- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2008

The $3,547 window sticker on the new 1971 Fiat 124 Spider at Springfield Imported Motors in Springfield, N.J., included no optional extras.

Virtually everything on the well-equipped sports car came as standard equipment. The dealer did tack on $50 for preparation and delivery as well as $2.60 for all-weather coolant bringing the total price of the sports car to $3,599.60.

The maroon Fiat ended up with an owner in Basking Ridge, N.J.

Upon the death of the owner, his widow put the car in storage in Peapack, N.J. That’s where it languished under cover until found by Alan Whelihan in late April 2005.

Mr. Whelihan recalls he thought the price was right for the car which appeared to be in reasonably good condition. He decided to take a chance on the car that had registered about 76,000 miles on the odometer but the four-cylinder, dual overhead cam engine hadn’t been started in several years.

“It wasn’t driveable,” he says, “but it looked good.” With some difficulty he pulled and pushed the 2,084-pound car out of the garage — with its brakes dragging — and onto a trailer for the trip home to Frederick.

New brakes solved one problem and the downdraft Weber carburetion was rebuilt when the engine received a tuneup. Fluid capacities include 8 quarts of coolant and 4 quarts of oil while 11.8 gallons of gas fill the fuel tank. The engine hood is hinged at the front and probably to save weight, the designer arranged for hinges that permit the cantilevered open hood to balance in that position without the aid of a prop or springs to keep it open.

Mr. Whelihan says both rocker panels were riddled with rust and were replaced. Then one thing led to another and a full restoration followed including rebuilding both front shock towers

In his search for parts Mr. Whelihan found sympathetic friends at DCFiats.org, a Web site devoted to assisting owners of Fiats. His new friends were helpful in locating parts and generous with helpful advice.

On the cowl, in front of the windshield, are six openings, each one with 10 ribs. When open, these vents permit fresh air to flow into the cabin of the Fiat.

Beside those vents are a pair of jets for washing the windshield.

With the Fiat returned to good running condition minor body work was completed and then the entire car was resprayed in the original maroon color.

Mr. Whelihan reports that all the brightwork on the car is original and simply needed to be polished.

Even the black rubber inserts in the front and rear bumper guards are in remarkably good condition.

On the black carpet sit tan upholstered seats, each one crowned with a small head rest. The door panels match the seats.

The convertible top is black and since acquiring the car Mr. Whelihan has added a lightweight hardtop that can be fitted to the car for hardtop comfort in severe weather.

That top, covered with black vinyl, is equipped with a wraparound glass window.

The heater/defroster functions are controlled by levers on the floor console between the bucket seats and next to the hand brake.

The owner’s manual claims that the passenger capacity is limited to two even though an upholstered pseudo rear seat is tucked behind the front bucket seats.

The manual also warns that the total payload of the sporty car should be limited to 430 pounds.

Instrumentation is centered around the 140 mph speedometer set in the dashboard and trimmed in wood veneer.

As of Jan. 10, 2007 Mr. Whelihan declared the restoration complete.

The wing vent windows on the Fiat are a feature he says he misses on his newer cars.

For such a small car the trunk is surprisingly spacious. Under the flatfloor is the spare tire.

Seated behind the two-spoke steering wheel he says his Fiat Spider corners beautifully on it’s 13-inch wheels.

Working his way through the five forward gears, Mr. Whelihan says, “It goes like a banshee.”

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