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FIAT REDUX

gkelly3gkelly3 Posts: 38
edited March 6 in FIAT
I was in Brazil last month, and got to see the car
scene in Latin America. I saw VW, FORD, GM
(Chevrolet), and few Renaults, Peugeots, Citroens,
and VERY few Hondas. The real surprise was FIAT-it
was by far the most common make. The most popular
Fiat model was the Palio, with a 1.6 liter engine.
They seem like pretty nice cars, with a lot of
interior room (for the size). Also cheap-around
13,000 Brazilian Reals ($7,000) for a basic one.
My question-since FIAT is one of the premier
automakers in Europe (and do well in Brazil)-why
don't we see them in the USA?
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Comments

  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,830
    Because they could never come up with the efficient sales and service network a company needs to compete successfully in the US. Worse than that, they have a terrible reputation among American car buyers, and it's going to be extra difficult to defeat that image, should they choose to return some day.

    Fiat is a huge company, and dominant in many parts of Europe as well as S.A. It's a shame they can't work it out in the US Market, because they've made some delightful cars in the past. Fiat was also, some long time ago, a dominant force in auto racing.

    MODERATOR

  • Oops. Didn't work, but here is a Dino that looks like the one I wanted!

    image
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,830
    Yes, that's a Ferrari-engined Fiat (V6), and the coupe version is actually pretty cheap on the market right now....maybe $10,000

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  • The coupe, as you say, is pretty reasonable. The spider is more expensive. The one I was looking at was asking $25,000, which seems to look like the market for a fully restored car. My former Alfa mechanic in San Rafael said he would sell me his for $35,000! I thought that was a little dear. Especially, you can get some used Ferraris for that price such as the 308's. Could also get a pretty nice matching numbers small block Corvette for that price as well.

    Too bad that Fiat didn't make it in the U.S.. I always liked their cars and wish they had been a little better build and more reliable. Love the 124 Spider.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,830
    He's dreaming at $35,000...obviously doesn't really want to sell it. Which reminds me, I've had it with Italian car mechanics in Marin!-- now go to Berkeley and much happier. Can't understand why such a leftie community has all the good mechanics, but there you have it.

    Can you imagine, I've been trying to find an engine vibration in my Alfa for two months and no mechanic happened to notice two broken motor mounts, a worn camshaft lobe and one fan blade completely missing!

    Now you know why so few people drive Italian cars.
    in America.

    On the positive side, Fiat and Alfa parts are reasonable and the cars are not complicated. If this were a BMW I'd be screwed, but as it is I'm out the door for $800 complete.

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  • It really is hard to find a good and honest mechanic in Marin. When I had my BMW's, I had them serviced at H&B and Bavarian Professionals in Berserkeley, both excellent places for BMW's. I went through a few BMW mechanics in Marin and always got ripped off.

    It is amazing that the mechanics missed the problems you mentioned. I find it amazing that incompetent mechanics can stay in business. Can you recommend a good Italian car mechanic in the East Bay? It would be good to know for future reference in case I actually do buy another Alfa, the Dino or a used (and inexpensive!) Ferrari. Thanks Mr. Shiftright!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,830
    Oh, Britalia is best for Italian cars, they are the old Griswold shop of racing fame. They had my car diagnosed in about 20 minutes.

    I think less than fully competent mechanics stay in business because a) they don't cause catastrophic failure (your car just never gets up to its potential) and b) they are often nice guys so people think they're also good mechanics.

    I pick mechanics like I used to pick bush pilots in Alaska. I want the guy who is taciturn and thorough and takes notes. Save the colorful stories for the dentist's office reading room.

    MODERATOR

  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,830
    I think it was the mechanics who screwed up the Italian cars, not the other way around. My Alfa is a very reliable car, thanks to Bosch fuel injection and German electrics.

    People often make the mistake of thinking that a good Porsche or Mercedes mechanic is a good Alfa or Fiat mechanic. Simply not true.

