No matter what you think of how it came about or how it looks, the 124 Spider is a good idea. Fiat’s line-up has been devoid of desirable froth for too long, and – at least from an enthusiast point of view – it’s a shortfall that can’t be made up with yet another 500 derivative or the return of the Tipo badge.
Italy’s flag carrier has been crying out for the marketing splash of something overtly sporty, and there are few more pleasing thoughts than the prospect of a small, affordable, two-seat, rear-drive roadster arriving on a manufacturer’s forecourt.
That is particularly so in the US, where the 124 is seen as key to Fiat’s resuscitation following the ignominy of a 30-year hiatus. It’s no coincidence that the model shares its name with Fiat’s biggest US hit, the original 124 Spider having enjoyed an almost two-decade production run following its launch in 1966.
That car, along with the similarly long-lived Alfa Romeo Spider, helped to establish Italy’s reputation for building pretty open-top sports cars. But they didn’t perfect the idea and nor did they manage to sustain their success much beyond the 1990s. Instead, Mazda resurrected the roadster as a real sales force, shifting a million MX-5s globally while cars like the Fiat Barchetta and Alfa Spider eventually wilted on the vine.
So who better for Fiat to partner up with than the japancse firm when it came looking for someone to share the cost of producing a bespoke rear-drive platform a decade later? Fiat (although it was almost Alfa) gets to use its own engines and homage-happy body while gaining space on the Hiroshima production line to account for the volume.
The catch, of course, is that, much like the Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ conundrum, the 124 has to prove to buyers that it isn’t merely a shadow of the latest MX-5 but a distinct and credible product in its own right. Time to rule on whether Turin’s good idea has made it to the road.