Fiat 124BC Coupe: Italian Underdog

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By Ben Selby

Isn’t it funny when things in life come around a second time?A number of years ago, I was able to drive and write a story about a Fiat 124 BC thanks to its previous lady owner. Having collected it from her place and set off about my favourite Canterbury back roads, it made all the right noises and provided all the grin a minute fun a twin cam Italian coupe can give you.

However, despite the fun, the wee Fiat was quite rough around the edges. There was significant surface rust, it would pop out of third gear on occasion, and upon helming it around the rolling port hills above Christchurch, I started to feel rather faint as petrol fumes were being channeled from the carburettor, through the air vents, and into the cabin. After 10 minutes or so of this treatment, I had to stop and breathe some clean Canterbury air, otherwise I would have surely passed out.

It was obvious there was some things which needed to be addressed for an otherwise lovely and rare Fiat. Fast forward to 2020, I get a call from Lyn Parlane, Secretary of the Canterbury Fiat and Lancia Club, and she told me her son Michael has owned the Fiat which nearly rendered me unconscious years ago for a while now, has restored it to like new, and would I be interested in driving it again? Filled to the brim with curiosity, I responded with a resounding yes, and boy was a treat in store.

The Fiat 124 Sport Coupe was first launched in 1967. Based on the 124 saloon, the coupe featured a twin cam four cylinder engine designed by Aurelio Lampredi. Latin car fanatics would recognise Lampredi as the creator of Ferrari’s first large displacement V12 used in the Type 375 F1 car of 1951 along with other mechanical beating hearts from Maranello. Its started as a 1.5 litre unit in the first generation 124 Sport Coupe known as the AC, and grew to 1.6 in the second gen BC, before topping out at the 1.8 litre CC by the time production finished in 1975.

Earlier AC models came with a four-speed manual gearbox but the BC featured here features a very slick five speed. The BC also came with disc brakes all round, double wishbone suspension up front, and that twin cam four pot came with a lovely pair of Weber carburettors.

For Michael Parlane, this Fiat 124 BC has been a labour of love. “I just love this car. I wanted something different from the next guy and now I have it. When I purchased it off the previous owner, she made me promise I would come back and visit her when I had tidied it up,” Michael says with the biggest grin imaginable.

The orange paint scheme of the original car has been tastefully replaced with a gunmetal grey and period aftermarket alloys. The Abarth badges is also a very nice touch. “I have had people come up to me and say it is not a real Abarth and I shouldn’t be having those badges on the wheels, but this doesn’t bother me,” says Michael. The absence of wing mirrors took this writer by surprise, but as far as Michael was concerned, “what is behind me doesn’t matter anyway,” he laughed.

Climbing inside, very little has changed from when I last took her for a spin. You still get those handsome white on black original fiat dials and lovely two spoke steering wheel feels good in your mitts. If one really wanted to get into character, a pair of string back driving gloves would suit it no end.

The Fiat does sport the classic Italian driving position, long arms and short legs, meaning you are having to bend your knees and stretch your arms right forward. It is very chimpanzee like but that is part of the charm. The pedal box is also slightly offset and you really need some snug shoes because the box itself is quite small. Definitely leave the Doc Martin’s at home before going for a drive.

Turn key and that peppy four pot burbles into life.  A blip of the throttle and that raspy exhaust note becomes all too real, select first gear and with Michael grinning beside me, we are off.

With 81kW of grunt and weighing in at a snip over one tonne, the 124 BC is lively to say the least. Not rapid but modern standards, but still faster than fast enough. “Take it right up the redline,” Michael commands, and I do so, resulting in a torrent of blissful audible internal combustion. His little tweaks have made all the difference in turning a decent classic Fiat, into a proper driving Italian.

I am also happy to report that third gear stayed where it was, and as a bonus, unlike some classics of this era with a manual box, you don’t need to double clutch with each shift. Simply run it through the gears like a modern manual and there is no fuss. Ah, you might be thinking, what about those dastardly petrol fumes capable of turning any sane driver into a light headed moving disaster? Well, thanks to Michael’s handiwork at tuning the carbs just so. There wasn’t any.

No power steering meant at speed you have more feeling on just what the car is doing at each point of a corner. However, those all-round discs required a firm foot to bring this peppy latin to stop in quick succession, but then again this is something gets used to.

The 124BC is more about handling prowess than grip and go. Heading into a corner at speed, with the merest coaxing left or right means you can set it up for a great corner with almost pinpoint accuracy every time. The Fiat also sports minimal body roll, allowing you to stay relatively planted in each bend. To be honest, it does get quite addictive as to how much speed you can carry through the twisty stuff.

The Fiat 124BC is one of the most underrated of all Italian classics. Yes the Alfa GT Junior and Lancia Fulvia HF have the biggest cult following. This is completely understandable as they are terrific cars, but the often-overlooked Fiat still needs its time in the sun. There are less of them around these days due to many examples sadly rusting away, but thanks to passionate enthusiasts like Michael and Lyn, the fire for this sweet Italian sporting coupe is still burning brightly.

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