Alan Cesar
Alan Cesar Dork
1/14/13 3:15 p.m.

The Mazda Miata is one of our perennial favorites, but its styling could be more adventurous. It’s very Japanese, very efficient. Maybe you’re after something lustier, something sexier, something penned by Pininfarina.
It’s time to act on that passione, that sense of adventure. For Miata money, you can get the F-car of your dreams: an engine designed by Aurelio Lampredi, a body by Tom Tjaarda. Point your craigslist searches toward the Fiat 124 Spider.
The 124 Spider is essentially a scaled-down Ferrari 275 GTS in the looks department, and it feels much more modern than a contemporary MGB or Triumph. It didn’t get the movie treatment, either—unlike a certain Alfa Romeo in “The Graduate”—so there’s nothing to inflate its price beyond reach.
It’ll beat many of its contemporaries in every category, starting with basic specs: All Spiders had five-speed transmissions, four-wheel-disc brakes and twin-cam engines. Ergonomics and usability are topnotch, excepting only the slightly goofy driving position typical of Italian cars from that era. The interior is roomy and comfortable. It’ll accommodate drivers of nearly all sizes, and there’s even a small back seat.
We contend that its convertible top is the best we’ve ever encountered: It can go up and down in seconds, and small, triangular glass windows move in concert. They provide excellent rear visibility, too. The top is also insulated, providing a bit more protection from the elements and cutting down on noise.
Engines grew throughout the production run, ranging from 1.4 to 2 liters. The earlier engines are less powerful, of course, but they’re more eager to rev and more fun to wring out as a result. All of them emit that unmistakable, loin-igniting Italian sound.
Despite the “Fix it again, Tony” reputation of the era—which may be the cause of this car’s low price—the 124 Spider is actually a very livable machine. That poor reputation came from the carmaker’s weak dealer network in the U.S.; many cars were repaired by independent mechanics who didn’t necessarily know much about Fiats.
Like so many first-generation Mazda RX-7s, these Spiders eventually fell into disrepair or succumbed to rust at the hands of owners who weren’t interested in keeping them nice. All the 124 really needs are oil changes, along with the occasional timing belt service and valve adjustment. It’ll leak oil, but not as badly as many of its British or Italian cohorts.
It’s hard to get this much passion on four wheels—at least at this price point. Look for nice drivers at $3500 and excellent cars at $5000; the very best examples fetch $10,000. For everything you get, you won’t find a better deal on an Italian car or vintage roadster.

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