Home » They’re Broken, But At Least They’re Cheap: 1976 Fiat 128 vs 1987 Plymouth Turismo

They’re Broken, But At Least They’re Cheap: 1976 Fiat 128 vs 1987 Plymouth Turismo

Sbsd 7 10 2023
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Good morning! It’s time once again to look at a couple of terrible automotive ideas. Today, we have a couple of once-cute little hatchbacks that are currently screwed six ways from Sunday. But they’re cheap enough to pick up as projects. First, however, let’s finish Friday’s second-chance battle:

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I expected as much. Those Porsches were all pretty cool, and despite having the little engine, I think the yellow one was the best of the lot. Personally, I like all three of these.

Today’s cars don’t need a second chance as much as they need a miracle. One has been sitting for four decades, and the other has been mauled in a ham-fisted attempt to “fix” it. And both were kind of disposable cars to begin with. But I think they’re both cool, or at least they would be if they were running, so I’d like to see someone tow them home and save them. (It can’t be me; my wife would kill me.) Besides, you know what they say about lost causes, right? So let’s check these two basket cases out and see which one is worth fighting for.

Oh, and a hat-tip to Sam Blockhan over on Opposite Lock, and the good folks at the Underappreciated Survivors group on Facebook, for alerting me to these gems. I’m beginning to feel a little like Fagin with my own band of street urchins going out and finding cars for me. (“You’ve got to pick a shitbox or two, boys…“)

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1976 Fiat 128 1300 Hatchback – $1,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.3 liter overhead cam inline 4, four-speed manual, FWD

Location: Davis, CA

Odometer reading: 61,000 miles

Runs/drives? Not for 40 years

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What we have here is a piece of automotive history. You know how practically every automaker builds front-wheel-drive cars with transverse engines with the transaxle next to the engine? All of them have the Fiat 128 to thank for that layout. [Editor’s Note: Actually, I think I might give that prize to the Autobianchi Primula! It came out in 1964 with this layout! – JT] It wasn’t the first transverse-engine front-wheel-drive car; that was the Mini, but the Mini’s gearbox was mounted under the engine and used engine oil for lubrication; the 128’s gearbox sat next to the engine and used its own oil, like every transverse front-drive setup since, including – ironically – the new Mini.

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The 128’s engine was designed by legendary Ferrari engine designer Aurelio Lampredi, who has one of the greatest names in all of automotive engineering. It’s a single-overhead-cam design with a particularly short timing belt replacement interval, only 30,000 miles. By that reckoning, this 128 is slightly overdue for its third timing belt, but I think that’s the least of its worries.

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This car has been sitting since 1983, and outdoors, from the looks of it. Luckily, it’s in California, where not even a ’70s Fiat rusts too badly. It’s a tiny bit crispy around the edges, but 128s in other parts of the country (and world; these were popular everywhere) crumbled to dust decades ago.

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Could this forlorn little Fiat be saved? Sure! But it won’t be easy. The engine is probably toast, but the 128 engine was also used in the X1/9 and the Yugo, both of which have more of a following than the 128 itself. Parts aren’t terrible to find as a result. It could be done. I don’t have high hopes for it, but I have such fond memories of my dad’s 128 that I hate to see one like this.

1987 Plymouth Turismo Duster – $1,200

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.2 liter overhead cam linline 4, three-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Harrodsburg, KY

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Odometer reading: 48,000 miles

Runs/drives? It did before somebody took the carb apart

I have a personal connection to this car as well, but not quite as nostalgic. My brother’s first car was a Turismo Duster. It met its demise in Chicago traffic when it caught fire at a stoplight. Fuel leak from the carburetor, I suspect. The Holley 2-barrel carbs on these old Chrysler 2.2s have been known to leak, and because the intake and exhaust are on the same side of the head, dripping fuel lands right on the exhaust manifold, and poof.

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That could be why the seller of this car has taken the carb off and had it rebuilt. But why, if you go through all that trouble, wouldn’t you reassemble the car and get it running? Something else is going on here. It also sounds like they’ve swiped the battery for some other car, so besides reinstalling the carb, at the very least, you’ll need a battery.

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On the plus side, look at these seats! They look almost as clean as when this car rolled off the assembly line in 1987. I seem to recall these bucket seats being quite comfy, as well. Good thing, too; even once you get this car running, the sluggish response from the three-speed automatic means you’ll be sitting in those seats trying to get somewhere for a while.

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The paint on the hood is shot, and looks like it might be heat-damaged; could this car have suffered a minor engine fire as well? The seller isn’t saying, only that it ran before they took it all apart.

Yeah, I know. Neither, right? Look, just pick one. Tomorrow we’ll do cars that, you know, run and drive and all that. These two caught my eye today, so they’re what you’ve got: the progenitor of several decades of front-wheel-drive cars, and one of its progeny, a sporty Mopar coupe with a catchy jingle. What’ll it be?

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(Image credits: Fiat – Craigslist seller; Plymouth – Facebook seller)

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Bill D
Bill D
1 year ago

Where would you even get parts for the Fiat in the US? At least Mopar parts are plentiful and cheap.

Timothy Swanson
Timothy Swanson
1 year ago

Calling these “shitboxes” is a gross slander to both boxes and shit.

Donald Petersen
Donald Petersen
1 year ago

I really, really hate that Duster. But somehow the Fiat manages to be so much worse. I wouldn’t want anything to do with it even if it were clean and shiny.

Back in the 1980s at Cajon Speedway about a half hour east of San Diego, they would occasionally run an event (alternating with your standard garden variety demolition derby) called Train Racing. See, you’d take three cars and weld/chain them together. Up front is a big V8-powered barge like a Lincoln or Caddy or 460 Thunderbird or something. The “engineer” drives that one. The center car is a small stripped-out Pinto or Beetle or early Civic or something, with no engine or seats, just a rolling shell. And bringing up the rear is a third car, with the “brakeman” inside. And they’d race in a figure 8. After a couple laps you’d really separate the lunatics from the merely crazy (the sane were sitting out in the grandstands) as trains would start to approach the crossing at the same time and we’d all hold our breath to see who’d lift before they wrecked. Purest hi-octane redneck joy, an example of which can be seen here:
https://youtu.be/IkGisQW34Fg

Anyway, the Fiat would make an okay middle-car for the train, but that’s about it. And it’d probably tear in half on the first lap.

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