Home » When Life Gives You Fiats, Make LeMons Racers: 1962 Fiat 1100 vs 1970 Fiat 850 Spider

When Life Gives You Fiats, Make LeMons Racers: 1962 Fiat 1100 vs 1970 Fiat 850 Spider

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Good morning! It’s Wednesday, the last day of August (seriously?!), and today we’re looking at two nasty old Fiats that are halfway to being cheap race cars… or scrap metal. You decide. But first, let’s see which of our two pairs of trucks had the better hand:

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Well, that’s pretty conclusive. And as it so happens, I agree; I’d love to have a Rampage, but I think I’ll hold out for one that isn’t quite so derelict. And I’ve been a fan of Nissan trucks for many years.

Speaking of derelict, for today I found a pair of crusty Fiats that have complete drivelines and reasonably solid bodies, but no interiors to speak of. As such, they are good candidates to become LeMons race cars or Gambler cars or or maybe just headaches waiting to happen. That’s for you to decide. Let’s have a look at them.

1962 Fiat 1100 “Millicento” – $1,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 1,089 cc inline 4, 4 speed manual, RWD

Location: Santa Fe, NM

Odometer reading: 75,000 miles

Runs/drives? Nope

Fiat was one of many carmakers vying for a piece of the small car market in the US in the 1950s and ’60s, a market that Volkswagen absolutely commanded. The 1100 was in the middle of Fiat’s range at the time, but just barely big enough for US roads. Fiat sold the old rear-engined 500 and 600 here, but they were about the size of the hood ornament on a Buick.

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This particular 1100 was not a US model, according to the seller, but brought over by a serviceman returning from Europe in the ’60s. It’s a later 1100, without the signature rear-hinged “suicide” front doors of earlier 1100s. Fiat changed the style of the 1100 a few times, though it remained a four-door sedan, throughout its run from 1953 to 1969, when it was replaced by the front-wheel-drive 128. But in what would become a tradition for Fiat, a license-built version of the 1100 was produced for many more years, in this case by PAL in India, until the year 2000. The 128 was produced in Egypt and Serbia as late as 2008. Fiat’s larger 124 sedan, of course, survived until 2012 as a Lada.

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The interior of this Fiat is a bit, well, Spartan. As in completely missing. The dashboard is in intact, but that’s it; everything else is gone. Which means, of course, there is plenty of room to weld in a cage and install a single racing seat. I mean, you’ll never find restoration parts for this thing. Mechanical parts, sure, but door cards? Forget it.

Bonus points if you turn it into a race car, but keep the column-mounted shifter for the 4 speed manual:

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Mechanically it looks intact, and the seller says the engine spins freely, so you can probably get it going again. It’s a simple pushrod 4 cylinder with one Weber two-barrel carb, nothing exotic, apart from being a 60-year-old Fiat.

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Obviously this isn’t a car that’s worth restoring to stock and original, but it could make a really fun toy. And you certainly won’t see another one pretty much anywhere.

1970 Fiat 850 Sport Spider – $500

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Engine/drivetrain: Rear-mounted 903 cc inline 4, 4 speed manual, RWD

Location: Monterey, CA

Odometer reading: unknown

Runs/drives? Um, no

The Fiat 850 was an evolution of the old 500/600 rear-engine architecture. The Spider was one of several bodystyles available, including a sedan, a coupe, and even a minivan, known as the 850 Familiare. The Giugiaro-styled Spider is probably the best-remembered, at least in the US. It’s another one of those little sports cars that used to be all over the place, but is rarely seen now.

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It’s a cute little car when it’s in good shape, really it is. Just use your imagination. (Or Google.) And it’s a ton of fun to drive, as long as you keep in mind that there’s only 52 horsepower on tap. But then, it only weighs 1600 pounds, so you don’t need a lot of power. It’s one of those cars you can redline in every gear and barely break the speed limit, but feel like you’re hauling ass down the Mulsanne Straight.

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At least, once you get it going. No indication is given of the condition of this little 903cc wonder. But there is a good enthusiast’s community around these cars, and parts aren’t hard to come by. A competent and determined mechanic should be able to get it buzzing again, or swap it out for a running engine.

