showroom. FIAT was forced to rebate $1200 - $1500 per car to buyers by the Office of Consumer Protection. There is no Italian steel industry. The steel used in this car was all recycled and badly at that. So they can be rust time bombs. Having said that, the worst have already dissolved so the remaining cars have a little better metal in them. Its been years since my involvement with them but someone else can comment on sheet metal availability. There was no aftermarket sheet metal when I worked on them.

The big electrical problem with these cars is bad grounds. All of them should be checked and improved if necessary, especially if the car is rusty. If you lose the big ground strap between the starter and the body, it will ground through the clutch cable which makes for a very interesting situation while driving.

Look for excessive negative camber or limited turning ability to one side. Those are dead giveaways for fatigued / rusted metal messing with the suspension / steering geometry. I bought a parts car where metal fatigue was so bad, It would not turn left more than a few degrees. I picked it up in Weymouth, MA and drove it back to Newton. Since it could not turn left, I had to drive it in concentric circles all the way home.

Having said all that, I had an absolute ball in those cars. I courted many women in them and created a little side business fixing their problems and rebuilding their engines. So I benefited greatly from my FIAT association in many ways.

spitfirebill
spitfirebill PowerDork
6/2/15 6:26 a.m.

That's very informative Jerry. I had a friend who ran a "foreign car" shop and he refused to work on them. I think he had some bad experiences.

Rupert
Rupert Dork
6/3/15 10:11 a.m.
spitfirebill wrote: That's very informative Jerry. I had a friend who ran a "foreign car" shop and he refused to work on them. I think he had some bad experiences.

I would guess the bad experiences had to do with slow pay or no pay owners. Otherwise, why close the money spigot?

racerdave600
racerdave600 SuperDork
6/3/15 4:54 p.m.

I agree on the grounds. Every Fiat electrical problem I ever had was traced to a bad ground. Once I determined what the culprits were, I made a yearly cleaning routine. No more electrical problems.

Kenny_McCormic
Kenny_McCormic PowerDork
6/3/15 5:26 p.m.

On grounds, clean the hell out of them and slather in dielectric grease, then reassemble, no more problems.

rconlon
rconlon HalfDork
6/4/15 2:36 p.m.

My 23 year old Miata now get its grounds cleaned as regular maintenance. It is the scourge of convertibles and dampness.

spitfirebill
spitfirebill PowerDork
6/6/15 1:31 p.m.
Rupert wrote:
spitfirebill wrote: That's very informative Jerry. I had a friend who ran a "foreign car" shop and he refused to work on them. I think he had some bad experiences.
I would guess the bad experiences had to do with slow pay or no pay owners. Otherwise, why close the money spigot?

I'm guessing it had more to do with stripping threads in aluminum.

rconlon
rconlon HalfDork
6/8/15 10:22 a.m.

The timing belt had a 30,000 mile scheduled change. Any service station mechanic could and would tackle this job in the 1970's. The original heater valves also did not last long. The big problem was when the coolant was re-filled. Filling by the radiator only would leave an air pocket in the system that would prevent the thermostat from opening. This would over heat the head and blow the gasket or warp it. The customer would return the car to be fixed at the mechanic's expense. Everyone blamed everyone and the car. There was a simple method to burp the air pocket out of the system to prevent this. But, first impressions are hard to shake.

racerdave600
racerdave600 SuperDork
6/8/15 4:41 p.m.

I know on my X's, bleeding the system involved jacking the front of the car up with the bleeder opened. Not many mechanics would go to that length and head gaskets would blow. Done properly they last a long time and are no worse than a Honda.

maseratiguy
maseratiguy Reader
6/8/15 8:05 p.m.

Basically this is what I am saying, not serviced properly, not understood, and the cars get blamed.

Jerry From LA
Jerry From LA Dork
6/10/15 10:21 a.m.
maseratiguy wrote: Basically this is what I am saying, not serviced properly, not understood, and the cars get blamed.

In MA back in the '8os, there were a couple of really good Italian car mechanics. I was friendly with a garage who occasionally let me borrow a special tool. When setting up a twin cam head, I could bring my old bucket shims in and trade them for the ones I needed from their huge pile of used ones. When business was slow, out from under a tarp came an Alfa Montreal they were fixing up to sell and continue work on that.

rconlon
rconlon HalfDork
6/10/15 10:52 a.m.

The common bleeding fix for the 124 series is a cooling system flush fitting from an auto store on the heater hose that goes over the cam tower. You do a final coolant top up through the fitting. In the USA in the 70's Fiats were sold at GM dealerships too often with little parts support or repair expertise. In Canada, they were sold at European dealerships with the same poor parts support and a quirky mechanic tired of the whole mess. I drove a Fiat 850 sedan at the time that I learned to maintain and it performed well until I got caught in the great flood of Spring 1973 and the steering seized.

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