In 1975 one of John Wagner’s friends got himself a college graduation gift. It was red, it was sleek, it was beautiful, and it was Italian. It was a 1975 Fiat 124 Sport Spyder.
Fiat introduced the 124 in 1966 in both coup and Spyder, or convertible, versions to replace the 1500 and 1600S Cabriolet models. The 124 was a thing of beauty with distinct lines and trim that could only be Italian. There was good reason for this; the car was designed by the brilliant Italian firm of Pininfarina, who has designed so many other Italian models over the years, including many of the most beautiful Ferrari models.
The car originally had a 1400 cc (1.4 liter) dual overhead cam four cylinder motor which was continually tweaked and re-designed. By the time the 1975 model came out it was now sporting a 1.8 liter engine and came fitted with the rear badge proclaiming such: 1800.
Up until 1975 Fiat was making 124s for both the European and U.S. markets. In order to adhere to new U.S. regulations the car maker had to modify the 124 and the decision was made to only sell in the U.S.
Ten years ago John’s friend decided he was going to sell the 124 and John swooped in to buy it.
“I had a ’73 MG that was very high maintenance,” John explained. Plus he had always liked his friend’s car and, since John knew the car that went into it, buying the 124 was an easy decision.
John hasn’t had to do much to the car other than basic maintenance. “It came with all the original paper work. It’s mostly the original interior.” He added that nothing has been done under the hood other than that basic upkeep.
He did paint the car to match the original. Beyond that, the biggest adventure was in getting the convertible top repaired.
“It was old and it was starting to fray a little,” said John of the cover. “I couldn’t find any place to take it to get it re-stitched. I ended up taking it to a shoe shop to get it done. My wife suggested it because she had had a purse repaired there.”
Being an Italian sports car, the 124 is obviously fun to drive, according to John. “The first few years I completely abused it,” he said. “My son was in little league and we would throw all of the equipment in there. He’d get in with muddy shoes.”
Now John is a bit more careful when he chooses to take the car out, paying particular attention to rust. “I don’t drive it in the winter,” he said. “I do take it out most weekends when it’s nice.”
Even with the amount that he drives the car, John said he fills it up with gas two or three times each summer. That is a small price to pay to be able to drive a true Italian work of art around town.