Talking Motors: Caught in the web of Fiat's new Spider

Sometimes a picture will appear on your screen that makes you stop what you are doing.

Thursday, 2nd June 2016, 3:41 pm
Updated Thursday, 2nd June 2016, 5:43 pm
The 124 Spider

This happens for a variety of reasons. Usually it’s to go ‘ugh’, as was the case a little while ago with the Rolls Royce Dawn.

Other times it’s with intrigue, like when the hard top Mazda MX5 RF was unveiled at the New York Motor Show this year.

And sometimes, as has been the case for two weeks in a row, you mouth an audible ‘yes’, causing people to raise their heads and look across the room at you.

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And the car that caused me to do this was a Fiat.

It’s perhaps a bit strange a little Fiat could invoke the same emotions as a TVR, but there you go, we’re funny like that.

Fiat have made a habit lately of celebrating their heritage with new models offering more than just a nod to the past with tasteful design. Look at the 500 – not exactly hard to miss as there are often convoys of three or more on the run to work.

But this is because they absolutely nailed it with a nice design and nippy characteristics (ignoring the 500L, obviously) and the new Spider looks even more promising.

Convertibles have had a habit in recent years of looking a bit soft.

Before Mazda got their act together with the new MX5s they had happy faces and rounded off features, which seemed to admit these cars would be consigned to weekends parked at the Trafford Centre rather than chucked around greasy B roads.

Their latest offering looked much better, and showed the 20-plus year line had plenty of life in it yet. But the new Spider looks like Mazda may have pipped themselves with this joint venture.

The 124 Spider will be available later this year, 50 years after the original made its debut in 1966 at the Turin Auto Show.

And it looks like a beast – as well as being cheap for a new sports car – expected to cost a shade under £20,000.

Although a nudge more than an entry-level MX5, which would cost £18,495 that shouldn’t affect the Spider as far as its appeal should spread.

As far as design is concerned, there are boxes ticked all over the car, which will keep customers happy so long as retro-throwbacks stay trendy.

Direct references to the 1966 car can be found in twin domes on the bonnet, horizontal creases on the body with kick-ups over the rear and horizontal tail lamps.

If you’re quick, an anniversary edition with a few extra gizmos will set you back £23,295, but there will only be 124 of these available in the UK.

As a joint venture with Mazda, the Spider will share the MX5’s rear-wheel drive platform, but the 1.4-litre MultiAir Turbo Petrol engine will see it lose 20 horsepower on its Japanese rival.

But it will still be able to go from 0-62mph in seven-and-a-half seconds and reach 134mph. And if the 500 is anything to go by, expect prices of earlier examples to rise when the 124 appears in showrooms.

Form being often overlooked, ‘60s and ‘70s 500s can command prices approaching £15,000, and with some Spiders being available from the same era from around the £6,000 mark, expect owners to keep hold as demand rises.

And don’t forget which hard top shared its name with the 124 Spider. Yes, the 124. That became the Lada Riva.

Although I’m not sure bringing back retro styling for that would necessarily inspire lengthy waiting lists.

Like many, I tuned into the first episode of the new series of Top Gear with curiosity last Sunday night.

And, like many, I had a problem. A big problem.

But my social media timeline seemed to be silent on the incident I took issue with.

I realise there were elements of the formula in Top Gear’s blueprint which made it successful, and it would be silly to undo all of that and try to build a new programme – I get that.

And this isn’t a debate on whether Chris Evans is good as the host, or whether it’s as good as the old line-up. Whatever the outcome of that, critics will need to give it time.

But is there really any need for them to keep ruining cars? Really?

The first victims of this series were two Reliant Rialtos – roofs chopped ready for a drive from London to Blackpool.

It used to wind me up incessantly when Jezza and Co would do a feature on a car which they would jeer for being more suited to sedately ferrying its passengers to afternoon tea at a garden centre near Southport than tearing around a track … and then drive it over a cliff.

A particularly distressing example was when a Leyland Princess was filled with water for a ‘retention test’ – and a search of the reg on the DVLA website suggests that could have been the car’s final hurrah.

They may not roar when you press the throttle to the floor (you’d probably go through the floor if you tried it) and, despite their name, they won’t woo an actual princess.

But they are as rare as hens’ teeth and mean a lot to their enthusiasts – as no doubt do our three-wheeled friends, the Rialto.

It winds me up almost as much as when one of the mechanics on one of the daytime car restoration programmes on Discovery has a bright idea and chirps up: “Let’s change the colour.”

But at least there won’t be one less of a piece of history left when the spray gun has finished its work.

A far worse crime to a car’s originality is to slice its roof off and emblazon it in a flag motif – surely condemning it to the scrapheap once its 15 minutes’ of fame is over.

The same DVLA check as very scientifically performed on the Princess suggests Matt le Blanc’s Reliant suffered a similar fate – though I have to admit to not watching for long enough to see if it got shoved off the North Pier.

The Rialto falls under the ‘very rare’ category of car, even though, along with the Robin (the car they replaced) they are among the most recognisable on our roads.

As was said in the programme by Evans, they may well be terrible. They may well be rust buckets, a little unsteady and only put out 40bhp. And you’d be right not to want to see if they can manage 85mph.

But for every rubbish car is an enthusiast.

And for an insight into history, the rubbish cars which did the schools runs, big shops and commutes in their thousands are far more important than the super cars which always will be locked away in garages.

History needs preserving. So stop filling rubbish cars with water and cutting the roofs off.