Fiat 850 Spider (1965-1974)
Article by Mark Trotta
Small in size but large on fun, the rear-engine Fiat 850 Spider combined a two-seat convertible body with a well-balanced chassis, creating an Italian alternative to the British Midgets, Spitfires, and Sprites. Marketed from 1965 to 1974, most were exported to America, with a production total of over 124,000 worldwide.
Based on Fiat's successful 600 series, the 850 line started with a sedan in 1964. Several body types followed, with the Spider arriving in 1965. Standing at 48" in height, the unitized convertible body, designed and built by Bertone, had a drag coefficient of just .042. Wheelbase was 80 inches, total length was just 149 inches. All-wheel independent suspension consisted of a transverse-mounted leaf spring up front and rear independent coil springs. With a 1600 pound curb-weight and 5.50" x 13" tires, the little Spider displayed light steering and agile handling.
Fiat 850 Engine
The rear-mounted, Fiat 850 engine was a larger version of the in-line four-cylinder engine from the Fiat 600. A 65mm bore and 63.50mm stroke displaced 843cc, advertised as 850cc. The cast-iron block and aluminum cylinder head were water-cooled and featured a rear-mounted radiator.
Unique to this engine was it's counter-clockwise rotation. Topped by a two-barrel carburetor, output was 47-horsepower at 6400 rpm, with 45 lb/ft of torque at 4000 rpm. In stock trim (4.88 rear gearing), a top speed of about 90 mph could be reached.
Fiat 850 Spider Interior
Depending on one's disposition, the interior could be described as either cozy or cramped. Unlike most rear-engine cars, the 850 was water-cooled, which provided adequate cabin heat, as well as proper ventilation and defrosting systems. A wood-grain dash, tachometer and full instrumentation were standard.
Similar to the Fiat 124 Spider, the convertible top could easily be put up or down one-handed. With the top up, there was a storage shelf behind the rear seats. When down, the top sat beneath the hinged rear cover and filled the storage area. A floor-mounted shifter, nestled between vinyl bucket seats, worked the four-speed all-synchromesh transaxle.
Two popular options for the 850 Spider were a hardtop roof and tonneau cover for the cockpit.
Fiat 850 Sport Spider (1968-1974)
Now called the 850 Sport Spider, the little ragtop sported more efficient upright headlamps, placed further forward, replacing the original angled style. The original flush-mounted front turn signals were replaced with units that sat below a new larger bumper. Front disc brakes were now standard. A special-edition Fiat Spider Berlinetta, with removable hardtop, was also available.
A larger motor, achieved by increasing the engine stroke 4.5 millimeters, allowed higher top speeds and better acceleration, making the 850 Spider more suitable for American driving conditions. But even at 903cc, the Spider motor was still relatively small. In comparison, the engine size of the Volkswagen Beetle was 1500cc. Fuel mileage was excellent, 35-40 mpg was seen on the highway, making the eight-gallon fuel tank adequate for long trips.
Designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, who penned the clean and simple lines of the Fiat 850 Spider, has also given us the Alfa-Romeo Giulietta coupe (1954), De Tomaso Mangusta (1966), Maserati Ghibli (1966), Fiat Dino coupe (1966), Lotus Esprit (1972), Delorean DMC-12 (1981), and many others. On December 18th 1999, Giugiaro was selected "Car Designer of the Century" and inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2002.
Read: Sports Car History