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)