1980 Fiat Spider 2000

Monday, August 22nd 2011

Today I bought a pretty little rust bucket.

I have been trying to get a cheap car since last Wednesday. Small budget and this was not the weekend to be looking for a car (it rained hard on Sunday). Mostly I was concerned about finding something that would last at least a year and pass Maryland inspection.

Maryland is odd. Well, we know that, but I mean they only do inspection when you buy/sell a vehicle. Emissions I think they do every year or two. But inspection is only done once per owner. So, it is more strict than Virginia.

No guns allowed, but you MUST protect the people rights to tint, radar detectors and neon under lighting on your car. Oh, well. Guess I’m one of them now. I think my driving is getting worse too ;)

So anyway, I have been trying to spend as little as possible and get something that will pass inspection. After two days of looking, I saw that it was going to be difficult. So, I expanded my search to cars over 20 years old and hopefully under 200,000 miles. This would allow me to get Historic Vehicle plates and bypass inspection and emissions. I had been trying to locate a VW Bug, Bus or camper that was worth something in my price range. But those things are going for thousands as parts cars. I ran across some old Jaguars that had been converted to Camaro engines and two low mile Fiats.

One was a 1975 Fiat X 1/9. A very little two seater, mid-engine sports car. Bigger than the Toyota MR2, but not much. It also had a Targa top, which I like better than convertibles or t-tops. It looked dirty, but in very good shape. It only had 78,000 miles on it. All the weather seals were in great shape and mostly looked like they were probably the originals. There was a little rust in the trunk. When I got in it felt like squeezing into a sardine can. I am not a big guy and I was not comfortable. The transmission was shot. The shifter drifted everywhere and it was very hard to find 3rd or 4th gear. The engine sounded good and looked ok, but it was hard to tell with the transmission in such bad shape. The guy bought it two months before for $4000 and was asking $2800 for it, so he was not inclined to negotiate much. I could have had it for $2500, but I didn’t really want it. Bobby’s hockey gear could have fit if we were creative :)

The X 1/9 was the first car I looked at on Monday, so I moved on to my list of cars at dealerships. There was a Volvo S40 that looked too good to be true and a 96 GMC Jimmy that looked promising. As well as a bunch of random cars at those two dealers. The Jimmy would have worked, but I was taking a chance on what all I would need to do to pass inspection. The S40 looked perfect. The week before it was $4900 and it was dropped to $2995. When the sales guy looked it up he told be $4900. I told him I saw it online for $2995. He didn’t skip a beat, just said ok. So I got even more concerned about what huge problem lie hidden in this car. I drove it and it seemed nice and had every power feature you can get on an S40.

I decided it must have a cracked head or something and walked away. I could always go look at the other Fiat and decide from there.

The second Fiat was in Fort Washington, MD. Same place I bought the sailboat. It was listed on Craigslist.

If you really look at the picture on the rocker panels and around the wheel wells you can see the rust bubbling the paint. Well, it is worse than it looks :) The only place it has eaten all the way through is on the driver’s door. The engine compartment, inside the wheel wells, the trunk and all the floor boards look fine. What looks like surface rust on the frame. But basically the bottom 3 to 4 inches of the body panels all the way around are rust bubbling through the paint.

The engine sounds good, the transmission is smooth and tight. No apparent leaking. The clutch is tight, but could use adjusting. The interior is in better shape than the old Porsche 911. The dash is not cracked, all the interior electronics (not much in a 1980 sport coupe) and instruments work. The clock glass is a little fogged and the glove box needs a new latch. He had a decent stereo in it, but the removable faceplate was stolen. Kind of funny actually. I want to put a modern bluetooth capable one in anyway.

The heat works great, which is good in a convertible.

The windshield has a rock chip and has the look of glass from 1980, but it is fine. The convertible top is tight and in place. It has shrunk a little and has begun to separate toward the rear. The tops frame is in perfect shape and works well. The trunk needs to be slammed closed (it looks like the weather stripping is in the way). Both doors fit tight, but the driver’s side door handle (interior) is very sticky and it doesn’t feel like it is functioning correctly.

Once I actually got a look at the car and saw the significant rust I told the guy I would keep considering the car if he is in the $1500 range instead of the $2500 range. He said $1700 and I kept looking. I drove it down the strip a ways, but it was rush hour, so it took a while to get back and gave me time to look stuff up on my phone.

Like the Porsche, there is a very active aftermarket. Parts don’t seem to be much of an issue. A lot of people even remanufacturer replica and improved parts. The prices on everything seemed to be a bit less than what I remember the Porsche being. Mostly I was looking at new canvas for the top. I could get a really nice one for $580 or a mid-range vinyl for $275. Windshield is available for $150 if I decide to replace it. Most everything else is body and they have a full line of full steel panels if I chose to do anything about it. The whole time I could hear Stephanie’s dad (he does auto body) yelling at me that it is exactly the worse places to deal with rust.  I thought about what it might cost to get the Jimmy to pass inspection, I thought of taking a chance on the S40 and then I paid the guy $1700. It is already registered as a historic vehicle in Maryland.

Well I was in the rental car and it was starting to get late. Fort Washington is maybe 45 or 50 minutes from my work and an hour and a half from the house. I tried to get a hold of a couple people to help me get the car to the house, finally Stephanie said she could help me after work.

Since it was the middle of the night we mostly had the roads to ourselves. I-495 was like a construction obstacle course, it was a good drive to test her out. I had my iPhone and the windshield mount when we went to pick it up. My navigation app displays your current speed, so it was a great way to test the gauges.

She goes through the gears pretty fast, you can stay in forth for a while if you like and in 5th it is very comfortable to sit at what the car speedometer says is 60, but is really 56. Speed up a bit to between 67 and 73 and she speeds along very comfortably. It is a 1980 sport coupe. No power steering or power brakes. This is the first year it was fuel injected. This is the way to drive. Steering is tight, but not a tiny little sport steering wheel. Cornering is very good and the brakes slow her down quickly.

If it is possible to judge how she will do on the hills of Brunswick on ice, I would say it will be a lot better than the Genesis. She crawls steady in 2nd at just over an idle and should be light enough to be more like driving the Porsche or a Bug in the ice.

Tuesday, August 23rd 2011

Today I prepared for a horrible experience at the MVA (Motor Vehicle Administration). It took two full days last time to just get my license.

I could not have been more pleasantly wrong. The lady who helped me used to have a 78 Fiat and gabbed the whole time she was processing everything. No issues and done in less than an hour.

I ordered the vinyl top, shop manuals, clock glass and glove box latch. I won’t be able to do anything this coming weekend. Hurricane Irene is coming and I promised to spend all my time holed up with Munchie against the storm :)

So next weekend I will try and get Butch (Stephanie’s dad) to go over the car with me to assess how bad it really is and put the new top on.

I will post some photos tomorrow.

Here are the first photos …


 Sid’s Public Chalkboard




Rust Converter and Sticker Day