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  • speedshiftspeedshift Posts: 1,598
    When did Fiat get it reputation for unreliability? My brother had a '65 1500 cabriolet that we bought out of an East Palo Alto junkyard. It had been driven there from Fremont with its crank in two pieces. He did an inexpensive rebuild and drove it daily for several years with good reliability. Was he lucky, or did Fiat's reliability problems come later? I suppose it helps that the car wasn't as technically advanced as the 124, or as overstressed as the 850 Spyder.
  • C13C13 Posts: 390
    I think it was a combination of
    1. quick-rusting sheet metal giving the impression of a car "falling apart",
    2. the fact that a lot of owners wanted to run them without proper maintenance,
    3. some actual component failures that really were just plain silly. I remember the door of my 128 getting caught by a gust of wind as I was getting in, and the stop (the thing to limit the door's travel) just snapped and let the door open all the way, like a jeep's, creating a curved, vertical dent in the fender. After that every 128 I saw, I looked for that dent, and it was present on the majority of them. That stop, by the way, was a piece of iron wire, not much bigger than coat-hanger wire, fashioned into a double hook. Very fragile.

    I was surprised to learn that in Italy Fiat in general has a very similar reputation (non e` meccanicalmente buono), and certain models, like my 128 and the rear-drivers are seen by many as a joke. Of course, these might not be car people.

    I'm curious about the 1500. How would you rate it as a low-budget sportscar of the period, compared to say, a Spridget?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,830
    The Fiat 124s are pretty tough and have no grievous faults aside from budget-minded build quality...mostly they have fallen into the hands of people of modest means or knowledge, so the cars received no car and no expert attention.

    The later models had transmissions and differentials made in Spain (by Seat) and these are definitely inferior to the Italian ones. So maybe that's what you're seeing.

    Mostly look for butchery from domestic mechanics, but if the car seems clean and orderly inside, under and out, it's probably okay! It won't be easy to find one that hasn't been abused.

    Rust is an issue with any car of the 1970s, so I don't think it's peculiar to Fiats.

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  • gorokagoroka Posts: 1
    I've searched the net and can't find any reference to the Fiat Ghia, which was a Fiat 1500 but with tubular frame covered by a sleek two-door steel body by Ghia. Mine was a 1965, red, and sort of a cross between a 240Z and a short bodied 365GTB/4...at least that's how I remember it...long nose, short trunk, two seater...but with only four cylinders. I drove it all over San Diego (SDSU) in 1976/79, and by the time I sold it, I had become a decent Fiat mechanic....like I had a choice. Parts weren't too bad to get, but when the passenger window broke, I had to go with Lexan. I never had a car that got so much attention....I've seen exactly one other Ghia in 25 years. Any other Ghia owners?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,830
    I think there's an article on a similar car in the March 1965 issue of Road & Track...you might call them in Newport Beach and ask if the library would forward you a clip of the article.

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  • speedshiftspeedshift Posts: 1,598
    Just noticed that C13 asked about the Fiat 1500 I referred to. I can't compare it to the Spridget, but I did drive an MGB daily for several years, and the B felt much more lively. I think the problem with the 1500 was that we had the cam reground for "more performance". Why we (I) thought a Redwood City machine shop would know how to unleash the potential of a Fiat 1500 I don't know. Our engine didn't have any brio, although I don't think the 1500 ever did--probably why the twincam S was introduced. Had a nice ride, adequate handling, a great dash and clean, rather slab-sided styling, very similar to a Peugeot cabriolet of that era and probably a few Ferraris I don't know about as well. Direct steering, but the shifter was bus-like. Lots of fun, but the parts situation was so-so even fifteen years ago. I suspect that the 128 was a much more engaging car; certainly the market thought so.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,830
    I think Abarth knew how to get power out of a Fiat engine, but for some reason, despite the ccs, stock Fiat engines didn't have much power. Even Alfas don't have that much power for their size, but at least the Alfa engine is willing and very sturdy...you can run the old Alfas of that era up to 7.500 rpm, past redline, and at the very worst if you got really crazy you might brake something up top but the bottom end would always hold together.

