Something About Those Eyes: Cold Start

Cs Fiat850

I really like the Fiat 850. Honestly, I like all the rear-engined Fiats, but there’s something especially fun about the little 850 Sport Spider version that’s just so engaging and charming. It has a similar feel to something like a Honda Beat: absolutely minimal, but what is there remains because it can help you have some fun. That said, I’m not sure I’d join a cult around one, but something about this old 1970 brochure picture says maybe there are some who would.

I mean, sure, both of the models screened into the background there are lovely people, but there’s something about the attractive yet eerie blankness of the woman’s look that’s weirdly haunting. She looks like a person on pause, a lovely yet frozen cypher. What’s going on here? Does that little Fiat have the power to command minds? Is that what we’re seeing?

Cs Fiat850 2

The other images don’t do much to dissuade this idea, like the singing up there. And that guy in the background – what does he know? What’s going on here?

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41 Responses

  1. Too bad you couldn’t include a picture of a pre-1969 model with covered headlights. Much prettier.

    I still own a turbocharged 850 Coupe. Not factory. Still slow, just not as slow as stock.

    I once test drove an 850 Spyder that had a 124 engine swapped by PBS engineering. Very cool car but the clutch was extremely heavy.

  2. That first ad is wild. It says to explore the world before it becomes the moon’s old neighborhood, which reads to me like a Cold War reference to getting nuked. That combined with the blank stares gives off serious death cult vibes. “Enjoy this Fiat until we all ascend to Mother Moon !”

  3. In high school, one of my friends had an 850 Spider. He need to replace most of the engine gaskets, so we pulled the motor, drained everything outside, then put it on his mom’s kitchen table (we had a tarp down on the floor and table), and were in the midst of finishing the head gasket replacement when his mom showed up early. She was not impressed by our engine repair acumen or our (successful) attempt to keep engine fluids from meeting any part of the kitchen.

    We really didn’t get any mess anywhere than the tarps, and we cleaned up everything, but his mom gave me the “stink eye” for a long time after that. As an adult I realize how lucky we were to get away with that.

  4. My Dad had a red spyder when we were stationed in Pearl Harbor circa 1970. Yes, in. Quarters 109 Ford Island. 1st car I ever drove. He drove us to the old seaplane area and we switched seats. Never used a clutch with my foot, but had plenty of bike experience. Staring straight ahead, Dad told me to push in the clutch , start it up and put in 1st. “Don’t stall it” Still his gaze was straight ahead. Of course I stalled it! Bam! Down came his closed fist on my right knee. “Start it again. Don’t stall” Revved it WAY up and slipped the clutch too much, but we were rolling! Got to use the convertible often until Dad retired in ’74 and we moved to Michigan. Pretty reliable, but it did need 3 head gaskets. They all failed while Dad was driving it. He never questioned me about my driving habits, but I revved the wee out of that thing on just about every gear change. Had to! I think the chassis saved my life a few times with the roadholding. Good times/memories.

  5. The stare? Having just bought the car she now realized what a whole 58 hp felt like. Had a yellow Spider. Too bad the performance never lived up to the looks. I’ve seen they are electrifying them now. Maybe finally that will not be a problem, as long as they can find a non-rusty spot to connect the ground.

  6. I think Fiat 850s may well have the power to command minds. I’ve owned a Fiat 850 Sport Coupe as a daily driver, had it strand me regularly after breaking down, but I regret selling it and would have another one in a heartbeat. Not something ex-Fiat owners usually say!

  7. Can’t say I’ve ever seen anything advertised as a “beginners car”.
    I knew a guy who had one when new. He was the neighbors son.
    As a child I’d hang around and watch him in awe as he swapped an Olds Rocket V8 into..something and did a nice job painting his fathers ’59 Bonneville in the driveway. Anyway – later in life he showed up in an 850 Spider.
    I didn’t get it but he was all about the disc brakes and independent suspension.
    Must have been a fun car to drive.

  8. 1. I am old enough to remember when these were new, and I am an Italian car club member (Alfa Romeo) but I have never, once, seen a Fiat 850 Spider moving under its own power. I have often seen them, though, in their natural habitat which is behind a barn or garage half hidden from the elements by a blue tarp.

    2. The look in that girl’s eyes is easy to interpret. At a Friday night party, after several drinks, she agreed to weekend driving trip with (Not-Paul-Newman) upon hearing that he owned ‘an Italian Sports Car’. It is now Saturday morning and she has been awakened from her hangover by the crack-of-dawn arrival of “Fiat-Romeo”. He is whispering in her ear in a way that makes her wonder exactly what she agreed to participate in….

  9. Ha, shades of Stepford Wives…
    And what the heck is redacted in the brochure?? Hard to make out but looks like “full carpeting” so maybe they ended up not making that as part of the standard equipment since such a feature might not necessarily be ideal in a convertible where exposure to rain is pretty much inevitable?

  10. My first car was an 850 Sport Coupe in that wonderful almost-but-not-quite safety orange shown on the spider in the top illustration. I was in the San Fernando valley at the time, so when the temperatures soared in the summer, the tiny radiator wasn’t quite up to the task of cooling the also tiny engine. I also had to remember to regularly check the distributor. For some reason, perhaps heat, perhaps the amount of NO2 and O2 in the air at the time, the plastic distributor cap would crack, leaving me stranded. So I carried a spare in the car along with a toolkit.

    Still, it provided many a fun drive along the Angeles Crest Highway.

    1. I had a ’71 Spyder, also in that near-safety-orange. On a decent two-lane with the top down and the revs as high as I dared, it was my own little Ferrari. I was 22 with a good imagination. Wrecked the car, but still have the imagination–and grateful for it!

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