Unusually fine ’69 Fiat 850 Spider

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The Fiat is a fun little roadster loaded with Italian style

One of the most difficult cars to find in any condition is a Fiat 850 Spider. For every 10 nice Alfa Romeo Duetto spiders for sale, you might see one Fiat 850 Spider.

This is largely due to the Fiats being quite inexpensive when new, and cheaply built, and a Fiat 850 would and did rust away, even when brand new.

The rust issue was the result of Fiat using poor-grade steel. After producing the 850s with that steel, they would ship the cars mostly on the decks of ships, exposed to the elements and salt water. So they would start out rusty and just get worse.

As a result, there are few nice examples remaining of this wonderful car.

The rear-engine 850 Spider was designed by Giugiaro

I was lucky enough to find one for Pick of the Day, an apparently very nice 1969 Fiat 850 Spider located in Redlands, California. The photos with the ad on ClassicCars.com show a car that seems to have been well cared for its entire life.

Not only is there little or no evidence of rust, the car looks to be in good mechanical shape. This 850 Spider is a one-owner car that has benefitted from a recent engine and gearbox rebuild, according to the seller, a Redlands dealer.

The roadster still has its original AM/FM radio, a new and correct black-vinyl interior, optional aluminum wheels, its original owner’s manual, a new brake master cylinder, new brake lines, a new convertible top and a new top boot, the seller notes, adding that all gauges and switches work as they should.

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The sporty interior is nicely appointed

A Fiat 850 Spider in this condition is something of a unicorn. I looked at 10 of these cars during the past four years and none were anywhere near as nice as this one appears to be. In fact, all of them were at-best parts cars.

The rear-engine 850 wears a stunning Giugaro design that still looks as fresh as it did when new. With only a 905cc engine, the car is no speed demon, but it weighs only 1,577 pounds. With that little weight to move, they make for a fun and stylish alternative to an MG Midget or Austin Healey Sprite.

The best thing about the tiny 850 is that anyone can somehow fit in these cars, even people as tall as my friend Bob Golfen. I am 6-foot-4-inches tall and fit comfortably in an 850, even with the top up. They have more headroom and legroom than a Miata or even my BMW Z3, sort of like the automobile version of Dr. Who’s Tardis, the phone booth than doubled as a very expansive time machine.

The small four-cylinder engine is easy to service

Behind the wheel, the 850 is the essence of the term fun to drive. It feels much faster than it is due to its miniscule size and how low you are to the ground. The car makes all the right noises and handles quite well.

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On the servicing side, parts are inexpensive, and servicing the inline-4 is as simple as it gets.

The Fiat 850 is one of the last inexpensive Italian roadsters left, and this one with a listed price of only $11,995 looks to be a terrific buy. Not a bad way to experience La Dolce Vita.

To view this listing on ClassicCars.com, see Pick of the Day

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Andy Reid's first car, purchased at age 15, was a 1968 Fiat 124 coupe. His second, obtained by spending his college savings fund, was a 1966 Ferrari 330 GT 2+2. Since then, he has owned more than 150 cars—none of them normal or reasonable—as well as numerous classic motorcycles and scooters. A veteran of film, television, advertising and helping to launch a few Internet-based companies, Reid was a columnist for Classic Motorsports magazine for 12 years and has written for several other publications. He is considered an expert in European sports and luxury cars and is a respected concours judge. He lives in Canton, Connecticut.

6 COMMENTS

  1. The 850 Spider was never built by FIAT, per se. The body was farmed out to Bertone and was fully constructed out of bare steel before any paint was applied. As a result, especially with these models, the torsionally-stiffening X-member beneath the cabin was the first thing to go, followed by other bits and pieces. FIAT actually issued a recall on all 850 Spiders in order to remove them from the liability pool. That one model is essentially what caused FIAT SpA to order its North American operation to fold its tent and get out of Dodge in the ’80s.

    • Had one in late 70s / early 80s in Rance then in UK – gave it to my brother – eventually ended up in an English Fiat club…
      loved it. don’t knock it – just repaint it every 4 years… went through several roofs – had one made by a saddler from the old one as a pattern, then one made using the saddler’s one as a pattern by a fierce seamstress… worst part of it was the c clip that holds the entire transmission together – like the jesus nut at the top of old helicopters. you know it when that breaks – but very fixable.

  2. I had a 1969 850 spider bought it when I came back from Vietnam Nam.one of the best cars I’ve ever owned.got a lot of traffic tickets with it lol.

  3. My father bought an 850 in 1970, as a second car to the family Olds, and I learned to drive standard on the Fiat at the age of 17. What more could you ask? I loved it and still do, in my memory. Not many Canadians can say they learned to drive on an Italian sports car, in 1970! I consider myself fortunate and still can feel taking those tight curves with my girlfriend beside me, the rag-top down, wind blowing… Felt completely Dolce Vita!

  4. I had a 1969 850 Spyder. Sometime in the 70’s all of them were recalled because of rusting under the floor boards. In a wreck it was very probable your seat would fly out the window with you attached. It is the only car in which I carried a full set of tools. I remember those good days, holding a flashlight in my teeth pulling out the carburetor jets and cleaning them. The most common thing to break? The motor mounts. When they broke the motor would fall down enough the axle would come out of the trans-axle and strand you. The real positive thing is that when the generator broke, I ran a week on only the battery while it was being repaired. It was a POS, however, everyone else thought it was cool.

  5. Hello Friends, I had a 1971 Red Fiat MJ 850 Spider and I still dream of the car. Much fun in the summer. I still would like to find one in good shape and running well as my retirement ‘run about’. J Lewis

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