It all started 31 years ago when I was 15 years old. That year my brother turned 16 and my grandmother happened to have a 1971 Sunrise Orange Datsun 510 4 door that she no longer drove. Since my brother was getting his license soon she sold it to him as his first car.
My uncle (her son) also had a 1971 French/Grabber Blue 124 Coupe in his garage that he no longer drove, but realizing I too would be needing a car soon, he thought maybe I would like to buy it. I remember him taking my brother and me for a ride and getting on an on-ramp somewhere on the Glendale freeway. By the time we were merging into traffic I heard him say, “We’re going 90 right now”. Right then I thought to myself, “I’m getting this car”.
When we got back to my uncles house, I told my parents I wanted to buy his car. My dad wasn’t so hip to the idea though. My dad had no issues when my brother bought the 510, but my uncle had done a little work on the FIAT including a hopped up cam. Even without the mods, it was a pretty sporty car compared to a stock 4 door 510. While my dad was deciding, my brother and I spent the next year driving all over Southern California in his 510 with a neighbor friend that we had grown up with since we were 6 years old. Those were good times, and I couldn’t wait until I got my license.
Eventually my parents let me buy the FIAT and the obsession took over. I had taken auto shop in high school so I knew enough about cars to get by and the FIAT was simple and easy to work on. The only problem I ran into was that by that time, FIAT hadn’t been importing cars to America for years and it had been 10 years since my model was imported. With no internet available in 1987, parts were hard to come by although there were more FIAT specific mechanics around. I happened to find one fairly close where I could get parts or have major work done if it was needed, which it was. I had to have the differential replaced once.
So I spent the next 3 years driving and working on the FIAT. I learned a lot about cars and FIATs during that time and never got tired of driving or working on that car. Was a little uncomfortable delivering pizza’s in the summer, but who cared I was having too much fun driving it to complain about the heat.
Then one October night the FIAT had a mishap due to driver error and could no longer be driven. I had it towed back to my parent’s house where I was still living at the time and parked it against the curb. My daily driver was no more and I was relegated to a Silver 1978 Mazda 808 Wagon. Since I really had no money to fix the car, it sat in front of the house for around 6 months. Eventually my dad had enough of the “eyesore” as he called it and said I had to get rid of it. I called a wrecker and they took it for $75. All it really needed was a new driver side wishbone and a new rim. $75, what a waste.
Anyway, I kept a few remaining bits from the car. The window handles, hub caps and some other minor things, and boxed them up. Years went by and I had a few more cars, but none of them came close to the FIAT. They didn’t have the fun value or the character. I had a connection with that car that no other car could match. Every once in while I would go through the old FIAT part box and think to myself, “I’ll get another Coupe one day”. Every once in a while I would buy an AutoTrader and look for Fiats. Even though I probably couldn’t afford one back then, I still looked. They were becoming more and more scarce, especially the 124 Coupes. I would see plenty of spiders or X 1/9’s, but I didn’t want one of those.
Fast forward to 1999. The internet was up and running, albeit very slowly, but it was working good enough that sites like the AutoTrader online opened whole new doors for people. You could now search for cars in other states if you wanted. It was awesome! The search was on. I ended up finding a white 71 coupe in Everett WA. It had the 1400cc motor in it, but it was the 5 speed version. It had been lowered and had some aftermarket wheels too. It was a little rusty and needed some work, but the owner assured me it ran strong. I talked a buddy of mine into flying up to Seattle from SoCal. I needed someone to drive the rental car back after all. I ended up buying the car that day and we drove back down. My parents lived in Southern Oregon at the time so we spent the night at their house then drove back the next day. It was quite the trip, but that’s another story.
I realized pretty quickly though that that FIAT was probably going to cost more than I wanted to put into it. I still drove it occasionally around town, but there was just too much work to be done and I didn’t really have the space for it either. Around that time, I was at a family gathering and was telling this to my uncle whom I bought the original FIAT from 15 years before. He said that he had seen 2 Coupes out by his house and one of them had a For Sale sign on it. I asked him to talk to the owner then let me know what he found out.
About 2 months passed when I received a call from my uncle. He said that he talked to the owner (original owner by the way) and looked at the car himself. He said the car was in excellent shape. Paint was oxidized, but no accident damage and the interior needed work. Other than that it was pretty good. He gave me the owner’s number so I called. We set up a day and time for me to go look at the car. I drove out to my uncles and we both then drove over and took it for a test drive. It ran great and had a nice solid feel to the steering. A good sign. The owner said he was currently running a classified ad in Hemmings for it so he wasn’t sure how long it would last. I asked if I could put a $150.00 deposit on it and have him hold it until I could come back with the rest. He agreed. I drove back a couple weeks later with my previously mentioned brother and handed the owner a check for $1500.00. I still remember driving it home that day. All smiles the whole 80 mile drive.
Finally another 1971 FIAT 124 Sport Coupe that I could truly appreciate was in my garage.
Over the past 15 years or so I have slowly been working on it, doing various upgrades or modifications, like replacing the 1800 cc motor that the previous owner had put in with the original 1600 cc motor. Added period original Campagnolo wheels, a bigger Weber...also replaced the sun rot interior with the interior from the Washington car (about the only thing worth saving from that one). Also painted it which made a huge difference
I’m older and wiser now so I don’t drive it like I did the blue Coupe 30 years ago, but the car is just as fun as the original was, and it is as I remember it. To me the car has a simple understated design. Nothing overly exciting, but you can tell someone (Boano) put some real thought into the design. It still turns heads and gets comments every single time I drive it. No exaggeration either. The most popular comment is probably something like, “My buddy had one of those back in the day. He loved it!” Or “I remember when those came out..” and of course, “I used to have one of those. Wish I still did.” It’s kind of cool seeing smiles on the older guys’ faces as you can tell that they’re remembering something fondly from their past.
Probably have had 4 - 5 offers to buy, but I will probably never sell it and plan on giving it to my son when he’s old enough. Not sure when that will be as he’s only 4 right now, but thankfully it’s a long way off. Hopefully by the time he’s old enough, he’ll appreciate it for what it is and will enjoy it as much as I do. Can’t wait until he’s old enough to help me work on it either. He’ll need to know that too as the car will be pushing 60 by time he’s ready to drive it.