1971 Fiat 850 Spider

Fiat has had a history of taking rather ordinary cars and turning them into something extraordinary. Take for instance the Fiat 130 Coupe based on their demure 130 executive sedan to the classic Barchetta roadster based on lowly Punto mechanicals. The Bertone styled 850 Spider is another great example of taking a pedestrian car and turning it into something more special. You don’t see too many of these rear engine runabouts on the road these days, as the larger 124 Spider garnered more of the open roofed Fiat market share and was sold for a longer period of time. A lot of these that still exist are rust buckets, but this 850 is in amazing shape, having been in a collection for many years. It is for sale by the same seller as the 1976 Polski Fiat 125p pickup we featured on Monday.

1971 Fiat 850 Spider

1971 Fiat 850 Sport Spider, 1300 original miles; An unrestored museum piece. We didn’t believe it either, until we saw it, walked around it, touched and examined it top to bottom, inside and out. This is a breathtaking example of what careful upkeep and storage in optimal conditions can yield. Easily the absolute finest 850 Spider we have seen since they were available new in showrooms. If it were possible to build-up a new 850 Spider out of NOS parts, from the X-frame up, the results would look pretty much like this – It’s that good:

Original Paint; Original Chrome and Brightwork; Original Top; Original Upholstery; Original Dash Pad with no cracks; Original Rubber Mats; Original Windshield, Wipers and Blades; Original Pirelli tires, tubes and valve-stem caps, (probably with some original Turinese air still in them!)

Original Headlamps, Bulbs, Fuses, Wiring, Hardware, Clips, Most Hoses, and a hundred other details that are often lost on these fragile little cars.

The engine fires-up up immediately and runs as-new. We have put about 150 miles on the car (still using break-in speeds until the odo cracked 1200 miles). The steering is light and precise, as new. Roadholding is very fine, even on the original tires, shocks and springs. Brakes are as-new, with a light but firm pedal. By any sane definition, this car is rust-free. The X-frame, floors, sills, all crevices and pockets underneath, all suspension mounting points, valance panels, trunk floor, and even the battery box are all clean and rust-free, with the original undercoating intact wherever it was applied. Unbelievably, hardware and fixtures underneath the car are shiny and clean. Bushings and rubber parts are excellent and pliable. The engine splash pans are still in position.

Throughout this car, we found small details left over from the production line that are lost forever when a car is restored: Rivet studs, ends of rubber plugs and trimming, a bit of masking tape never removed from one of the top bows, small smears of paint on the wiring harness and hoses (where they were installed before the paint dried). It’s amazing. Realizing we are acting as temporary custodians to history, we have done our best to not disturb any of this original flotsam and jetsam. We performed only minimal detailing to the car: A gentle wash, Zymol Concours wax on the paint, Simichrome on the brightwork, Windex on the glass – That’s it. This Fiat is a Preservation Class dream, and will be welcomed at any Concours for Macchina Italiano just as it is. If the next owner wants to clean the crevices with Q-Tips and sweat some finer details, it will be ready for Pebble Beach.

What’s the Story Here? This car came from the estate of the original owner, a collector whose taste runs more along the lines of Cadillacs and T-Birds. He enjoys extremely low-mileage originals, and his cars are displayed on jack stands in a temperature and humidity controlled building – Completely away from the sun's damaging UV rays, and free from freeze/thaw/bake cycles that can age rubber and vinyl even on cars that are not driven. He received the Fiat brand new in 1971 as part of business deal, and he gave it to his wife. They drove it only very sparingly, perhaps once around the lake every summer and in annual parades in town. The car never left their small Minnesota city until this summer. It has been kept clean, dry and properly stored after each use.

It remains in stunning original condition. The driver’s side door was repainted back in the seventies, and is an excellent match in color, but a trained eye will notice some minor cracking (invisible in photos). The only non-original parts we could detect are the muffler (replaced with a genuine factory part), the windshield washer bag (which we replaced with a new OEM one, as the original became loose and was roasted on the exhaust), and the filters.

The paint has very few flaws, nicks or marks (even on the nose), and only two tiny touch-ups that we could find. We could find no evidence of crash repair. The windshield is perfect, with no scratches, road-rash, cracks, chips or hazing. The top has a beautifully clear window, excellent stitching, and no tears or holes. It’s mounted on perfect top bows. It goes up and down easily and snaps closed like new. The seats and upholstery look like new: flawless, with perfect stitching and no tears, fading or damage. The Dash board is exellent, with a perfect pad that (amazingly) has no splits. The fake wood paneling on the dash is intact, unmarked and unfaded, but the passenger side above the glove has some cracks (where the headreast hits it when the seat folds forward). Finding original Fiat replacements for this Formica-like paneling is impossible, so we elected to leave it in place rather than to replace it with a non-matching substitute. It's really unusual to find an 850 Spider that still has this original piece installed above this glove box. The rubber floor mats are clean, undamaged and still pliable. Ditto for the trunk mat and securing strap for the folded top (both rare items in any condition).

Gauges and controls all work, with the exception of the oil pressure gauge. We are working on this, and will endeavor to repair it for the next owner. We swapped the sender unit, but this didn’t help. The low pressure warning lamp works, and we will put our attention on the gauge itself. The wipers wipe, the blower motor blows (on two speeds), and the horn is loud ‘n proud.

For a car that was in production for several years looking basically the same, there were several important changes throughout the life of the 850 Sport Spider. 1971 was one of the better vintages for this model. It had the largest engine available, 903cc, which has more torque than the 843cc or (especially) the 817cc models. 71s also had a really sweet looking alloy sump which peeks out from beneath the back of the car (a very cool item that screams "Abarth!").

I honestly don't think I've ever come across a Fiat 850 Spider that has ever looked this good. The mint green color is very similar to the Evergreen color that BMW offered on their Z3 roadster in the late 1990s. While not to everyone's taste, I think it's refreshignly different and not too offensive on such a small vehicle. A 850 Spider that is driveable and sorted cosmetically will typically run you between $6,000 and $10,000. This particular car has started out at $11,000, so I'd assume the sellers are looking for somewhere around $15,000 or so. As nice as this car is, I doubt one could expect to get much more out of it than that. The other issue here is mileage. I could wager a guess that whoever buys this 850 Spider won't be using it as intended, as it is too nice to employ on a regular basis. That's a shame, as this would be a fun runable for the summer months.

-Paul

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