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Of course, once you get it running, you’ll need a place to sit in which to drive it. This little 850 has a tiny bit more of an interior to it than the 1100 above does, but not a whole lot. And what’s there is only fit for the Dumpster. But all you need is a seat (or two) and a new steering wheel. Door panels? Carpet? What are you, a Rockefeller? It’s a sports car; it isn’t supposed to be comfortable.

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It does appear to be missing some rather vital components like taillights and turn signals [Editor’s Note: Great opportunity to really explore some light options here! – JT]  (and, weirdly, a radiator cap). The lights should be available, but again, if you go the race-car route, you don’t need to bother. There’s some rust on it, but honestly, it’s not bad for a ’70s Fiat. Yeah, it’s a project. But hey, it’s five hundred bucks.

I could try to justify these picks further, but the honest truth is that I just like Fiats. If you do too, then you’ll see some cool potential here. If not, well, I’ll have something different for you tomorrow. For today, though, this is what you get. Which one will it be?

 

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Lokki
Lokki
1 year ago

Well.. I guess … the 850 Spider. I have always viewed them as “The Car Of Tomorrow©️” not because of brilliant design or fuel economy but because every one I have ever seen was broken, and the owner always assured me that he was going to get it running ‘tomorrow’.

Still, “Breathes there a man with a soul so dead, that he hath not said,
Hell, how hard could it be to fix that thing?

So it’ll be the easier of the two to sell after you too give up trying to figure out Italian engineering and electronics”.

Mr. Frick
Mr. Frick
1 year ago

Went with the 11 for nostalgia. Had a 67 1100D station wagon. It was forever breaking down but could be fixed with a few tools. Biggest problem was shearing bolts on the column shifter. A bonus was the ashtray located in the top center of the dash could be removed to articulate the wiper arm when the motor quit. You had to stop wiping to change gears.

Windbreaker
Windbreaker
1 year ago

I’ll take 850 over 1100 any day. Parts are scarce for both of them but since 850 is related original fiat 500, Seat 850, Seat 133 and Fiat 126 they are easier to obtain.
If I were to work on one of these two I would take 850. For example if you want to change the clutch on a rear engine Fiat you need one wrench and a jack. You need to unscrew 8 nuts and you have got anengine removed from the bay and you can do whatever you wish with that engine and the clutch. Fuel pump I’m able to bet my house that I will change it under 20 minutes.
While on the front engine Fiat I’m not so sure. I have worked on 125 and 124 either from Fiat or Seat and they are not so easy to work on. They both evolved from 1300 which evolved from 1100. Mind you Polonez and Lada are 1300 derivatives and I wouldn’t touch them even if my life was on the line.
As for EV convertion, not that I’m a fan of EV’s I drive hybrid as a daily, I would choose 850 for the reasons that I have made above. Both cars are in the condition that it would make more sense to rebuild the as the EV. I would qualify them both as BER( beyond economically justified repair).
Honestly I like them both because I like Fiat.

XLEJim700
XLEJim700
1 year ago

I’ll go with the Spyder. I had a mint-condition ’71 model in this exact color combination. I was 22, and when I dropped the top I felt like The Playboy of the Western World. Unfortunately, I learned about oversteer the hard way, and stuffed it into the woods.

But, for one brief shining moment I really had a ball–nothing like you and yer girlfriend “flying along” with the wind ripping up yer hairdo (almost).

JaredTheGeek
JaredTheGeek
1 year ago

I see a car for sale from Dodi’s and I have to go with that.

Clark B
Clark B
1 year ago

Tough choice. The Spider’s body seems to have more serious corrosion, but that engine looks like it ran not too long ago. The 1100 has a better body but that engine looks like it’s been dormant for ages.

What am I talking about? I’ll take mechanical work over bodywork and RUST any day. One I am good at, one I’m resigned to paying people for.

