Breathing Life Back into a  FIAT  124   Coupe
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Click For a Larger ImageI found this coupe on a Google search after spending hours digging deeper and deeper into the 44th page of Google minutia.  It was located in southern California.  It was a no-rust, no-dent body with an unknown transmission and an engine with parts scattered all over the car.  This jewel-in-the-rough had been sitting in a garage for over 9 years.  Price was $275.  Great price, but it was on the opposite side of the country.  Shipping was $800, bringing the total to almost $1200.  Still a good price since finding a rust free body on the east coast is next to impossibleClick For a Larger Image and finding and repairing a rusty one would be much more that $1200.   When the car arrived, I covered it with a tarp and let it age for another 3 years.  Too many other projects kept getting in the way (mainly the red Lancia Beta Coupe). Finally, something happened that forced me to start the resurrection of this sleeping beauty. The shop where I work on my cars was sold, so I had only two weeks notice to put this car back together, strip down two other parts cars and "Get the hell out of Dodge".

Click For a Larger about pressure!  I worked from sun-up to after sundown including weekends, trying to get all the work done.  I also had to get everything out of the shop by the deadline, including all the good AND bad parts that came off all three 124 coupes.  The last day and a half was reserved for getting all the good surplus parts out of the shop and transported back home and put away in my storage shed that was already bulging at the seams. Fortunately, I'm a deadbeat who doesn't have a real job, so I could devote 90% of my time to this crisis.   When I got it up on the rack for a good inspection I found that EVERY piece of rubber underneath the car was questionable at best.  Click For a Larger ImageHence the decision to replace the entire suspension system with the one from the 1972 racer. Working like a madman, I removed what was left of the engine, along with the transmission.  Just to satisfy my curiosity, I scraped the muck off the engine block so I could read the serial number.  WooHooooo.  It's a 1608, probably the most desireable twin cam engine of them all (some of the 1973s had 1608s, but most of them had the 1592cc).  That meant that I'd keep the engine for a rebuild somewhere down the road.  Next I pulled the 1438 engine and transmission out of the red 74 coupe and install it in the blue coupe.  The installation went quickly and flawlessly.

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Next job, replace the rear end.  Replacing the rear axle as one piece saved a lot of time because the brakes, shocks and springs were all done at one time.  I was working so feverishly that I didn't even think to take pictures as I went along.   I was lucky to take the ones that I did.  The rear end installation went very fast, but the front end was a little more problematic.  The springs from the racer were cut very short, making them very easy to remove and reinstall, but not at all suited for street use.  The front end was dangerously close to the road.  I decided to use stock springs up front (for now). The stock springs required the use of a spring compressor.  On a tip from a Fellow Fiat Freak, I got a free loaner from AutoZone and did the job without incident. 

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Click on the pictures to get a closer look.  With the engine, transmission, brakes (including master cylinder and booster pump), complete front and rear suspensions replaced, I was about ready to go.  One more time consuming job to go.  Any car that has set for 12 years is bound to have a gas tank problem.  I removed and tried in vain to clean the sludge out of the tank.  The crud would just not stop coming from the tank.  After wasting a lot of time on this fruitless endeavour, I decided to pull the tank from the race car and flush it out.  Much Better.   Installed it, filled with fresh gas, installed an electric fuel pump at the tank, connected the battery, pumped the accelerator a few times, turned the key and  VAARROOOOOOOOOOOOM. 

All that was left was to install the cooling system, bleed the brakes and take it for a test drive.  On problem did pop up.  As a direct result of the insanely compressed time line, I made some panic decisions that really caused some problems.   My section of the shop was in such disarray because of the frantic schedule, that I could not find the ignition key.  No problem, I had two other steering columns with ignition switches that I could install.  Well let me tell you buddy, those babys are a real bitch to get apart.  Then I find out that there's a difference between the BC and CC steering column splines.   No problem, that still leaves me with another CC steering column.   But that one has a questionable ignition switch.  And those puppies are nowhere near as easy to get out as the book implies.  I'm still struggling with that one. 

Click For a Larger ImageAfter getting the 124 ready to go home, I spent a half day on the 130 coupe.  I got it to run for a few seconds at a time but was not able to keep it going before I had to get back home and tend to other duties.  Bummer!  That is my biggest regret in the "closing of the shop" situation.  That I didn't have enough time to get the 130 running. I had to have it towed home. 

The last day, and the evening before, was devoted to getting all the good parts on the the trailer and arrange the ones I didn't have room for to be hauled away.  I took as much as I could off the other two coupes before the truck came to pick them up.  The only thing I needed that I missed was the license plate light that mounts on the rear bumper.  I know a lot of good stuff went to the crusher, but time had run out.....and that was that.   A bitter sweet time.  It really hurt to see two more coupes disappear forever, but one really nice one is going back into everyday service.

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This was the scene in the last few hours.  The trailer, the Scorpion, the 124 coupe and the 130 coupe were filled to the gills with priceless treasure and rain was on the way.   It took three trailer trips, loaded up Beverly Hillbillies style, to clear out my section of the shop.   I somehow managed to get it all into the storage shed after removing everything that had to do with the boat and taking it to the boat.  It was getting late and I still had to take another trailer load home with the Scorpion, call a tow truck to pick up the 130 coupe and drive the 124 coupe home.   Fortunately, the trip home was without incident. 

Blue Fiat 124 Coupe
Safely at home after a 12 year hibernation

Blue Fiat 124 Coupe
I don't know whether to call it Lazarus or Sleeping Beauty

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With daylight fading fast and drizzling rain, I made my final trip back home.   It had been a rough two weeks.

In conclusion, it was a totally exhausting experience that I'm glad is behind me.   But there's nothing like a dam bursting upstream to get you off your lazy ass and roaring down the road. 

Red Lancia and Blue Fiat

That brings me to my current dilemma.  I have four cars but I only have parking for two.  I can squeeze in three cars but not four.  The Lancia Beta must go before I can bring the 130 coupe home.  Because the Beta is my everyday driver, I have to finish the 124 coupe and put it into everyday service before the Beta can go. 

Why would anyone cut a big hole in the top of their car?

The Maserati wheels on the back are the ones that will be installed after the car is painted.  The previous owner installed a HUGE sunroof that covers almost the entire roof area.  It is totally shot and must either be repaired or replaced.  Either way, it will be a big pain in the ass.  Also, I still have to remove the cracked windshield, have the whole car re-sprayed and install the good windshield.  Then install countless bits of trim, both inside and out.  I've still got a lot of work to do, but at least it's running, and running well.

I do believe it's time for another Guinness.


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