A car with many personalities, the Fiat 124 Sport Spider was originally created in the mid-sixties as a laid-back convertible. It revealed a sporty side that prompted Fiat to enter it in rallies, before successfully launching in the United States and later returning to Europe in the 1980s to satisfy persistent market demand.
One of the longest-lived cars that Fiat has made, the 124 Sport Spider was created in 1966 at the Pininfarina workshops, the brainchild of Tom Tjaarda. Unlike its cousin the 124 Sport Coupé—which was designed by the Fiat Centro Stile and manufactured until 1975 on the same chassis as the saloon—the car conceived by the Dutch-American designer was based on the shortened 124 platform, resulting in a sinuous and compact 2+2 spider that was produced until 1985 in the Pininfarina factories.
The mechanicals of the 124 Sport, Coupé and Spider evolved in line with each new Fiat production: the twin-cam 1400 and 1600 cc engines with two double-barrel carburettors were followed by the 1800 cc, single-barrel carburettor engine of the Fiat 132. Due to its success in the United States, where it was introduced in 1968 by Fiat Motors of North America, the Spider remained in production when the Coupé was discontinued in 1975.
It was around this time that the Fiat Spider, as it was known across the Atlantic, was modified with protruding, impact-absorbing bumpers and larger side and rear light clusters to comply with U.S. safety standards. The engine displacement was also increased from 1800 cc (90 hp) to two litres to meet stringent anti-pollution regulations and the distributor and carburettors were replaced by fuel injection and electronic ignition, producing 105 hp but plenty of torque to match the car’s alfresco spirit.
In response to growing demand for roadsters in the European market, the Pininfarina Spidereuropa made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show in 1982, offering a European spin on the U.S.-style Fiat Spider.
The 124 Abarth Rally’s sustained success in competitions, combined with the abiding appeal of this timeless spider, convinced Pininfarina to bring its highly sought-after creation back to Europe. The twin-tube bumper required by U.S. regulations was eliminated from the European version, improving the car’s profile and restoring much of its original elegance. The side marker lights were also removed along with the rear seat bench, turning the spider into a two-seater. Further updates included the dashboard instruments, mechanicals and chassis setup, which were derived from the Fiat 131 and the Argenta. The 2-litre, 105 hp powerplant remained unchanged and propelled the lightweight roadster—which weighed just over 1000 kg—to a top speed of over 180 km/h.
But Europeans also love horsepower, so at the Turin Motor Show in late April 1982, Pininfarina added the Spidereuropa Volumex to the lineup, equipped with a volumetric turbocharger developed by Abarth that produced 136 hp and a top speed in excess of 200 km/h. The Fiat 124 Sport Spider continued to sell in the United States, where it was known as the Spider Azzurra from 1983, after the Italian yacht racing team skippered by Cino Ricci in the Louis Vuitton Cup.