SarlaccRoadster
SarlaccRoadster
1 year ago

I’ve been in one of those 1100s when I was a kid, and it felt really cramped back then (my very first car was a 500cc V-twin aircooled 4stroke fiberglass bodied “car” and I had 4 people in that one with room to spare in comparison)

I’d take the 850 and try an EV conversion; if I end up giving up, I only paid $500 and the junkyard might give me $100 back 🙂

Hillbilly Ocean
Hillbilly Ocean
1 year ago

I’ve ridden in specimens of both of these, albeit one was a Padmini taxi in India 30 years ago. I loved it. Going for the sedan here.

W124
W124
1 year ago

I couldn’t vote because there isn’t option for both. They’re cute and lovely and totally restorable! Actually I’m pretty sure you could find of source the door cards and at least some fitting seats in them and have plenty of fun miles ahead.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
1 year ago

If I were to build a Lemons car out of the 1100, I’d go full-on clown with it. Paint some colorful polka dots all over it, paste a big clown nose on the front, etc. It would be a crowd pleaser!

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
1 year ago

1100 for me. It looks pretty good considering its age and heritage. It is a great blank canvas that you could have some fun with without worrying too much about screwing it up.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
1 year ago

My wife loves to name our cars. The MGB was Beatrice (Bea for short), and there was Gretta the Jetta, Wanda & Yolanda the Hondas, Ruby the Subie, Leroy the CJ7, you get the idea. Today I’ll go with the Millicento, just to see what she came up with.

05LGT
05LGT
1 year ago

The 1100 is more interesting, but as an unfixable yard ornament I voted for saving $1k.

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
1 year ago

Unless one of these is officially Autopian Certified as a “Holy Grail” by DT, both get a big NOPE from me.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
1 year ago

The 1100 is in much better shape, so it’s definitely the smarter choice. I picked the 850 though, because I doubt I can fold my fat ass through the tiny door of the 1100 … or at least I don’t want to.

InWayOverMyHead
InWayOverMyHead
1 year ago

Jesus, NO! Neither one. You can’t make me..

Donald Petersen
Donald Petersen
1 year ago

At very first glance I thought I’d prefer the 850 just for its roadsterness. But that 1100 is adorable and appears to be easier to work on, which is good if I plan to Fix It All the Time. I am weirdly delighted about the lack of interior, as I can use whatever seats I want, roll in some tasteless carpet, and snip out and upholster my own custom door cards out of Masonite and practice my own tuck-n-roll because when am I ever going to get a lower-stakes chance to try that?

It’s just pure toy and I love it and it looks like a total nerdmobile like the car itself wears glasses and a pocket protector.

Also, Mark is my kind of true gentleman: he capitalizes the proper noun Dumpster!

Anoos
Anoos
1 year ago

Back in my day, FIAT stood for “Fix It Again, Tony!”

FlyingMonstera
FlyingMonstera
1 year ago

I’m sure you could find a full interior for the 1100 in India, or at least someone who could MacGyver one together, given how many Padminis were on the road until relatively recently. Whether it’s worth doing is another matter – the 1100 is the most desperately uncomfortable car I’ve ever driven. I’m a skinny six footer and my head was wedged against the cant rail, no legroom to speak of and there’s a reason Bombay taxi drivers used to drive with their right arm hanging out of the window – there’s only space for the left arm inside the car.

RootWyrm
RootWyrm
1 year ago

The Millicento’s got a big enough engine bay to accept whatever you can find for cheap that isn’t an LS (stop with the fucking LS swaps,) and intact enough to accept the upgrade. It’s portly for a Fiat at nearly 2000lbs (well, when it has all of it’s components.) But you can probably squeeze a Fiat 1500L in there for a 50% increase in horsepower – from maybe 50PS to 75PS!

Plus, honestly, the Spider’s the ultimate in forgettable 70’s sportscar design. They all have this bland sameness. “Oh, nice MG!” “It’s a Fiat?” “Are you sure? It looks like a Triumph TR-7.” “It’s a Fiat.” “Woah, sweet, a TVR Tasmin.”

