The Fiat 124 Sport Coupe: An Abbreviated History

Last week’s blog entry on the 1970 Fiat 124 Sport Coupe which I owned for two and a half years reminded me of the lasting impact that car had on my automotive psyche. As my first European car, first Italian, and first stick-shift vehicle, it’s something I recall with fondness. Through the years, I’ve collected various publications on the 124 Sport, and piecing together last week’s posting had me referencing this printed material. So, as an epilogue of sorts, here is a short history of the three generations of this coupe with which not everyone may be very familiar!

Early print ads were stark, showing nothing more than part of the exterior, and the price
Early print ads (this from 1968) were stark, showing only part of the exterior and the price

The Sport Coupe’s mechanically-identical sister, the 124 Spider (later known as the Spider 2000), is much better known in the States for several reasons. The Coupe’s production run ended in 1975 but the Spider’s continued until 1985. Ironically, the Coupe’s production numbers far exceeded the Spider’s (278,000 vs. 210,000 worldwide), but from 1975 to 1981, the Spider was built exclusively for the U.S. market. The Fiat Spider was also part of a “last gasp” of affordable European sporty convertibles, most of which withered and died away by the end of the ‘70s (think MG B and Midget, and Triumph Spitfire, TR7, and TR8.) The typical buff book review gave high praise to the Fiat when compared to the British iron, much of which was rooted in the Sixties. Unfortunately, various mechanical ills, aided by the tin worm, resulted in many Fiat owners deciding not to repeat the ownership experience.

 

The 124 Coupe, for those requiring four seats under all-weather protection, was the more attractive offering compared to the Spider. The car was built in 3 series, internally known as AC, BC, and CC (“A” Coupe, “B” Coupe, and “C” Coupe). The basic body shell and greenhouse carried over; front and rear styling was tweaked with each succeeding generation. The wonderful Lampredi-designed DOHC inline-4 grew from 1438cc to 1608cc, and finally to 1756cc.

 

The first-gen coupe (AC) was officially built from 1967 to 1969 (U.S. sales began in 1968). Preferred by many for its clean design, the front end had dual headlights and a sharply sloping hood. Tail lights were simple horizontal affairs on a vertical back panel. The airy greenhouse was distinguished by rear quarter glass larger than the door glass. The instrument panel centered two large round dials in front of the driver, with smaller round gauges to the side.

The first generation "AC" 124 Coupe is considered the best-looking by many
The first generation “AC” 124 Coupe is considered the best-looking by many

In 1970, the BC model saw a significantly revised front end, now with quad headlights. The car’s front bore more than a passing resemblance to the Fiat Dino Coupe. The tail lights were larger, but the sheetmetal to which they attached did not change. Minor refinements to the interior were noticeable only if one parked the old model next to the new one.

Straight-on front and rear shots of the 2nd gen "BC" model
Straight-on front and rear shots of the 2nd gen “BC” model

Model year 1973 Coupes, the “CC” models, again brought front and rear styling changes. The headlights were set into their own panels, and the grille was recessed, with a dual-step front bumper below it all. To most eyes, the front end was too “busy” compared to the clean predecessors. The trunk lid opening extended down to the bumper, greatly reducing liftover height, but this required the tail lights to become vertical elements, moved to the outer edges of the quarter panels. Convenience was gained at the expense of looks. While many felt that the changes were necessary to keep this aging model looking “current”, 1975 was the end of the line for the Sport Coupe.

The 124 Coupe CC model; the book agrees that it's not the most attractive version
The 124 Coupe CC model; the book agrees that it’s not the most attractive version

This 124 Full-Line brochure from 1972 includes the 124 sedan and wagon, both of which used the OHV-4 engine. By grouping them together, Fiat was undoubtedly trying to allow some of the sportiness of their Coupe and Spider to rub off on the more pedestrian offerings.

Today, it’s rather easy to find a 124 Spider/Spider 2000 for sale; amazingly, the survival rate is high enough that eBay or Craigslist will put one up on your mobile screen in a matter of moments. (Condition of said find is another matter.) You’ll have no such luck with the Coupe version. Yes, they’re out there, but so is a small and rabid contingent of collectors who see the goodness in these little cars. Those who own one tend to hold onto it. Values aren’t going anywhere; but it’s nice to know that Fiat’s long-lost classic Coupe has its admirers.

