If one car can revive a brand, then the Fiat 500 did it for its Italian maker. In its short life, the Fiat 500 has become something of a cult object, replicating the love felt for the original of 1957 in the way that the reimagined Beetle did but, perhaps, the new Mini hasn’t quite.
Maybe the zeitgeist – to use a very un-Italian word – was just in the Turin manufacturer’s favour: Anthony Sheriff, the ex boss of McLaren, has only half-joked that the only car anyone really ever needs is a Fiat Panda. Small makes sense on congested roads with parking spaces at a premium.
Or maybe Fiat has just found a knack for it – because it seems like the lightning of inspiration may indeed have struck twice with the new Fiat Spider 124.
The Fiat Spider 124 is Modern Classic
It too has a famed ancestor – the Pininfarina-styled 124 Sport Spider that debuted in 1966 and which stayed in production until 1985. And like the 21st century Fiat 500, the modern Spider manages to retain all the spirit of the original.
If revisiting a car that’s 60-plus years old might sound like a dumb move in a consumer market that fetishise the new, the Spider has instead tapped into a more niche, but no less resonant mood for nostalgia.
Sure, the Spider has the touchscreen, the rear-view camera, heated seats, powerful sound system and shiny alloys – or at least its top-spec Lusso version does – but it’s defiantly not a super car.
Not a Supercar But Super Fun to Drive
Rather, the Spider potters up to 60mph in around 7.5 seconds, by which time a Ferrari would have been there and back. It’s comfortable enough without being luxurious.
Indeed, the Fiat Spider 124 is, in many respects, an old-fashioned car, and all the better for it. Its lovely lines are straight out of the 1950s, and offers an easy dose of the period’s instant chic.
How anyone thought this was the kind of car best fronted by Charlie Sheen – as in a filmed and then shelved US ad campaign – boggles the mind.
Work it hard and the Spider, with its six speed manual transmission and rear-wheel drive, is a car that brings the simple pleasures of nippy, open-top driving without all the guff about torque and horsepower and for a very reasonable £23,000 or so.
To this end there are shades of Mazda’s MX5 roadster about it. And, in fact, it’s a result of a collaboration with the Japanese car company, and uses the MX5 platform.
A Japanese – Italian Hybrid
It’s even made in Japan. That could be regarded as only being a good thing given Italian manufacturers’ reputation for prioritising style over reliability. Unfortunately – depending on how you look at it – the 1.4 litre turbocharged Multiair engine is still made in Italy.
Indeed, at some point the planned car might well have turned out to be badged as an Alfa Romeo, had not Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne then insisted that that marque had to be all-Italian.
Yet that’s all to Fiat’s benefit. And the big badge on the boot takes ownership loudly and clearly – most of all of the retro sensibility captured by the 500. Indeed, to call the Fiat retro will no doubt put as many people off as it excites.
That’s a word that sounds damning these days, like ‘shabby chic’, suggestive of kitsch and poor taste. But the Spider is anything but naff – just look at the occupants’ view over the sweeping bonnet, inviting you onwards. It’s classy. It’s sassy – elegant and refined, the choice of the gentleman or woman, rather than the boy or girl racer. It’s fantastic fun. It is, in short, an instant classic.
HEAD TURNING QUOTIENT: If you’re into classic cars, the Fiat Spider offers all of the charm without the fragile bodywork. If you’re not, you may barely notice it.
BE PREPARED TO SAY: “Yes, it’s a Fiat. That’s right – a Fiat.”
BEST BITS: The aesthetics get you into it, but the drive keeps you in it. It feels like it’s doing 70 when it’s yet to hit 30.
WORST BITS: The uptight driving position is very upright, making life especially awkward for a long body on a long journey. ML