But if I had room? I’d buy that Millicento in a heartbeat. That’s the kind of ‘shitbox’ whose survival must be honored by giving it as long a second life as possible, wrapped in glory. And I don’t mean some gaudy wrap. Take it exactly fucking as-is. No paint. No wraps. Just a motor, a transmission, refresh the suspension, Minilites with sticky rubber, a cage, a seat, and absolutely nothing more.

RootWyrm
RootWyrm
1 year ago
Reply to  RootWyrm

Hell, I’m going to go even further than that. I would have the trunk repaired (it’s not latching properly so it’s a safety issue anyways.) Arrest the rust of course. But past that, absolutely nothing. Not even proper gumballs. Only the mandatory sponsors and tech, electrical tape crosses on the headlights and taped numbers on the sides.

Irv Warden
Irv Warden
1 year ago
Reply to  RootWyrm

“The Millicento’s got a big enough engine bay to accept whatever you can find for cheap that isn’t an LS (stop with the fucking LS swaps,) and intact enough to accept the upgrade. ”

I believe that it has already been done. In the January, 2017, issue of “Gasser Wars Magazine” there is a short article about a Fiat 100 D station wagon with a transplanted Mopar 360 V-8 and Mopar manual transmission. It looks like this car is a variant of the Fiat 1100. (You do subscribe to “Gasser Wars Magazine,” don’t you?

RootWyrm
RootWyrm
1 year ago
Reply to  Irv Warden

I’m somehow not at all surprised. But no, this would be sacrilege (on both counts. I’m not a drag person. Just not my style.) The whole point of keeping it as-is is not just to honor the car itself, but to honor it’s roots.
Also, we’re going road racing. A 360/TF727 setup by itself weighs half as much as the car currently does. And no I am not exaggerating or joking. We need something small and lightweight that makes good power and is rev happy while being period correct. The obvious choice there is the Fiat 1500 engine, making 75PS in stock trim. More than enough for something that weighs less than 2000lbs all in.

But if we wanted to go extra-spicy, there’s only one correct choice. It’s period correct, it will smoke the WHEELS off the thing, and it makes very happy noises.
The Lampredi Twin Cam, 1995cc, as found in an absolutely ridiculous number of cars. Packing 120HP (more than DOUBLE stock,) lightweight, and with a sound that is unquestionably, unmistakably Fiat.

Phyrkrakr
Phyrkrakr
1 year ago
Reply to  RootWyrm

How about tossing in a nice little Cosworth mill from the vintage Lotus/Ford racers in the 60s? The BDA and its progeny might be a bit *too* modern for a 1962 model, but it’s still close enough to work, right?

RootWyrm
RootWyrm
1 year ago
Reply to  Phyrkrakr

The BDA wouldn’t necessarily be wrong for the years, but it’s a combination of ‘wrong marque,’ ‘heavier than it looks,’ and ‘holy fuck it costs how much?!’

There’s very few shops out there I’d call for a BDA. But a BDA 1.6?
Your lap penalty will be longer than the next ten races combined. Good engines start at $10k. No, that is not a typo or a mistake on my part. A non-tired BDA that needs ‘minor’ work (like worn rings, worn bearings, but no machining, no rods, no pistons) will still set you back $8k+ because for some reason they’re only getting rarer all the time.
May as well put a Cosworth YBT in it at that point. Because fuck it, no airbags, no crash structure, mediocre suspension, 300HP+ will really put it into the wall, for a few grand less.

But a Fiat Lampredi? You can get a 1.8 Twin Cam in fairly good condition WITH a 5 speed transmission for $800! They made millions of them, so they’re cheap. And because they made millions of them, and people went racing with pretty much every version of it? Go fast parts are also readily available and cheap as shit.

