Fiat 124 Spider: A little car brings a lot of history to 2017

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Fiat's new car, the Fiat 124 Sport Spider, is a re-interpretation of an old favorite(Credit: C.C. Weiss / Gizmag)

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Fiat is working on building its brand in North America. It started with the iconic little 500, then expanded on that with the 500L and the 500X. Now it's finally ready to look beyond its smallest car and offer something else. At the Los Angeles Auto Show, Fiat unveiled a new rendition of an old favorite, the Fiat 124 Spider. Based on the MX-5 and to be built at Mazda's Hiroshima facility, the Fiat 124 is a small, beautiful modern roadster.

In November of 1966, the Fiat 124 Sport Spider debuted at the Turin Auto Show with a body designed by the famous Pininfarina. The car was an immediate success, powered originally by a 1,438cc engine called the 124 AC 040, which put out 89 hp (66 kW). The car came to the U.S. in 1968, which became the largest market for the little convertible, with around 175,000 of the Fiat 124 Sport Spider having sold there when production ended in 1985.

Back in the day, the Fiat 124 was the Miata of the time, selling primarily to top-down sport driving enthusiasts who wanted a back-to-basics sports car with few frills and a lot of fun. Exactly the market that the Mazda Miata has been exploiting for the last 25 years. So it's fitting that the latest-generation Miata, the MX-5, underpins this new Fiat 124 Spider.

Unlike the Miata upon which it's largely based, though, the Fiat 124 Spider foregoes the simplicity of form and austere interior of the MX-5 and aims for a more upscale, dynamic, and singularly Italian appeal.

The hood is longer and more saloon-like, and lines rush down either side of the car for accentuated speed. The rear haunch carries dual muscular lines to make for a more racey look, while a ducktail spoiler and jutting tailpipes adorn the rear end. The most telling features, though, are the Fiat bug eyes at the front. Big, round, three-light portals sit at the corners of this little roadster.

Hints of the 1960's 124 are found in the front fascia, hood work, and the badge on the deck lid. The overall shape is only marginally throwback, being much more modern in its appeal.

On the Los Angeles Auto Show floor, where the car debuted this week, the Fiat 124 Spider was definitely one of the most polarizing of the unveils. It's a love it or hate it design, finding no gray area in people's reactions.

The Fiat 124 Spider will enter showrooms in mid 2016 as a 2017 model, powered by the same 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo four-cylinder found in the 500 series, but this will be the first time that engine has been used in a rear-wheel drive vehicle. A six-speed manual transmission will be standard, with a six-speed automatic available as an option. The engine outputs 160 hp (119 kW) and 184 lb-ft (249 Nm) of torque. For those comparing, that's about 15 more horses and 12 more lb-ft over the MX-5, but this car is a bit larger and heavier, so it likely pans out in the end.

Inside, the Fiat 124 Spider sports a 7-inch touchscreen with the latest FIAT Connect 7.0 system, with the option of a Bose premium sound system. Safety features available include adaptive front headlights, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross path detection, and a rear backup camera.

Two trim levels will be offered, starting with the Classica and going to the higher-end Lusso. Six exterior paint colors slathered in Italian names meaning "red," "white," "black," etc. are also offered.

To kick off sales, the first 124 of the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider will be sold as an exclusive limited-edition Prima Edizione Lusso with an exclusive Azzurro Ital.. er.. blue paint.

Fiat promises more details on the car as its launch date approaches.

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