Home ยป 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! โ€“ 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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Iwannadrive637
Iwannadrive637
5 months ago

The Plymouth at least looks good. That Fiat might make a decent chicken coop, if the chickens have low standards.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
5 months ago

That Fiat is only fit for being a 24hours of Lemons racer… and thus, it’s overpriced by at least $500. Plus good luck finding parts.

So my vote goes to the Turismo. And the Turismo can be turned into something interesting with a turbo 2.2, a manual transmission swap and a decent set of wheels.

And the Chrysler parts should be cheap.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
5 months ago

Hell that Fiat looks like a design project. Slap a used motorcycle engine for cheap and more power. I guess some parts might fit my 78 fiat 124 i bought 3 months ago. But i am thinking a Fiat Thing. Take out the back seat remove the rear glass

Masterbuilder
Masterbuilder
5 months ago

3 pedals > 2 pedals. Always.

FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
5 months ago

That Fiat looks remarkably solid and would have a chance of capturing my heart on other days, but today I’ll take the Plymouth by a hair. Both cars have bodies and interiors that have held up quite well, considering, but I’ve always had an irrational fondness for the two-door L-bodies, and the Turismo’s drivetrain calls out for an SRT-4 swap, or at least a twin-cam and five-speed from a plain/earlier Neon.

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
5 months ago

I’m shocked at the condition of both cars’ interiors. The Fiat’s needs cleaning, but they’ve both held up beautifully.

Hotdoughnutsnow
Hotdoughnutsnow
5 months ago

F.I.A.T – Frighteningly Infested Aromatic Tetanus … or similar. I had to go wash my hands after viewing these photos.

05LGT
05LGT
5 months ago

First look at the 128 and I was all in on anything else. Then I made up a story for why the Dusters carb and battery are gone and it reads; bottom end damage and dishonest seller.

Jim King
Jim King
5 months ago

Easy choice. I owned a 1976 Fiat 128 hatchback. Never again.

Mike
Mike
5 months ago

The Duster, but only for the song.

Knowonelse
Knowonelse
5 months ago

The first car I ever bought was a ’71 Fiat 128 sedan, though I would have preferred this wagon style, but I needed a car immediately (commute to college). Great car in some ways (driving in snow), terrible in others (bad mechanic messed up the transmission). Left off the oil filler cap one time and while on the highway oil oozed out throught the vent holes on the hood, ugh.

Redfoxiii
Redfoxiii
5 months ago

In the grand tradition of the lazy man: pick less work.

(God I voted for another chrysler product. What is *wrong* with me??)

Doctor Nine
Doctor Nine
5 months ago

Since I used to own a hot Fiat 131, I’ll plump down for the station wagon 128. They can really be made to perform, with a little love and attention. The state it’s in is a huge concern, as these things had steel in them that would rust if you sneezed on them hard. But it’s in California, and appears to have a ton of dry eucalyptis around it, so it may still be intact. The Fiat would take more effort to put together than the Plymouth, but once you did, it would be way more fun and interesting to drive than a K-car with a slush box.

No contest, really.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
5 months ago
Reply to  Doctor Nine

Ten times the work but I agree. It’s far gone enough that one could justify modifying it, too.
In Argentina they also made a four-door wagon, I would love to even see one of those.

R Rr
R Rr
5 months ago
Reply to  Doctor Nine

Yep, the 128 is quite rare, especially in its hatchback form. It would probably require and extra donor car to say the least, but in the end you might end up with something fun and interesting. The autotragic Duster even if it didn’t need anything, you probably wouldn’t want to drive anywhere unless you absolutely had to.

I voted for ‘potential’! ๐Ÿ™‚

Last edited 5 months ago by R Rr
Stephen Walter Gossin
Stephen Walter Gossin
5 months ago

I’ve been searching for a Duster/Turismo for years now and would buy one in a heartbeat anywhere within a few hundred miles of Wilmington NC.

Excellent Showdown, Mark!

Last edited 5 months ago by Stephen Walter Gossin
Angry Bob
Angry Bob
5 months ago

I hate K-Cars so much that I’d rather deal with the Fiat.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
5 months ago
Reply to  Angry Bob

Except the Turismo is not a K-car… it’s a derivative of the Omni/Horizon which makes it an L-body.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chrysler_L_platform

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
5 months ago

Hey kids! Let’s gather round for a sing along: P – A – T – I – N – A – !

