The Fiat 124 Sport Coupé Offered Performance And Practicality In A Beautiful Boano Body
Photography by Marco Annunziata
Based on Fiat’s 1966-launched family car, the 124, the Fiat Sport Coupé was a transformation in performance, handling, and appearance. Presented in the following year after the base model, and designed by the head of Fiat Centro Stile, Mario Boano—who was behind the shape of the Ferrari 250 GT Coupé “Boano”—the Sport Coupé took a three-box design and gave it a flair fitting of gangster movies of the era.
The Coupé still accommodated four seats, a front-mounted engine, and a relatively spacious trunk, but capability below the hood meant that the family man (this was, after all, Fiat’s target market for the car) could indulge in some spirited driving when they felt like it.
The Fiat 124 Sport Coupé was the first to be powered by Aurelio Lampredi’s twin-cam inline-four. Based on the block of the Fiat 124 overhead valve motor, the head featured a separate casting for each of the cam shafts which were driven by belt rather than chain, hence becoming the world’s first mass-produced belt-driven engine. The first series Sport Coupé, known as the AC, featured a capacity of 1438cc, while the second series (the BC, shown in these photographs) increased displacement to 1608cc when it launched in 1969.
With a dual Weber IDF40 carburetor setup, the second-series engine was a square 3.15” x 3.15”, which could achieve a max usable rpm of 6400, and generated 109hp to the rear wheels, hitting a maximum factory-claimed speed of 112mph. It’s a testament to Lampredi’s design that the same engine, more or less, remained in production until 2000, and along the way became the most successful engine in World Rally history.
The second series model was also distinguished by the addition of Cromodora wheels and twin headlights, while in 1972 a third series, known as the CC, pushed capacity further still. The 1756cc engine in the CC cars delivered eight extra horses and raised the top speed to 115mph. An improvement, but not a marked one. As such, after starting the third series with an option of the same 1608cc engine as in the BC cars, a smaller 1592cc unit replaced this as the choice to appeal to customers desiring a lower tax band.
While the Sport Coupé started life with a four-speed, it wasn’t long before a five-speed was introduced. Stopping power was provided by four hydraulic disc brakes, and suspension involved coil springs and a double wishbone up front. The braking system was very efficient for the time, said to be capable of achieving a deceleration of greater than 90% the theoretical maximum, with superb balance between front and rear and avoidance of lock-up even under hard braking in the wet. The first series cars had front and rear anti-roll bars, and a torque tube rear axle, but from 1968 and with the remainder of the second and third series, this setup was replaced with a four-link rear axle with a panhard rod.
For driving, the Sport Coupé provided an excellent compromise. Not only did it have the interior space to accommodate passengers and luggage, it had an elastic power band which was comfortable driving in town in low rev ranges. However, when the power was opened up and the suspension loaded up in a corner, it rewarded with excellent road holding, and enough power in the upper ranges to achieve 0-60 in 10 seconds (not fast today, but not slow back then either), with 101lb-ft of torque against a total weight of roughly 2,200lbs.
The interior was overall simple but still lent itself to elegance, with the option of a faux-wood steering wheel and woodgrain dash, cloth seats, and carpeted mats. Meanwhile, the dash is home to a clock and three gauges for water temperature, oil pressure and fuel level. It’s not opulent, but it isn’t completely spartan.
To live with the car on a day to day basis, the Sport Coupé was also designed with easy maintenance in mind. The engine compartment, albeit with a front-pivoted hood, is fairly spacious and easy to access. Touches such as color-coding the electrical system and plugs shows the thought which went towards easing the maintenance and repair work performed by the layman. Lampredi’s engine was also significant as the first dual overhead cam engine where the valve clearance could be adjusted without the major task of removing the camshafts, unlike others of the day such as from Alfa Romeo.
The second series Sport Coupé pictured here was built in 1971 in Turin. It’s original throughout, except for the bumpers and driver’s door, which have been replaced. That said, general repair to recondition the bodywork has been the longest and most expensive task in the car’s restoration.
“I was looking for a series one Sport Coupé,” explains the owner. “I learned to drive in my uncle’s first series car, but I came across this example in the advertisements, went to see it, and fell in love.”
The design of the car was certainly one of the main appeals. “The Sport Coupé has a line which is still current today. To me it’s beautiful.” Our owner also notes the imposing look and sound of the exhaust system, which kicks out a distinct growl when revved. “It has practical use as an everyday car, though obviously I look after it,” he adds. His Sport Coupé lives amongst a small collection, which also includes a 1973 Alfa Romeo Spider 1300, as well as a 1983 Porsche 944 that is currently under restoration.
Produced until 1975, the Sport Coupé was also built under license in Spain as the Seat 124 Sport under two variants. Examples today of the Fiat 124 Sport Coupé are not particularly common, but if you can find a good one, they are also still pretty affordable. Whereas a lot of older European cars are affordable because they are decidedly not affordable to maintain and generally keep up with, this car is a happy exception.