The head of Amtrak’s test department had just bought this 1977 Fiat 124 Spyder from one of our coworkers and wanted to spice up the performance a bit. The 1756 cc double overhead cam four was a rev-happy and sturdy little unit but lacked for low and mid-range torque. We both knew what had to happen: The Fiat had to go under the wrench.
If you listen carefully, you can hear my wife’s 1974 Datsun B210 quietly rusting in the background. All photos taken in April 1978.
We did what just about anyone at that time did, put on a set of headers and a new free-flow exhaust system. Took us about half a day in my driveway, and by late afternoon it was ready for a test drive.
It sounded sweet and responded with more eagerness than before the surgery.
I look in horror at the diameter of the header runners today and wonder why the engine had any low end torque at all. The header looks more appropriate for a small block V8, not a revvy little 1800.
We probably could have gotten the same perception of increased engine response had we simply re-curved the distributor and set the static timing more aggressively, a trick that I later applied quite effectively on my Rabbit. Live and learn.
This may not look like hot rodding, but it was. You make changes to your ride that most other mechanics won’t even touch, and you learn to tune your hooptie. Key word is “tune”. Mods rarely work to their potential strait out of the box.
But today it’s pretty hard to do any tuning in the classical sense. The ECU, or whatever it’s called, pretty much calls those shots. And then there’s emission testing…
Oh, and yes, we always worked on our cars wearing blue oxford cloth button-down shirts.
After a couple of years this owner sold the car to another one of our coworkers who was able to do something that none of us had been able to achieve up to that point-he got a ticket for laying rubber in a mall parking lot in a fit of pique.
I know that many of you don’t have very high opinions of Fiats, but I recall the 124s as being silky-nice sensory feedback with nice quality interior materials. Notice under the hood-no A/C, no PS, no PB. Didn’t need that stuff. Fun to work on, and we did.