Update on The Fiat Spider Project

As I’ve previously shared on this blog, I like cars.  Especially old British and Italian convertibles.  Last July, after a lifetime of reading car magazines and drawing pictures of them, I finally got my hands on my first one.  The reasons behind the long delay are not interesting.  Suffice it to say, it’s been a fun year.  Here’s an update.


July 2, 2016: I purchased a blue 1978 Fiat 124 Spider for $300 off of Craigslist.  The body was fairly sound, except for the floor and driver’s side front inner fender.  The engine was running, but the vehicle was not drivable.

The Blue Spider as I took delivery in July 2016.
The Blue Spider back in the 1990’s, before the bad times.

As you can see from the pics, it wasn’t completely trashed, but a closer look revealed the that car had been sitting out in the elements, without protection, for a long time.

A plant should not be growing next to the driver’s seat.

I got it home and started educating myself about restoring cars as well as stripping the car down to see what I had gotten myself into.

The first things I did were to remove the interior and clean a lot of the acorns, dirt, and other accumulated debris from the vehicle.  I discovered a lot of holes and rust and things that just were not salvagable.  This was a car that needed a LOT of love.

Acorns. Friggin’ acorns…

Also took out the engine and transmission and started learning things.

Is this going to work?

I bought some books and took a remedial welding class and bought a bunch of equipment to get going with restoration, taking it fairly slowly.  It wasn’t long before another old Spider came up on Craigslist for $200 and I grabbed that one too, thinking it would be a parts donor for the first one.  There were things I didn’t like about the second Spider, namely that it was brown and had an automatic transmission (yuck) but the nice thing was that between the two cars I had enough solid metal and good parts to make one complete Spider and the combined cost in actual cars was only $500.

The Brown Spider arrives.
Not bad, but, not as pretty as the Blue Spider and cursed with an automatic transmission… Why????

Time has passed and during that time I have tinkered, and read, and learned, and practiced welding on scrap, and done small things but I haven’t really made serious progress, in large part due to the fact that I couldn’t decide on a good course to pursue.

Patiently waiting.

It wasn’t wasted time.  In the least year I’ve learned a ton about fabricating, sandblasting, welding, electrolytic rust removal, english wheels, engines, electrical systems, and more.

“Spooge Tank”
… and after!

I even bought a perfectly functional 1969 Triumph Spitfire to drive when I’m not messing with the Spiders or reading books about cars.

“Hi Mr. Spider, you’re not looking so good. Are you ever coming out of the hospital?”

I think I’ve finally figured out my strategy to get this restoration well and truly underway.  I thought I was restoring the Blue, but now I realize I’m actually going to be restoring the Brown but with an awful lot of the Blue involved.  The Brown Spider is in fundamentally better condition than the Blue as far as the soundness of the frame is concerned, but it has more rust and damage to the visible body panels (at least one of which is just plain missing).  The structural components are sound, floor is solid, all wheels are attached to good metal.  The Blue is the reverse.  It looks better from the outside but has more rot inside.  The Brown has a cracked windshield, the Blue is fine.  The Brown has a convertible top in decent condition, the Blue does not.  You get the picture.  It’s taken me some time to sort all of this out and make a plan, but here’s where I’ve landed.  I’m combining the two cars like this:

Body: Brown Spider with contributions of sheet metal from Blue Spider but ultimately stripped bare and repainted (probably black)

Windshield: Blue Spider

Convertible Top: Brown Spider

Engine: Brown Spider

Transmission and Rear Diff: Blue Spider

Wheels: Brown Spider (those Cromodora “Iron Cross” alloy wheels are worth more than I paid for the car)

Mirrors, handles, interior bits: A mix, but mostly Blue Spider, because I like the look of the earlier trim pieces more

So far so good on all of that, but until last night I had no idea what I was going to do about the interior.  I needed both front and rear seats, and also carpeting and door panels and all of that good stuff.  Tonight I got a big piece of that puzzle when I purchased a set of red Fiat Spider seats (front and rear) in very good condition from a Craigslist seller for $400, with some carpet included.  The lighting is weird in these pics and makes the seats look more brownish but they are actually a burgundy red and in fine condition.

It’s so weird for there to be seats…
The Brown is about to get a whole lot of work done.

Now, for the first time, I can envision how to proceed towards having an actual, drivable, restored car.  I can see the plan.  I feel like I’m getting close to having accumulated enough confidence, tooling, and education to start tackling the restoration in earnest, at least insofar as I should be able to begin making positive progress instead of the stripping and researching I’ve mostly done to this point.  In this next year I will be making serious progress on this thing.  It has taken me a while to start to feel like that is possible but now I can see the path.  The real work begins.

And when I can’t stands no more, I can always take a break and go drive my Triumph.  🙂

This doesn’t suck.


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