1960s / 1970s / 1980s / 2010s / Fiat / Italian

Olds vs. new: Comparing the 1981 Fiat Spider 2000 with the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider

Fiat has dusted off the historic 124 Spider nameplate to use it on a brand new, Mazda MX-5 Miata-based roadster that’s scheduled to land in showrooms globally next summer. Join us as we take an in-depth look at the 2017 124 Spider to see how it stacks up against its iconic predecessors.

First off, it’s clear that Fiat’s design department drew inspiration from the later Fiat- and Pininfarina-badged Spiders, not from the early models. The original 124 Sport Spider that was introduced in November of 1966 at the Turin Motor Show had a smooth hood, long turn signals mounted below the headlights, a Fiat emblem mounted in the middle of the grille, and much thinner tail lamps.

On the new model, the headlights aren’t round but they’re accented by oval LED daytime running lights that hark back to the original Spider. The shape of the thin hexagonal grille is surprisingly accurate, though it’s not framed by a thin piece of chrome trim (at least not on the car depicted in Fiat’s press shots), and the lower part of the bumper is fitted with a small air dam. The old model had one, too, but it was hidden by a bulky bumper.

The two power domes on the hood are an unmistakable homage to the original Spider, and we like that Fiat has retained the low hood and the pronounced front fenders. The thick windshield frame is a little odd at first glance, not to mention it looks like it’s plucked straight from the Mazda parts bin. The two-tone look isn’t to everyone’s taste, and hopefully buyers can order a more discreet-looking body-colored frame when the 124 Spider goes on sale.

In profile, the 2017 124 Spider is much closer to the Miata than to the original Spider, and it’s our understanding that Fiat wasn’t allowed to make major modifications to the Mazda platform. As a result, the new 124’s A-pillar is more swept-back, and its rear overhang is markedly shorter. This means that, with the top down, the new model isn’t as elegant-looking as the original, which boasted more classic proportions highlighted by a long deck lid. At least designers included the little uptick in the belt line right above the door handles.

Although it’s hard to tell from the photos, the two models’ wheelbases are nearly identical, and the new Spider is only a couple of inches longer than the old one.

The tail lamps are mounted much higher up on the new car than on the original, and the deck lid arches up instead of down because it features a built-in spoiler. The upticks above the door handles flow into gently-arched quarter panels on both cars, and it’s interesting to note that they each feature a flat trunk lid in lieu of a more ergonomic unit that stretches down towards the bumper.

It doesn’t take a seasoned industry analyst to tell that sitting behind the wheel of a new 124 Spider undoubtedly feels completely different than sitting behind the wheel of an old one. That said, we don’t really see how Fiat could have done otherwise. Times change, buyers’ tastes evolve, and a roadster with a huge steering wheel, a small dash, and a long gear lever is unacceptable by today’s standards. If the Miata is any indication the 2017 Spider at least offers a low seating position, and we applaud Fiat/Mazda for using analog gauges instead of the tacky, fully digital units that are becoming increasingly popular all across the automotive landscape.

All told, the 124 Spider wears a heritage-inspired design instead of a full-on retro look. It’s similar to the MINI Cooper and the Volkswagen Beetle in the sense that designers pulled key styling cues from the old model and modernized them. In contrast, nearly every single styling cue is carried over from the rear-engined Fiat 500 to the one currently sitting in showrooms.

Under the skin

fiat-124-spider-11

The original 124 Spider was offered with a host of engines over the course of its long production run. For the sake of this article, we’re comparing a U.S.-spec, fuel-injected 1981 Spider 2000 with a U.S.-spec 2017 124 Spider.

Drivetrain

1981:
– Naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder
– 103 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 110 lb-ft. of torque at 3,000 rpm
– Five-speed manual transmission (three-speed automatic optional), rear-wheel drive

2017:
– Turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder
– 160 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 184 lb-ft. of torque at 2,500 rpm
– Six-speed manual transmission (six-speed automatic optional), rear-wheel drive

Dimensions

1981:
– 156 inches (397 centimeters) long
– 63 inches (161 centimeters) wide
– 49 inches (125 centimeters) tall
– 89-inch (228-centimeter) wheelbase
– 2,293 pounds (1,040 kilos) with a manual transmission
– 6.4 cubic feet (181 liters) of trunk space

2017:
– 159 inches (403 centimeters) long
– 68 inches (173 centimeters) wide
– 48 inches (123 centimeters) tall
– 90-inch (230-centimeter) wheelbase
– 2,436 pounds (1,104 kilos) with a manual transmission
– 4.9 cubic feet (138 liters) of trunk space

 

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4 thoughts on “Olds vs. new: Comparing the 1981 Fiat Spider 2000 with the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider

  1. I wonder what the idea is behind retrodesign if you don’t (or can’t) take it al the way. If you want to buy an MX-5, do so and if you prefer a 124 do likewise. But an MX-5 with FIAT badges is stupid.

    • When I heard that Fiat was coming out with a 50 year edition of the 124 Spider I was excited but cautiously optomistic. I’ll admit I kind of liked the new 500 and hoped that the new Spider would carry over the same styling. Sadly it did not and the “new” Spider is just too much like the MX foundation it is built on. Instead of buying a new Spider I’ll keep the six older ones I have and invest in them.

  2. Pingback: Live from the Geneva Auto Show: Fiat 124 Spider | Ran When Parked

  3. Pingback: News: Fiat could bring back the 124 Sport Coupe | Ran When Parked

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