Black Peter
Black Peter
1 year ago
Reply to  RootWyrm

I just love the look of the Millicento, it has that plucky, upright, can do attitude. Give it any engine, from an I4 from a motorcycle to a turbo 13b and he seems like he’d just be happy to be along for the ride. Personally I’d toss in some carpet, a couple of nice eBay seats from something sporty and maybe some brake upgrades to match the engine, some period rally art and drive it as is, in the winter only that is, Arizona after all. This car looks like a lot of fun, like a blank canvas on a barrel of monkeys.
The Spider just looks miserable, like it would let you down on the freeway no matter what you spent…

R.J.
R.J.
1 year ago
Reply to  RootWyrm

“Harbor Freight engine swap”

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
1 year ago

850. I have a real soft spot for the little Italian roadsters of the 70s and 80s. When I was a kid in the 90s a lot of them were still around and I always thought they looked really cool. If you can’t have fun in the twisties with a tiny, low power, manual convertible I don’t know what to tell you, because it’s one of the greatest driving experiences there is.

Mr.Asa
Mr.Asa
1 year ago

Gimme the 1100

BUT! Look at the craziness of the radiator/fan/waterpump situation in the Spider! That’s nuts.

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
1 year ago
Reply to  Mr.Asa

Similar to the 500-650 sedan. Beware the $120 wax thermostat that opens the air door on the underside of the car.

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
1 year ago

The 850 Spider has too short of a wheelbase for Lemons racing, which requires at least 82″ as delivered by the factory, so that just leaves the 1100 for racing duty.

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

Well, there’s still the Canadian-market long-wheelbase Samurai. Technically as a vehicle from a non-US market it would require a waiver but that’s not likely to be much of an issue.

As for the rule itself, my understanding is that Jay was increasingly unconfortable with the idea of vehicles the size of, or smaller than, Spridgets mixing it up with much larger cars and so set the wheelbase rule at a point just long enough to exclude them.

Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
1 year ago

1100 > 850

Therefore, Millicento.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
1 year ago

Solid logic!

Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
1 year ago

Both are beat to crap. For 500 I went with the spider as when I finally give up, it is not a huge investment.

The Toecutter
The Toecutter
1 year ago

The Fiat 850 Spyder would make an excellent EV conversion. If I were to buy it, I’d make a custom hard top for it that improved its drag coefficient. It would probably look like an Alfa Romeo TZ by the time I got done with it, and there’d be no need for its costly engine and transmission with an electric drive system.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
1 year ago
Reply to  The Toecutter

I think batteries are a little more costly than an engine and transmission.. I wonder if you could fit enough in to give it more than 50 miles of usable range. I like where your head is at, though..

JaredTheGeek
JaredTheGeek
1 year ago
Reply to  Boxing Pistons

Yeah, a conversion starts at like $20k.

The Toecutter
The Toecutter
1 year ago
Reply to  JaredTheGeek

$20k would be for a decent performance conversion. Including restoration, I have about $18k in my Triumph GT6, which has no problem peeling out in any gear and is much faster than stock. Starting in 2nd gear, 0-45 mph takes about 2.5 seconds with the tires clawing for traction. I don’t have the car legal yet so haven’t tested the range, but on paper, once I’m done with the aerodynamic improvements, my range should approach 200 miles on the freeway.

A budget conversion where performance is no concern and one is willing to compromise with only a 30-50 mile range and a top speed around 60 mph could be done for well under $2,000. We’re talking used golf cart controller, building your own battery pack from salvage cells, running an old series-DC forklift motor, ect. You could have a 72V conversion that would be perfectly usable around town for cheap if you know what you’re doing. Some people have made functioning EV conversions of small cars for under $500 that are capable of 20-30 miles range and a 45 mph top speed.

Salvage EV parts and batteries are a lot cheaper than they used to be.

The Toecutter
The Toecutter
1 year ago
Reply to  Boxing Pistons

That may be true in the short term, but with the amount of power I would want to put in it, it would be eating through those fragile gearboxes on a regular basis.

I could definitely fit enough batteries for 100+ miles range with today’s technology, and significantly more with aerodynamic improvements.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
1 year ago

I like the Accord wagon photobombing the first pic of the orange car 😛

My answer is the white car

One More Last Chance
One More Last Chance
1 year ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

And the VW camper van, and the Mustang and the Mercedes and I think I see an Airstream camper. This guy has a whole shitbox showdown lot.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
1 year ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

Both ads show some interesting stuff in the background. I am so jealous of the dry states! All that stuff would be dust already here in the Midwest..

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