FIAT knows a thing or two about nostalgia. The phenomenal success of the 500 city car is illustration enough.
But whether or not it needs to revive memories of the 124 Spider from 50 years ago to sell its latest convertible is debatable.
Few people apart from diehard enthusiasts are likely to remember the car from the Swinging Sixties and even fewer will feel inspired to go after a modern reincarnation because the name has been revived.
To most of us, the 124 was a saloon that became the Lada 1300, a cracking car in its own way if your budget was tight but which quickly got to the stage where you couldn’t give it away. We knew a bloke with a Lada who kept in it a locked garage. Thieves broke in, climbed over his car, and nicked his bike!
That’s not to say the new 124 Spider is a car you should ignore. It’s fantastic if what you want an affordable open car. It won’t break the bank to buy and costs peanuts to run in relative terms.
It will even make you feel sunny on cloudy days because its average fuel consumption exactly matches Fiat’s official combined figure without any effort on its driver’s part.
Simplicity is what the car is all about. There’s no fancy electric roof, no whirring bootlid or hard metal covers giving a ballet performance to amaze passers-by, and, as a result, no heavy motors at the back to upset its stability.
The car is exactly what you want, nimble, sporty, frugal, and more sensible than a motorbike even for 50-something blokes who want to show they’re still up for it. Get yourself a 124 Spider instead and you can sit next to your passenger and enjoy proper open air motoring without a crash helmet spoiling what’s left of your hair or hiding your Ray-Bans.
The 124 Spider really does cool. It looks the part hood up or down, has sufficiently swoopy styling to be impressive, and doesn’t suffer the exaggerated rear lines necessary to hide a folding hard top.
Better still, the hood can be lowered or raised from the driver’s seat in no more than three seconds.
While others are fumbling to find the switches that keep them dry when we get an English summer downpour, the Spider driver has stopped, raised the lid, and driven off again. It’s a car that’s definitely in tune with both our climate and our need to pretend we live in the Mediterranean.
With nothing apparently more exciting than a 140bhp 1.4 litre MultiAir engine under the bonnet, and lurking behind a grille that’s designed in homage to the 1960s car, you might think there’s not a lot going for the Spider. But its 0-62mph time of 7.5 seconds is pretty decent, as is the top speed of 134mph. It will certainly chill the thinning crowns of ageing male thrill seekers.
The other good thing about the Spider is that younger drivers will love it, too.
For them, the lack of connection to 1960s Fiats is probably a good thing for the Fiat marketing team. They weren’t exactly the longest-lived of cars but when you look at the current classic scene and realise how few examples of anything from that era have avoided the breaker’s yard they weren’t actually that far ahead of other mainstream models in their rate of disintegration.
Real enthusiasts for the era might be taken more by the Abarth 124 Spider, essentially the Fiat with a 170 PS engine and raised top speed, raised price, and shaved 0-62mph time. Bearing in mind our restricted speed limits, it hardly seems worth the bother unless you’re a badge snob.
Stick with the Fiat, though, and you’ll get a cosy two seater that feels close to the ground, as sports cars should, gives you more driving fun than a Morgan, mainly because you won’t be stopping for new fillings rather than to fill up, and be frugal so you can keep enjoying it.
This really is one of those cars you’ll take out for the hell of it and you can do it without feeling too guilty about environmental impact or ending up in casualty because you went at the two-wheeled fun bit a tad too hard.
Hats off to Fiat for bringing the 124 Spider back to life.
Maurice and Annette Hardy
Car: Fiat 124 Spider Lusso Plus 1.4 MultiAir Turbo 140hp
Does it fit your ego…
0-62mph: 7.5 secs
Top speed: 134mph
Bhp: 140 @ 5000 rpm
Torque: 240 nm @ 2250 rpm
…and your wallet…
CO2 emissions: 148 g/km
Best bits: affordable top-down motoring