Evan McMasters
Evan McMasters
5 months ago

What is the knob on the duster door panel by the door opening lever and mirror adjuster?

Boulevard_Yachtsman
Boulevard_Yachtsman
5 months ago
Reply to  Evan McMasters

I’m pretty sure that’s the door lock. As I recall, it was a little harder, but not impossible to open with a coat hanger.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
5 months ago
Reply to  Evan McMasters

Door tuner ๐Ÿ˜‰

Boulevard_Yachtsman
Boulevard_Yachtsman
5 months ago

After owning an ’85 Duster Turismo as my first regularly driven car, I truly despise the things, at least with automatics. My boss at the body shop I was working at in those days thought it would be a good first car. He basically gave it to me as a “learning project” since it had front-end damage from a deer-hit and its previous owner didn’t want it back.

The body work proved to be the easy part – straightened the radiator support, put a front clip on it, ready for paint. Turned out great! Most disappointing first drive ever when I got it on the highway. My dad’s Chevette could give it a run for its money, and was legitimately more fun to drive on account of being a stick shift.

Oh well I figured – it did look nice, and the interior was great – a red-maroon version of what’s featured today. Then the real fun began a few weeks after getting it painted and on the road. Had the classic 2.2 fuel leak, luckily caught that before an engine fire happened. Started running rough again, then sometimes not at all. After a new set of plugs, a new coil, new cap and rotor, and a new voltage regulator, it finally was back to running reliably. Then the wiper motor went out. Then the radio, followed by the junkyard replacement going out a couple of months later. The AC never did work even though everything was intact and the system held freon. Then the fan motor needed replacing, and the radiator shortly after that. The driver’s door handle broke, and the replacement never quite worked right. There was a light-flickering issue that I traced to the license-plate light. One of the fusible links went bad for no apparent reason leading to a no-start condition. The exhaust fell off one day.

What A Turd. I finally sold it after a year-and-a-half of that nonsense. Used a third of the money to buy a slant-six ’79 Duster that I had an absolute blast with – it was a better car in every way. Let that soak in for a second.

Yet, after all of that I still voted for “El Turdismo”. Maybe I could use it as a “threat car” for my daughter once she gets her license. “Remember your curfew, or the Miata goes in the shed and you’ll get the Duster.” Or just a life lesson in general disappointment. The Fiat is just a nope car for me – it looks like something I’d expect to get for free if I did the owner a solid by hauling it away for them.

Last edited 5 months ago by Boulevard_Yachtsman
Isis
Isis
5 months ago

I had the Dodge Omni 2-door, which was the same as this but uglier. Mine was brown with mustard-tan interior. I don’t remember it being quite Chevette-slow but damn near for sure. It was reliable and unkillable but absolutely zero fun. ZERO.

Boulevard_Yachtsman
Boulevard_Yachtsman
5 months ago
Reply to  Isis

That color scheme sounds amazing! Nothing like the contrasting the main colors of bodily-excrement to really highlight what’s to come in vehicle ownership. At least yours was reliable! Mine was so bad I suspect it would have fallen under some type of lemon-law these days. The fact that the previous owners (who bought it new) basically abandoned the car after getting their insurance check and buying a builder from my boss makes me think they were having issues long before the deer-hit. It only had 61,000 miles on it.

Cyko9
Cyko9
5 months ago

Let’s say the Duster had been on fire, and its engine is also toast (electrical, etc). I still think the remaining bits are worth more than the Fiat. I think the old boxy design is neat, but this seriously looks like a junkyard dud.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
5 months ago
Reply to  Cyko9

I assume by your comment that you dont work in the industry and that quite possibly this is the first time you have seen an automobile. Also first time handling currency?
JK

Mark
Mark
5 months ago

1987 was the last “real” year for carbs. CARB made them all but illegal to sell in California in 88, and in 94 OBD-II was it.

