Will it take?
Time will tell.
The 124 is a rebadged Mazda Miata with a Fiat Abarth 1.4 liter engine in place of the Mazda 2.0 engine. The Fiat engine is turbocharged, the Mazda’s not. 160 hp – vs. 155. That plus the usual “unique” styling differences (much of that being identical, like for instance the “Fiat Connect” 7-inch LCD Touchscreen, which is exactly the same as the 7-inch MazdaConnect touchscreen in the Miata) constitute the, uh, differences between the two cars.
Is it enough?
Or maybe too much?
A five horsepower difference is not much; like the difference between a 13 oz vs. a 14 oz steak (assuming they’re both of the same quality and cooked the same way).
The turbo, on the other hand, may be too much.
Turbos tend to not last for 200,000-plus trouble-free miles, as the Miata’s not-turbo’d engine does routinely. Even when subjected to weekend SCCA club racing, as the Miata’s often is.
The Spider’s – if it’s the same engine as the 160 hp, 1.4 liter four used in the 500 Abarth (and the specs suggest it is) has to hold together under 18 pounds of boost.
For 200,000-plus miles?
I am thinking about a hot but high-maintenance goomah, if you know what I mean.
What else does the 124 bring to the table that makes it a compelling buy? That would make a person want to buy it rather than the Miata?
The Fiat name?
That hasn’t done the trick for the Fiats already here, like the 500 (much less the 500L). The car sells the name, not the other way around.
No doubt, Fiat is counting on historical resonance, the 124 name, to entice potential prospects.
Emotion sells cars, too.
But the ’66-’82 124 Spider was a Fiat, down to the last cross-threaded bolt and prematurely rusting quarter panel.
Not a repackaged Miata.
Now, to be fair – or to look at things a different way – at least the revived 124 is mechanically different. The 1.4 turbo engine’s personality – its sound, its power curve – will be noticeably not-the-same. Trust me. I’ve driven the 500 Abarth, which has the same (I think it is) engine and that thing’s an M80 with a too-short fuse. If Fiat is smart and uses the same exhaust system – which reminded me of a pre-catalytic converter muscle car’s with chambered pipes – snap, crackle pop! – we’ll have a Mr. Hyde counterpoint to the Mazda’s Dr. Jekyll.
This kind of thing can help sell an otherwise very similar (even directly related) car.
I own a ’76 Pontiac Trans-Am. It is cousin to the ’76 Chevy Camaro. It’s fair to say the Trans-Am is a Camaro … with slightly different exterior and interior styling. But – the heart of the matter – it also has a Pontiac-built engine. This was enough to make it credible as a Pontiac rather than a Chevy re-sold under another label. When GM pulled the plug on Pontiac’s V8 engine and began using Chevy engines in Pontiacs, these “Pontiacs” became that in name only.
It’s why there no longer is a Pontiac.
Another example comes to mind. You may remember Rickman Kawasakis.
Kawasaki made one hell of an engine – the DOHC 900 (and later 1000 and 1100 cc) fours of the ’70s. But the frames Kawasaki put them into were unworthy of these engines. The brakes and suspension unspeakably so. Rickman took that magnificent engine – and put it into an equally magnificent frame, with brakes and suspension to match.
Now, you had the whole enchilada.
Of course, the Mazda Miata already has a magnificent suspension, great brakes. It is hard to imagine what could possibly be done by Fiat or anyone else to fix what manifestly isn’t broken.
Well, come to think of it, there is one thing.
You know what “Fiat” stands for, right? Fix It Again, Tony. Fiats are – or at least, were – the four-wheeled versions of AMF-era Harley Davidsons. In case you hadn’t heard, this isn’t good. They were pretty little cars that you wanted to love but which worked hard to earn your hate. Fiat was practically run out of the country and it took 30 years before things cooled down enough for them to even think about trying again.
So maybe this is the smart move. People love the Miata.
Maybe they will like Fiat’s version, too.
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