Home » Cold Start: This Is Just A Fun-Looking Engine

Cold Start: This Is Just A Fun-Looking Engine


Look at that engine up there. It’s from a Fiat 850 Sport. Engines do not look like that anymore, and I think that’s a shame, because that thing just looks like a good-time contraption. I think it’s the way everything mounted to that block seems to stick out so far on long stalks or has big curving pipes or just pokes up, proud and erect, but not dirty erect, just goofy-fun erect.

It’s like this engine has the opposite packaging goals of every other engine that wants to take up as little room as possible: this crazy bitch just wants to spread out and take up all the space it can. Look at that fan swung out there on its big arm, or that exhaust manifold looping out there or that bolt-upright distributor.

It’s not like it had a ton of room, either; all of this was crammed in the back of the little Fiat here:

This engine just makes me smile. What more could you ask of an engine?

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26 Responses

  1. Certainly, makes maintenance easy with the carb and dizzy right up there on top. Even topping up the oil in the crankcase is made a breeze with that angled filler extension. Brilliantly simple.

  2. The fan and radiator were able to keep it cool. I had a ’57 Multipla. A Fiat Shop in Denver convinced me that the 850 was borderline dangerous to use due to lack of power – especially at altitude so we agreed to a swap for a 1200 something that they had on hand.
    Never was able to get it to cool properly with an electric fan.

      1. You’re looking at the engine from the rear of the car – in front of the fan was the radiator, which had air pushed forwards through it by the fan into a space several inches deep at the front of the engine bay. The air travelled down and out the bottom of the car and backwards, guided by a small curved deflector. The most important bit was the 2 piece panel sealing the bottom of the engine bay, stopping the hot air flowing back up into the engine bay – they even had rubber seals where they butted up against the sump to stop air getting in there. Often they would be removed for service access and get lost, not refitted or whatever, and the car would have cooling problems ever after. When I bought mine they were missing, fortunately one side was flat enough I could make one from sheet steel, the other one that curved around the muffler would be too hard to make but I found a Fiat specialist that luckily had a brand new one that had been hanging in the rafters of his workshop gathering nearly 30 years worth of dust!

  3. I wish engines these days weren’t covered by so much plastic nonsense. Most people don’t seem to care what’s under the hood but for us that do it’s disappointing to pop it open and see nothing but a sea of black plastic.

    1. I think the plastic gets a bad rap. It’s not just for aesthetics. It’s a big part of why cars aren’t as noisy and rattly as they used to be. It also generally pops on and off really easily.

  4. “What more could you ask of an engine?”
    The ability to absolutely destroy tires, frighten small children, and last for hundreds of thousands of miles?

  5. This little engine looks just big enough to run all its accessories. You might have to buy the upgrade to move the car.

    Without computers, they still could’ve designed things more carefully to make them fit better. Or they could have made models to physically test fit everything, and worked on improvements from there. But they were too busy cranking out cars as fast as they could in post-war Europe.

    1. Bet you can’t figure out where the oil filter is though! (Here’s a hint – it’s clearly visible right there right in the foreground, and you clean it rather than replace it)

  6. I bought the convertible version of this car (brand new 1967 Fiat 859 Spider). I traded a tired 1960 Volvo PV544 for. it. It was a fun car to drive, mot much power – but very nimble. I could drive it “Flat out” all day long and nobody would notice (insert smileyface here).

    A set of radial tires greatly helped the handling in solo competition. The Semperit radial tires worked great for me, the Michelin radial tires did NOT like the heavy rear engine bias (Engine in the rear), I would spin out when driven hard.

    I won the 1968 NER Region SCCA Gymkhana with it. Mostly because it was classified in slowest class, “H Production”. The last event, Bud Grocki (RIP), the leader in the A Modified class, showed up without his Lotus. I threw him the keys to my Fiat, he had never sat in a Fiat before, and he beat my best lap time.

    Shortly after that event, traded down for a 1966 Fiat 1100 station wagon, bought a house and settled into “adulthood” (night school, fix up an old house, kids, Build a house, divorce, career changes, etc…).


  7. That engine is soooo cute.
    It looks like a 1/8 scale model engine of a “real” car engine. I would’ve loved this as a kid and put it on the kitchen table to see how a combustion engine worked. Needs a clear timing and valve covers to see more though.

  8. Had a rust-free ’71 850 Spider purchased in 2012 and shipped from Oregon to NC. I always wanted one of these since High School because the car was so pretty. Style usually doesn’t scale down as well as Giugiaro managed on this little guy. Plus I knew someone who had an 850 Racer (hardtop) with a Fiat 128 engine stuffed in it.

    Unfortunately, when it arrived to NC, it turned out to have leaked most of the oil out of the engine and transmission onto the vehicle below it on the carrier. There must have been a head gasket failure at one point that let coolant into 2 cylinders, which rusted/froze the rings in place. When it fired up, the rings, ring lands, and other assorted metal bits came pouring out. Fortunately there was a crazy guy nearby who had a shop that sold scooters and repaired Fiats. He apparently held the record at Road Atlanta for Fiats. For far too much money, he rebuilt the engine. Even afterwards, it was still just too slow and ultimately unpleasant to drive in the moderately hilly area of NC where we lived. It felt less powerful than a Beetle I owned from the same era. I sold the 850 to a multi-Alfa owner, which proves he was already a masochist.

  9. what else could you ask of an engine??? well you could ask it to GO…. and sadly the engines in fiat 850’s were very short on GO. they were damn cute tho.

  10. I briefly owned an 850 Spider in the Before Times. I don’t remember much about the engine because it was always covered in oil. Hence the reason for the brief ownership. Honestly, I used to joke that these cars should all sport a Friend of OPEC badge somewhere. But it was fun to toss around compared to my usual British daily drivers … so much so that I later bought an X-1/9. This one also was a Friend of OPEC and also lasted only a few months.

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