You could still buy a carbd Toyota Tercel until 90, A Honda Prelude in 90, all kinds of Chevy/Olds 307 (Caprice, Olds Custom, Buick Estate, Caddy Brougham), a 91 Crown Vic, a 91 Subaru Justy, a 91 SJ Grand Wagoneer, a 93 Mazda B2200 (but not a Ranger!), a 93 Isuzu Amigo, and a 94 Isuzu Pickup.

Of course, you can still buy a motorcycle with a carb today.

Mark
Mark
5 months ago
Reply to  Mark

I still picked the Fiat, cause I hate L-Bodies. Even the Shelby Charger GLHS

ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
5 months ago
Reply to  Mark

The B-Series didn’t become a badge-engineered Ranger in North America until 1994, which is why there was no carbureted Ranger in 1993 (last carbureted Ranger was 1988).

06dak
06dak
5 months ago
Reply to  ColoradoFX4

I had a carbed ’88 Ranger as my first car! By god, it was awful on the highway…

Lincoln Clown Car
Lincoln Clown Car
5 months ago
Reply to  Mark

I’m pretty sure the B2200 was fuel injected in California. Definitely carbed everywhere else.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
5 months ago
Reply to  Mark

“You could still buy a carbd Toyota Tercel until 90, A Honda Prelude in 90, all kinds of Chevy/Olds 307 (Caprice, Olds Custom, Buick Estate, Caddy Brougham), a 91 Crown Vic, a 91 Subaru Justy, a 91 SJ Grand Wagoneer, a 93 Mazda B2200 (but not a Ranger!), a 93 Isuzu Amigo, and a 94 Isuzu Pickup.”

But why would anyone want to? FI is just better in every way.

Nlpnt
Nlpnt
5 months ago

Tough call. The Duster is literally cleaner and those seats are as good as they look, my mom had a 4-door Horizon with them. She also had the 2.2/auto, at the time it was said to offer relatively decent performance by the low standards of ’80s small cheap cars with slushboxes. (I did drive it, but since it was literally the first car I ever legally drove on public roads my points of comparison were limited).

The Fiat was marketed in the US as a wagon, not a hatchback, so you’ll find more info on it by searching for that.

The fact the Fiat’s sitting off the ground on its’ wheels and you can’t see daylight through the carpets in the interior shots is a good sign. Title issues don’t worry me that much (I’m a Vermont resident so that “trick” still works for me) but the question of what it was taken off the road at less than 10 years old for and presumably 40 years of subsequent owners haven’t fixed does.

Geoff Dankert
Geoff Dankert
5 months ago

That Fiat is intriguing, but I’ll stick with the devil I know — in this case, the Plymouth that shares a platform with my first car (a ’79 Horizon automatic).

World24
World24
5 months ago

Huh, the Fiat’s not winning? Weird.
It seems like every person who talks bad about Fiat votes for them too, so I’m definitely a tad bit dumbfounded.

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
5 months ago
Reply to  World24

I would have voted for it, if it didn’t look like something you wouldn’t use to keep the chickens you really, REALLY hated, out of all your hateful chickens in.

World24
World24
5 months ago
Reply to  Gilbert Wham

Eh, I actually don’t mind it at all honestly.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
5 months ago
Reply to  Gilbert Wham

Not a bad price for a chicken coop or chicken coupe?

Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
5 months ago

Man, I was born in 1983 and I don’t even look at that good. That Fiat’s been sitting as long as I’ve been alive and it still makes less dad-get-up-noise than me.

Argentine Utop
Argentine Utop
5 months ago

Pro tip: You can get any part for the Fiat 128 for next to nothing in Argentina. Even a much desirable 5-sp trans. Get a bundle of parts (all you may need) and you’ll pay more for the shipping than for the parts themselves. Assembly is stupid easy and the car itself is sturdy. Then, enjoy driving it.
The Plymouth is incredibly awful, even for 1987 standards.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
5 months ago
Reply to  Argentine Utop

Where/who can you call and set an order up with?

Argentine Utop
Argentine Utop
3 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Sorry for late reply.
You may try http://www.mercadolibre.com.ar, the Argentine version of Ebay.
These guys can also lend a hand, especially on tips regarding ordering parts: https://www.fiat128delsur.com.ar/.
Let me know if you need a hand with Spanish, it’s like a family duty after my brother tried to kill our 128 Super Europa twice.

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