    The Fiat 124 2.0 FI Turbo from 1981 or so is a quick little car, but alas a bit fragile.

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  • C13C13 Posts: 390
    Al Cosentino, who should be taken with a grain of salt, said that most Fiat engines were capable of eating as much fuel/air mixture as you could pump through them, converting it to power. They were limited only by their restrictive breathing (including cams and all).

    That might be a slight exaggeration, but probably generally true, at least for the time.

    The 128 was a deligtful car when running, which was a good 50% of the time. You just had to be sure to get a valve job with each tune-up and a tune-up with each oil change. Also a good idea to carry a lot of wheel bearings, as they wore out faster than the tires, which if you didn't rotate em front to back, wore out pretty fast.

    But there was no other car I ever had that would allow me to park next to some poor dweeb in a Corvette who took up 2 spaces in order to protect his baby. I could park quite legally in one of the half-spaces left over.

    Enzo Ferrari had one with HUGE Webers and appropriate cams for buzzing around the Ferrari compound.
  • sebringjxisebringjxi Posts: 140
    I had a 128 in college--the rolling shoebox, fwd, now known as a Yugo, 128. One of the best cars I ever had. There were about 10 of us that sang gospel music in those days and the 128 had the largest trunk in the bunch! I could put two speakers, the amp, tape deck and all the mics in it. 36 mpg, too, no matter how I drove it--flat out or conservatively. Sold me on fwd. Was like a Jeep--go anywhere! Too bad they sold the stampings to Yugo and destroyed the image of that little car forever. The only time I had trouble with it was when the clutch cable broke driving across campus. Stuck in 2nd with an 1100cc engine is no fun! The dealer was 22 miles away and only the golden arches have poorer service than he did! Didn't know, didn't care, didn't care that he didn't know! That's what killed Fiat in this country--the lousy dealers!

    Well, having said all that, in the morning I'm flying out to buy a 1982 Spider for my youngest son and drive this car that I've never laid eyes on 600 miles home! I'm putting my fate in the hands of the little spider and hoping for the best. I mean, it's only got 54000 miles on it, what could possibly go wrong? (hint of saracasm)

    Referring to Shifty and others, I was surprised at the availability and reasonable prices of both Alfa and Fiat Spiders. It was a toss up as to which we'd wind up buying, but he likes the Fiat styling better--although I tend to like the Alfa's better. Must have to do with Dustin Hoffman and Simon & Garfunkel!

    Have a great weekend,

    Hal
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,830
    Both cars are handsome...the Fiat 124 is a bit cleaner looking by the 1980s I think. Most 124s just suffer from neglect...on the 1980s Fiats, some parts were outsourced from Spain, so it's a good idea to get on a lift and check for leaking seals here and there. Mostly all you have to do is keep these cars away from incompetent mechanics and you'll be fine.

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  • C13C13 Posts: 390
    Keep us posted on the 124's condition and progress.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,830
    I think you'll find the technical sophistication, braking and handling of these cars light years ahead of your Jensen-Healey, too. About the only area it will be neck and neck with the Brits is the electrics. Italian cars from the 70s & 80s are notorious for bad grounds, so before you tear any electrical component apart, check its ground wire (if there even IS one!).

    I presume this 124 is not a turbo. If it is, we need to talk....

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  • sebringjxisebringjxi Posts: 140
    Well, we made it! The car is light metallic green with tan top and interior with panasport wheels, very classy! We bought the car at the Raleigh/Durham airport and drove it 629 miles home (13 hours, yawn!) Saturday. It was a real adventure. The interior and mechanics of the car appear to be excellent. A little "tinker" work to be done. The blinkers went on the fritz last night. A little body rot to fix, no floor pan rust or anything like that, just some wheel arch rust. A huge thunderstorm outside of Asheville gave us our baptism by rain--it leaked, but we were prepared. The A/C is cool but not cold, I'll give it a shot of freon in the next day or two. I'll have my Euro/Brit-Mechanic check the cam belts and such when he changes the oil. It certainly was the hot topic of conversation at church yesterday!

    Thanks for your interest and support!

