From a US-centric point of view, it’s easy to dismiss the Fiat 124 as another disposable shit-box from Turin, or as the patron saint of almost 20 million Russian Ladas, that proverbial butt of jokes. But the Fiat 124 was a superb design, and won accolades when it appeared in 1966, including the European COTY. One could rightly say it was the last modern shot at the classic front-engine rear-wheel-drive formula for a compact sedan, before the big shift to FWD small cars. And Fiat did it very well indeed: a roomy body, well-designed all-coil suspension for unparalleled handling, lusty engines, slick gearboxes, and perhaps the real coup: four wheel disc brakes, in 1966 on an economy car! Why, that’s just begging for another unfair comparison to the 1967 Cadillac Eldorado.
Fiat’s 1100 series was the iconic compact sedan in Europe for decades, the most successful challenger to the VW Beetle during its long run. They were almost polar opposites: the Fiats had four doors, handled well, and its engines always were happy to rev. Not surprisingly, that typically meant a shorter engine life, typically. There’s a price to pay for fun.
The 1100/1200 was updated numerous times, but it was getting very long in tooth by the early sixties, and its narrow body made that all-too obvious. The 124’s body was surprisingly wide at the time, making it roomier than one might expect for such modest overall dimensions and RWD.
Despite being generous to the passengers, all 124s were ultimately driver’s cars, especially better-engined ones. The base mill was a 1.2L ohv four, but even it spanked the VW 1200 of the time (Update: the VW 1300 and 1500 too). There was also 1.5 L ohv four, and the 1.5, 1.6 and 1.8L versions of the DOHC four that powered the 124 Spider and Coupe.
Needless to say, the 124 suffered in the US at the hands of emission and 5 mph bumper regulations, as well as the salt on the roads and the very iffy dealer network. But even then, the fun still came through. I drove one once through hilly Western Pennsylvania, and my time behind its oddly-located steering wheel is etched in my memory as one of my more enjoyable drives ever.
The 124 story is mammoth; the Last Lada Riva 2107 came of the assembly line less than a year ago, and there is still a Lada variant being built in Egypt. Its starting to rival the VW Beetle’s record, although it won’t quite make it.
Here’s coopey’s comments about the Seat he shot:
Still far from the crusher and keeps its undaunted courage to cope with the daily urban stress. It’s not being restored to turn into a museum piece, but at least it looks tidier than other examples. The most visible issues are some bits of rust, an unmatching rim (on the other side), the missing chromed skirt trim and other hidden flaws.
This one is a second series base trim level. It lacks the additional side trim under the door handles, the reverse light and a rear defroster. Its dashboard was rectangular and simpler. And it had cloth upholstery.