Curbside Classic: 1969 Fiat Coupé (AC) – Classic Italian Sports Coupe And Design Inspiration For The Chevy Vega

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(first posted 8/3/2015)     In the US, the Fiat 124 Coupe has always lived in the shadow of its flashier drop-top sibling, the Fiat 124 Sport Spider, which was built for almost twenty years and is still a common sights on the streets here; or at least in the driveways. The Coupe was never as popular here as in Europe, and has become something of a rarity, but I’ve always had a soft spot for it. If the 124 Sport Spider is a poor man’s Ferrari 330 GTS, then the coupe is a poor man’s Lamborghini Jarama. For the $2934 this cost in 1969, it was a lot of classic Italian flair for the money.

I’d long given up finding one on the streets, especially the two-headlight AC, the first series built from 1967 through 1969. And then one day I spotted a red one in the street, being driven by an old friend, no less.  That was well over a year ago, and now he dropped by to show me all the work he’s done on it, as well as to say goodbye, as he’s now selling it

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Pininfarina was tasked with styling (and building) the Spider, which was executed by American Tom Tjaarda, who als did a number of fine Italian exotics at the time. But the Coupe was done in house, and the legendary Italian designer Mario Boano, who had moved to Fiat after his long association with Ghia, is credited with penning its lines. Unlike the Spider, the Coupe sits on the longer wheelbase chassis of the 124 sedan, which gives it a quite usable back seat, and different proportions.

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Its exceptionally glassy greenhouse, even for the times, gives it an airy and somewhat delicate feel, one that is in keeping with the character of the 124, but decidedly different than the sedan.

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The coupe clearly caught the attention of Bill Mitchell, who went to Europe every year and brought back a number of new cars to display in the GM Design Center. Usually these were exotics, but there’s little doubt a 124 Coupe found its way there too, as the 1971 Vega clearly pays homage to Boano’s Fiat, from the front end right to the squared off tail.

Chevrolet 1971 Vega sedan red-vert

While the Vega hatchback coupe’s roof line  was heavily cribbed from the Ferrari 365 GT 2+2, the Vega sedan’s roof line is straight from the 124 Coupe, with some adjustment to the Vega’s proportions. Speaking of, it’s rather ironic that the Vega’s proportions are more “sporty” than the 124 Coupes’, with its set-back passenger compartment. The 124 Coupe’s platform was shared with the 124 sedan, which had much better relative space utilization than the Vega.

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The interior is classic Italian from the era, with comfortable buckets, a well-positioned shifter for the slick-shifting five speed gearbox, and the typical somewhat upright angle to the wood-rim steering wheel.

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The instrumentation is clearly presented on its wood-grained dashboard.

Fiat 1969 124 coupe back seat

The back seat is a lot more inviting than most sport coupe back seats, thanks to the nicely bolstered seat itself and the tall roof. Legroom is much better than typical too.

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The Fiat’s DOHC four was one of the first to use a toothed rubber timing belt, which means that replacement schedules need to be followed. Robert has done a lot of work on this car, including a complete new freshly-rebuilt engine that is significantly more powerful than the original 1438 cc that came in the AC versions. This mill has a 2.0L block, and a head from a 1.8L engine.

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It runs strongly, with a lot more low-end torque than the original small-displacement engine, especially considering the coupe’s 2084 lbs listed curb weight. And it makes lovely sounds doing it. The braking system (four wheel discs) has been completely redone, as well as the full exhaust system.

Fiat 124 AB coupe3

image by CC’s Don Andreina

In 1970, the AC was replaced by the BC, with a completely revised front end design that looked more like the “big boys” (Lamborghini and Ferrari) of the times. CC’s Perry Shoar looked at the BC and CC Coupes here. Along with the new front end, a larger 1608 cc engine was on tap, and that’s what was sent stateside. I find this front end to be very handsome, and am torn about which of these two I like more.

Fiat 124 coupe CC

The final version, the CC, arrived in 1973 with a decidedly less attractive front end. In compensation, a new larger 1756 cc engine, sourced from the Fiat 132, was now available, with 118 hp on the European version.

Fiat 124 coupe cc US

The US versions were much worse, with rather horrific 5 mph bumpers grafted on and the ride height jacked up so that the bumpers were at the required height. The de-smogged 1756 cc four was rated at 86 hp in the Coupe and Spider. 1975 was the last year for the 124 Coupe, and not a good way to bow out, in America, anyway.

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I first shot Robert’s car back in February of 2014, shortly after he bought it from California. It had non-stock alloys and beefier tires, especially the rears, which I rather liked, but Robert found some original steel wheels and has brought it back to stock appearance.

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Since then, I’ve enjoyed seeing the Coupe in traffic and around town, as Robert drove it whenever it wasn’t in the midst of being worked on. Stephanie shot it no less than twice, and showed me her shots excitedly…yes, that’s Robert’s car.

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So now I’m going to be sorry to see it go. Robert has listed it for $17,500 on craigslist in LA, hoping to sell it back to an eager (rich) Californian. Or maybe that CL is monitored by buyers all over.

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And so Eugene will likely lose another CC, although this one did come from California. Which is a good thing, as these cars are notorious rusters. But except for that proclivity, they’re considered to be mechanically tough cars, like most of these older RWD Fiats. Seeing it in front of our house makes me imagine what it would be like to own it. I’ll just keep imagining that…


More on the Fiat 124 at CC:

Cohort Sighting: Fiat 124 Coupes  by Perry Shoar

1977 Fiat Spider: Soup It Up Tony   by Kevin Martin

Fiat 124 Sedan: How I Learned To Hate People  by Gerardo Solis