Search And Restore: My 1967 Fiat 124 Spider
Photography by Calum Ballinger
Story by Michael Polito
It all started at the young tender age of 10 growing up in the inner western Sydney suburb of Stanmore. That was where I met a gentleman named Matt Carroll, who had a wonderful collection of exotic and rare Italian and British racing cars that he would take all over the country with him to events like the Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide.
Among other things, Matt had several Lotuses (or Loti, whichever you like) and a beautiful 246 Dino. And it was this Dino’s low stance and gorgeous lines that caught my eye immediately, even among such stand-out company. In awe of his collection and keen to get started on having my own one day, I asked for, and Matt offered, some advice which came down to suggesting I take a look at the underrated Fiat 124 Spider.
An affordable Italian sports cart bodied by the legendary design house of Pininfarina? Though a few unexciting hatchbacks wore that badge later on, these were the same designers of many of Ferrari’s most beautiful forms, including the 246 Dino I’d been drawn to. And this was a car they’d formed during a period of their best work. And this is where my journey began.
After many years of researching and wanting to own an “old car made in Italy,” I made the decision in 2003 that it was going to be time to buy one, and so I began looking for the right Fiat. The 124 Spider was manufactured for a healthy span between 1966 to 1980, and the front-engine, rear-wheel drive, four-wheel disc brake car was designed by the late Tom Tjaarda at Pininfarina. In short, it was a car that fit all of my criteria and was not going to cost in the Ferrari range. The only issue was the 124 was never released in Australia, so finding a good one would come with some challenges.
That said, I stumbled across this car accidentally while visiting an Alfa Romeo workshop in Sydney. The owner of the place was trying as much as he could to convince me to buy an Alfa instead of a Fiat, but he conceded that my mind was pretty much made up, and eventually, unexpectedly, he indicated that he might have something I’d be interested in: a black Fiat 124 Spider. To my surprise, sitting under a cover in this Alfa Romeo garage, I found my early chrome-bumper Spider. My initial thought upon removing the cover was that this car was going to need a lot of work. Of course it was not running at the time, and there was a substantial amount of rust doing a decent job of removing weight from the stationary machine.
With my late father’s advice still ringing in my ear, “When you start something, you must always finish it,” I made the, let’s call it courageous, decision to embark on restoring this Fiat. My goal was to bring it to its original glory of course, but also for my Spider to be one day recognized as among the best 124 Spiders in the world! This would take some work.
Firstly, the car was completely dismantled before being sent off to the sandblaster’s, as I think it’s always important to start with a blank canvas to have a good understanding of what’s really there to work with. The result wasn’t good. Rust holes everywhere. The front end had clearly been involved in a serious incident too. Nearly every panel had damage or rust. The bottom seals on the rocker panels and sub-structure were rotten, and rust had found its way in to the inner structure. Things were looking quite “bad” at this stage, and yet the list of ailments continued to grow…
While spending some considerable time researching and deciding which direction I would take with the car from the state it was in, I found that it was not a 1971 model like the seller had claimed. According the VIN number and the libretto (original Italian registration papers) sourced from the gentleman who imported this car in 1984, my Spider was in fact the 645th example built and was a very early original black (Nero) car. The Fiat 124 Spider debuted in Turin in November 1966, and given the number on mine, I’d say this is one of the oldest surviving 124 Spiders around. With this newfound appreciation for what I had, I decided it would be worth it to go ahead with the restoration.
Being somewhat of a perfectionist, I wanted this car to be as nice as it could, and so began on a total restoration of the Spider, rarely seen on any other of these cars. The lengthy list of work started off with returned to left-hand drive as they were never made in a right-hand drive configuration, and at some point prior to my acquiring it, the original 1438cc engine was replaced with a 1608cc unit. That engine was tossed out and replaced with an original (period-correct) 1438cc designed by ex-Ferrari engineer Aurelio Lampredi. The engine was completely torn down and rebuilt. Every nut, bolt, and component was removed and then repaired or replaced.
The goal for the exterior was simple: perfection. It had to be, as the car was going to be painted in its original black color, and as all car enthusiasts know, black is not what you’d call forgiving, known for revealing the scantest imperfections. It would take over four years to complete the exterior, including the removal and replacement of the front end, rear quarter panels, doors, and substructures. To ensure the car retained its original look and integrity, only genuine Fiat new old stock panels were used. Though it took an immense amount of time to source all the parts—to say nothing of having them shipped to Australia—it was worth the waiting and searching to have this level of correctness in the end result. As you can tell, I wanted the car to have the original look and feel, and in line with this, a factory-option set of rare Cromodora CD3 wheels were located, restored, and installed together with period-correct reproduction Michelin XAS tires.
Interior color options were limited back then, as the original black cars were only released with two options; Rosso (red) or Avorio (Ivory). The majority of spiders around the world either had black or tan interiors, so for me Rosso was the obvious, rarer, and more striking interior shade to pair against the deep black bodywork surrounding it.
After going through practically the entire car, the restoration was completed in April of this year, and I am thrilled with it. My Fiat 124 Spider is exactly how I imagined it would be, and I could not be prouder of result. I’d like to offer a special thank you to all that have contributed and supported this restoration and helped make my dream come true. The journey will continue!