    More later,

    Hal
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,830
    Great! I'll bet the blinker is a ground problem.

    As for the A/C, that's about as cold as it's going to get...you may want to think about just removing the whole system, that's what most people do...saves weight, gives you more engine access...remember, that freon is $50 a pound and it WILL leak on you.

    The top shouldn't leak...maybe it can be aligned and sealed better.

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  • sebringjxisebringjxi Posts: 140
    I feel sort of stupid, having fooled with British cars for so long, but the Fiat seems to be a bit different, with similar problems. We tinkered with the blinkers last night, swapped flasher units, swapped back and played with the 4-way flasher switch, flipped the lever and POOF! the blinkers started working again. However as my other son drove it away last night, I noticed that one tail light, one parking light and one side marker was out that were working on our way home Saturday!

    Different problem--every time I get in the car I feel like a lobster someone's trying to boil. We've read the manual about the heater controls and think we've got the heat shut off, but there's a tremendous amount of heat coming in through the floor and defroster vents. On my MGs, I put a cut-off valve in the heater hose to eliminate this problem in the summer. Can the Fiat be done the same way? I haven't even looked to see where the heater hoses run or anything.

    Thanks again!

    Hal
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,830
    Sure, you could make up a simple shut off valve as the line comes out of the water pump... I THINK that's the inlet for the heater, but you should check. The heater valve is probably stuck or a cable isn't working...no biggie.

    try grounding the tail light body that holds the bulb, or clean up the bulb sockets. Also check that there is a ground strap between the engine and the frame! (You can substitute a battery jumper cable to see if your problems magically disappear when you ground the engine to the frame.

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  • sebringjxisebringjxi Posts: 140
    Well, we let a little "magic smoke" out of one of the wires last night. My son and I were trying to figure out why some lights worked and some didn't. The add-on fog lights obviously have a dead short in them somewhere as we replaced the fuse, turned them on and watched them blow another fuse. I told him his friend, Mr. Tester, and he would get very familiar with all the nooks and crannies of the car pretty soon. Just playing with it, we got the trunk light to come on, but one tail, one parking and one side marker are still dark......we just need more time!
  • sebringjxisebringjxi Posts: 140
    And they say Lucas electrics are funky! My son and I made a fascinating and frustrating discovery last night. We've been working on getting all the lights in our 1982 Spider working properly and the blinkers have a way of mysteriously coming and going. We were working on them last night and could not get them to work, then my son fired the car up and took it out of reverse (it is always parked in reverse) and suddenly the blinkers started working! He put it back into reverse and the blinkers quit. He put it in first and turned the engine off--blinkers still work. Is this some unique Italian safety device--no signalling when backing up, or are the wires really screwed up in this car?

    Thanks,

    Hal
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,830
    Obviously (isn't that smug of me?) the backup lights and tailights are competing for the same few paltry volts being sent back there! Probably a cross-wire somewhere.

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  • C13C13 Posts: 390
    In my Centoventotto, "The Car Ferrari Drives", the headlights were wired into the ignition.
    Ignition off, headlights off. You could never leave your headlights on.

    I was never sure whether it was a deliberate feature or accidental.
  • sebringjxisebringjxi Posts: 140
    It is the same in the Fiat. I had forgotten this feature (or my 128 didn't have it), but it is very helpful.

    Shifty, and I thought that was in compliance with Italian traffic law: No turning in reverse! What a crazy set-up. Power appears to be coming into the printed circuit for the tail light and being transmitted across it to the other tail light, marker light and license plate lights, but not lighting up the bulb and marker light on that side.

    BTW, did I mention the small device hidden in the spare tire well that looks for the life of me like a florescent light ballast? It also appears some PO wired in a 4-way trailer type plug into the system! I think I'll just set up shop in the garage for a week or so with my tester, knife and electrical tape!

    Thanks for all the help!

    Hal
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,830
    For some reason, Catholic mechanics seem to have the best luck with Italian cars. But ever since I started meditation practice, I can't tune up my Alfa anymore. I really need to think about this more.

    MODERATOR

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