The 124 Spider is back. It looks good, it drives well and it puts a smile on your face. You are going to want one.
Nostalgia. Some say it’s a way of wishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.
Fiat say it’s a way to sell cars. And man, they are right. For 10 years now, the Italian brand has been feeding off the sales of the magnificent 500, a revival of the historical model born in 1957.
The 500 name is so big in fact, that a whole line of cars was created around it and I don’t mean the cabrio and Abarth versions. I mean the 500L, a family MPV, and the 500X, an urban crossover.
Well, a few months ago in came the new Fiat Tipo, a badge that had been absent from Fiat’s catalogue for the past 20 years and the latest blast from the past is this: the 124 Spider.
It’s pretty much inevitable to put it into context, so here it goes: the first 124 Sport Spider came to market in 1966 as the al fresco version of the standard Fiat 124. It was, and remains, one of the most beautiful cars ever made. Maybe because it was designed by those master craftsmen at Pininfarina, everything about the original 124 Spider looks absolutely perfect. The proportions, the details, the simple lines that amount to a whole lot of that most spectacular of things: beauty.
I know at least another person who thinks the same about the Spider and couldn’t hold back his love for the car anymore, so he bought one. Because he and I share the same mother, I get to drive it whenever I want, which is really rather nice.
That also means I am a bit biased towards liking the new model. Which I do. Thankfully, this is not one of those Italian cars full of personality (read: faults you forgive because they look so good) but with no real innate qualities. The 124 Spider is a very good roadster.
Now, if you don’t follow the car world, you will be very surprised by the next piece of information I am about to give you: this Fiat is a Mazda. Yes, that is right: what is probably the best Fiat in decades for people who like driving is, in fact, a Mazda. But don’t let that put you off because this is good news.
You see, the new 124 Spider is built on the same production line as the Mazda MX-5 and uses the Japanese car’s architecture, chassis, transmission, electronics, infotainment and seats. The Italians send over their bespoke engine and calibration settings and that is it. Oh, and the body, of course.
Unlike the Mazda, which has only naturally aspirated engines under the bonnet, the Fiat does with a turbocharged 1.4 litre producing 140 horse power. It’s not much, but trust me, it’s more than enough for some great times behind the wheel.
The combination of a torque-rich engine, an incredible six-speed manual gearbox and just over 1000kg to move about makes the Spider something really special.
You are never driving all that fast, but every kilometre is a real joy of interaction with the car and, roof down, with the elements. The manual hood works a treat, the comfort is surprising for such a sporty car and the quality is, well, it’s a Mazda remember? Add to that some Italian flair in the details and the Spider makes a world of sense.
At €30,000 it is also a bit of a bargain for everything it has to offer. The new Fiat is a much-needed shot of desirability into the constructor’s range and a crucial model on which the brand can build its return to the American market after a 30-year hiatus. The 500 cannot do everything by itself.
As for us, Europeans, well, those who can remember the 124 Spider will certainly like the new one. My brother loves it and I believe having both must be a really cool prospect. Those who cannot remember the sixties car will surely be surfing the world wide web in search of that original, to see the connection and if they can find another reason to scratch the incredible purchase itch they will be feeling if they took a new one for a test drive.
Either way, this partnership between Mazda and Fiat works surprisingly well. For me, the biggest rival the 124 has is the MX-5 and vice-versa. Give me a BMW Z4, Mercedes SLK or Audi TT and I would take the Fiat or the Mazda instead anytime.
In the end, the Fiat would be my choice. It just feels that bit more special as a car to own, live with and enjoy. A Fiat roadster to dream about – who would have thought?