 

Stats and photos for this blog entry taken from "Essential Fiat 124 Spider & Coupe" by Martin Buckley (in the author's collection)
Stats and photos for this blog entry taken from “Essential Fiat 124 Spider & Coupe” by Martin Buckley (in the author’s collection)

5 thoughts on “The Fiat 124 Sport Coupe: An Abbreviated History

  1. Nice summary and compliment to the previous post about your Fiat. I can’t think of the last time I saw a 124 Coupe in the wild. A good friend bought an “AC” version not long after they first appeared which was the first Italian sporty car I had the pleasure to drive. Around that same time, my father, in the throes of the mid-life crisis first manifested by a series of three Mustangs (all V8 with manual), abandoned his new-Ford-every-year program (he drove overt 30k miles a year) and bought a 124 Spider. He enjoyed his year with that car so much, he gave it to my mother and bought a “BC” 124 Coupe and had an equally great experience with that car.
    Oddly, I barely remember the “CC” version. I agree that the styling “upgrades” did nothing for its looks and I suspect the market agreed with us and few were sold.

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    • Hi Bob, thanks as always for the comments. It’s nice to hear from someone who also had direct (perhaps in your case, semi-direct) ownership experience with these fine but fatally flawed cars. Regarding the CC coupe, my friend Vinny (who had accompanied me when I first checked out the car I bought) was so smitten with mine that he bought a new CC in 1974. Alas, two years later, his car was hit head-on by a distracted driver and was totaled. Thankfully Vinny was OK, but that was also the end of Fiats for him!

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  2. Hello, guys; let me join in! My first sports car was a red 1969 AC SC bought in 1971 and I loved that car for its size (much more room to carry stuff back and forth to college than in a spider) and handling and ability to rev. The paint had already oxidized due to poor treatment so I had it repainted and I resealed the windscreen and rear window to take of the leaks. It was great until a foreign exchange student ran a red light and T-boned me and totaled it. But I then moved on to a yellow 1970 BC and was very happy with it for many years, especially after putting in headers, a larger Weber and sway bar from Faza Fiat (remember Al Consentio?). I learned a lot working on these guys, e.g., how to remove the pistons to hone the cylinders without taking the engine out of the chassis (loosen one engine mount, detach other engine mount, jack up one side of the block just enough to access and wiggle out the oil pan past the oil pump pickup to access the bolts on the piston rods). In fact, I made spending money by helping guys keep their spiders going. Sold the BC when I got married in 1976 as we only needed one car and I’ve gone through several sports cars since then (including a few 124 spiders, a Porsche 356, a Lotus Esprit II and my current 2003 MR2 Spyder) but few have given me the same joy as tossing around the AC in the snow. Unless going for a pure collectible, the best combo IMHO would be a BC engine and interior in an AC body, with the trunk lid modified to open low near the bumper like on a CC trunk. That would be perfect for me. Maybe I’ll find one to tinker with after I retire in a few years, LOL.

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  3. Hello, guys; let me join in! My first sports car was a red 1969 AC SC bought in 1971 and I loved that car for its size (much more room to carry stuff back and forth to college than in a spider) and handling and ability to rev. The paint had already oxidized due to poor treatment so I had it repainted and I resealed the windscreen and rear window to take of the leaks. It was great until a foreign exchange student ran a red light and T-boned me and totaled it. But I then moved on to a yellow 1970 BC and was very happy with it for many years, especially after putting in headers, a larger Weber and sway bar from Faza Fiat (remember Al Consentino?). I learned a lot working on these guys, e.g., how to remove the pistons to hone the cylinders without taking the engine out of the chassis (loosen one engine mount, detach other engine mount, jack up one side of the block just enough to access and wiggle out the oil pan past the oil pump pickup to access the bolts on the piston rods). In fact, I made spending money by helping guys keep their spiders going. Sold the BC when I got married in 1976 as we only needed one car and I’ve gone through several sports cars since then (including a few 124 spiders, a Porsche 356, a Lotus Esprit II and my current 2003 MR2 Spyder) but few have given me the same joy as tossing around the AC in the snow. Unless going for a pure collectible, the best combo IMHO would be a BC engine and interior in an AC body, with the trunk lid modified to open low near the bumper like on a CC trunk. That would be perfect for me. Maybe I’ll find one to tinker with after I retire in a few years, LOL.

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    • Hi Craig,

      Thanks for your comments! Sounds like you had more fun than I did with your coupes! Yes, they were great cars. Up here in the rust belt, the average age of a Fiat was about 6 years. Hope you continue to enjoy the blog. While that 124 coupe was the only Fiat I’ve ever owned, I currently have a ’67 Alfa GT coupe in the garage. There are several blog entries about that car if you’d like to search for them.

      Again, thanks, and welcome!
      Richard

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