FIAT/ABARTH 124 SPYDER
REMEMBER WHEN NO-ONE built rorty, raspy (and frequently rusty) sports cars like the Italians? The 1960s and early-70s have long remained the golden era for many of Italy’s greatest brands, and that’s particularly true of Fiat. Did you know that Australians bought 5692 Fiats in 1970?
You’ll also now be able to reminisce about that time when Fiat entered a model-sharing agreement with Mazda because the fruits of that union – the Hiroshima-built Fiat/Abarth 124 Spider – has officially ceased production.
Of course, it’s not really news anymore that the 124 Spider wasn’t long for this world. In early 2019, Fiat said it wouldn’t be developing a replacement, but few observers were expecting the 124 Spider to be withdrawn from Europe by the end of that year, with just the
North American market (and remaining Aussie stocks) temporarily keeping the Italo-Japanese roadster afloat.
So after a career spanning less than four years, what went wrong? Frankly, the car itself was never quite everything it could’ve been, simply because the car it was based on (the Mazda MX-5 roadster) was so damn superb. While the 139mm-longer 124 Spider had a unique presence, especially the Abarth version (the only model sold in Australia) with optional paint black-outs, it could never match the harmony of the exquisite Mazda.
Sure, the Abarth’s brattish Monza exhaust, turboboosted mid-range, tighter handling and racy Recaros had their appeal, but it couldn’t match the dynamic fluency of the MX-5, or the delicious, rev-happy fizz of the Mazda’s atmo 1.5 (and, to a lesser extent, its updated 135kW 2.0-litre). For all its 6.8sec-to-100km/h muscle, the 124 Spider’s 125kW/250Nm ‘Multiair’ 1.4 turbo felt laggy at the bottom end and strained up top.
Unlike the original 124 Spider, which sold almost 200,000 units in total – 75 percent of which went to the US – the latter-day 124 Spider unfortunately leaves no such legacy. Across four years in Europe, it achieved 23,963 sales whereas in the US for the same period, the 124 Spider managed just 13,112 sales (compared to 37,483 for the MX-5/Miata).
Those volumes simply weren’t enough for Fiat to justify renewing its manufacturing contract with Mazda, combined with the prohibitive cost of upgrading the 1.4-litre Multiair engine to meet Euro 6d emissions regulations.
More worrying, though, is what Fiat’s withdrawal will do to the MX-5. In 2016, Mazda USA’s senior vice president, Robert Davis, said “the possibility exists that without our partnership with FCA, there may not have been a business case to produce the fourthgeneration MX-5/Miata.” With MX-5 volumes now consistently below 10,000 a year in the US, and not a whole lot more in Europe, can the world’s favourite roadster continue to survive on its own?