As you may have read elsewhere on Totally That Stupid, both of us were introduced to sports cars by our dads who both owned Fiat 850 Spiders at the same time in the early 1970s. They would wrench them on weekends, and commute in them during the week. I have memories of our whole family of four (at the time) crammed into the Fiat, my folks up front and my sister and I sitting on the shelf behind the seats on a pair of silver speaker covers that I thought were actually seats. I also remember evening trips to the East Norwalk train station to give Dad a jump start. Neat little cars, but not perfect.
Find this blue example here on Craigslist in Sacramento, California for $2,200.
I bought my own Fiat 850 Spider in about 2000, before we had kids. We were in our first house with a garage, and I wanted a cheap, fun toy. In fact, it was the 850 that first inspired the “disposable sports car” concept, although the cheap ones are getting harder and harder to find, at least in condition worth buying. What strikes me about this car, even without pictures of the interior and motor, is the body condition. Engine components and interior pieces can be replaced or refurbished, but once rust takes hold, well.. In fact, it was rust that eventually killed my Dad’s car. Well that and a bad clutch, but when a car breaks in half, there’s not a lot of going back.
The coolest 850s are the early cars with the faired-in headlights which are supposedly the same as on early Lamborghini Miuras, but those cars are rare and because of the lights command a lot more money than later open-headlight cars. I do like the small, round side markers instead of the big rectangular ones that adorned later cars.
The seller indicates that the interior needs work but that it comes with seat covers. In all likelihood the dash is cracked, but maybe the buyer will get lucky. Even if it is, they made a LOT of these cars and even today spares remain plentiful. When I owned mine, I once bought a car with a rough body but brand new seats and a rebuilt motor for $300 – worth every penny to replace my iffy seats and the motor in my car that threw a piston. In fact, I pulled the motor out of my car, backed the other car up to it, and literally picked the motor up out of the donor car and put it in mine without any jacks or hoists.
The 850 was eventually replaced with the much more angular X1/9, but the later car had a different character entirely. The 850 had classic looks combined with rear-engine dynamics that made the front end light at (relatively) high speeds, while the X1/9 was a balanced mid-engined car that did fast much better. To my eyes, the classic Italian sports car looks make the 850s pretty back road cruisers. Both the 853cc or 903cc motor offer leisurely performance, but the car feels much faster than it is thanks to the driving position just inches off the pavement with the rorty exhaust note in your ear.
I don’t know that I would be super-enthusiastic about commuting in an 850 these days, but I can speak from experience that they make excellent weekenders. On top of that, with the small inline-4 cylinder you can easily exceed 40mpg – which definitely means something these days. Check out lots of 850 listings here.