Fiat has jumped back into the American market in recent years with the new Fiat 500. This move was largely thanks to the company purchasing a stake in Chrysler in 2009. But the sporty Italian automaker is perhaps best known for its small car which were very popular in the U.S. through the 1960s and 70s. due to the popularity of certain models, such as the 124 Spider, there are still plenty of classic Fiats which can be found in great shape, and make for a great and relatively affordable restoration project.
Things to Look Out For
There are several things to be on the lookout for when deciding whether a Fiat is worth restoring, so you can have a better idea of the work that will be involved, as well as the potential costs.
First is rust. Fiats from that era were particularly prone to rust even at the time, so you’ll want to be on the lookout for any corrosion, and how severe it has gotten. Some models were especially vulnerable to rust on the hood and trunk around the hinges. You’ll also want to be looking for structural corrosion where the frame and chassis connect to the suspension’s front cross member and the shock towers.
Another thing to watch out for is emissions systems. To comply with U.S. emissions regulations in the mid-70s, Fiat added emissions systems to their engines, which greatly affected performance. Some models can be retrofitted with earlier intake manifolds and carburetors.
If possible, you’ll also want to test drive the Fiat before deciding whether to restore it, so you can assess the performance. Be aware of how stiff the steering is, which could indicate the need for a new idler arm. Also, note any grinding or gear loss when shifting – this might be an indicator of the transmission needing to be rebuilt.
Many older Fiats also have electrical issues, which can sometimes be the result of a bad ground. These problems can sometimes be solved by replacing or adjusting the fuses, but ultimately the original fuse box may need to be replaced with a more modern fuse box. Timing belts can also be a trouble spot, as they are difficult to line up correctly and can damage the earlier 1800cc engines if they break.
Fortunately, because Fiats were so popular in the 1970s, there should be plenty of opportunity to source everything from side mirrors to steering wheels. Though the options for the wheels will be limited since the bolt pattern used by Fiat at the time was an uncommon 4x98mm.
The exterior of the car is where some of the most care needs to be taken to preserve the history and craft of Fiat’s original Italian style. Modern paints, seals, and anti-rust treatments can also help with the Fiat’s proneness toward rusting.
A Fiat can be a great car for a first restoration since they are relatively easy to find, and a bit more on the affordable side in terms of initial acquisition, as well as sourcing parts. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t still a heck of a lot of fun to drive around on a Saturday morning once all the work is done.