It was, I think, the summer of 1967 when Road & Track previewed the all-new Fiat 124 Spider. With a 1.4 liter twin-cam four clothed in bodywork by Pininfarina, the Spider was as far removed from the traditional Brit roadster as a 2-place (or 2+2) droptop could get. And if not drop-dead gorgeous, the new Fiat was at least attractive – more of an ‘I think I could marry her’ convertible than a ‘let’s get a room’ roadster. Introduced in conjunction with a more upright, 4-place coupe, both Fiats were an instant hit in the U.S., providing Fiat and its dealers a visibility neither had enjoyed to that point.
Almost fifty years later, Fiat has resurrected the 124 Spider tag, if not the exact recipe. In partnership with Mazda, the design and engineering teams at Fiat have taken the MX-5 Miata architecture and added both Fiat-specific sheetmetal and powertrain. And while we didn’t attend its intro in Los Angeles, from photos taken at the show – as well as those released by FCA – it looks as if the new Spider skin does recall some details of the original, specifically in its front fascia and tail. We’re more intrigued by the powertrain; Mazda’s twin-cam, normally-aspirated four is out and Fiat’s 1.4 liter MultiAir turbo – in its first longitudinal, rear-wheel drive application – is in.
To be sure, assessing a modified Miata while we’re still getting adjusted to the 4th generation donor is problematic. I am (finally) adjusting to both the new Mazda sheetmetal and the management decision behind it – this is the first departure from the Lotus-inspired skin since the Miata was introduced in 1989. As I warm up to this newest Miata, I like the narrow, almost slit-like headlamps in front, as well as the integrated design treatment given to the Miata’s aft section. With the 124, all of its sheetmetal is specific to the new car. Its front receives headlights which recall the original 1967 treatment, while the rear is intended to evoke the same era (we’re told). We’ll admit our memory of the 124 rear is less clear…maybe we could find a Humphrey (or Nixon) bumper sticker.
Under the hood, the Fiat-sourced MultiAir turbo’s 160 horsepower is fully competitive with Mazda’s 2.0 liter, which delivers 155. It’s in the torque output where the Fiat shines, giving the buyer 184 lb-ft, almost forty more than the Mazda’s 148! And if you want a Miata or Fiat with the magical 200 horsepower, tuning the turbocharged Fiat would be far more straightforward than getting that same power from the Miata four, or waiting for its Mazdaspeed variant. And according to our source at Road Race Motorsports, that 200 horsepower can be done for less than $2500!
Fiat announced that the first 124 units will be available as limited-production Prima Edizione Lusso editions. And if there’s a hiccup in my personal consideration of the Fiat relative to the Miata, it’s that sort of marketing pretense. They’re really going to sell us a ‘Prima Edizione Lusso’ to 124 of the most passionate (and/or clueless) prospects? I’m sure they’ll sell, while knowing P.T. Barnum’s ghost must be splitting his time between Torino and FCA’s Auburn Hills headquarters.
Intended as a ‘halo’ for the balance of its U.S. lineup (and with no plans to offer more than four models in that lineup) Fiat’s product team needs to get moving, as it will take more than a low-volume roadster to light up the Fiat showrooms. While the 500 remains cute, ‘cute’ inevitably grows stale. Although the Abarth 500 offers a ton of fun, with options the little bugger can move well north of $25K, a figure that will provide a nice GTI or Focus ST. And while we’re moderately impressed with Fiat’s new 500X – and very impressed by its developmental upside – the 500L, with something like a 2-year inventory on Fiat showrooms, should be bundled, shipped to the Mideast and dropped on ISIS.
Fiat’s 124 Spider will arrive on showrooms next summer. We’ve already requested a long-term loan…which will hopefully net us a full week. Fingers are crossed, while a case of Riunite is ordered!