Weekend Edition – V.I.S.I.T. – Preservation Class Edition

fiat 1

If there was ever a car that looked like it had been sitting in a garage in some town in upstate New York since the Carter administration, right next to a plaid sofa and a bunch of Atari 2600 consoles, this was it. I spotted this Fiat 128 2-door saloon on the not-particularly-mean streets of midtown Manhattan a while ago, looking like it had just recently come out of a decades-long hibernation. I think that might even be original 1979 grime on the inside of those windows. This 128 definitely had a sub-30K mile vibe to it, something that was bought, hardly ever used, and then put into the garage out back next to the exercise machine you used a total of seven times since buying it in 1988, and covered with Uncle Bertram’s old suits from his disco dancing days. You know, the ones that he’s been asked not to wear when we have company over for dinner, or when we all go out to the buffet at Ponderosa on Fridays with the Evanses.  

Barn finds are almost commonplace. We usually picture people finding some partially disassembled 60s muscle car in a barn in western Indiana that had been a resort and casino frequented by well-to-do mice from all over the zip code. Or at least that’s what we like to picture barn finds being, despite most of them turning out to be facepalmingly sad affairs, like grandma’s old Buick that she sideswiped the mailbox with for 22 years straight.  But since this is the northeast, odds are that a garage find is much more likely to be more random, more Malaise, and more European.

If this Fiat was incomplete somehow, it sure didn’t look like it.  Even the antenna at the passenger side A-pillar was in place, ready to clip a bicyclist’s coat. The door dings along the side of this Fiat, the ones right behind the passenger door, seemed like something that was inflicted by the same car over time, which of course suggests that this car sat in a garage alongside another car which was used far more frequently.

fiat 3

This is the type of barn find that I enjoy seeing the most. Not some 42% complete 1920s Rolls-Royce that’s going to need a quarter-mil resto, upon the completion of which various pundits in sport coats will turn their noses at and call it a “bitsa” or a “car with stories.” Or which will be upstaged at some concours by half a dozen slightly more desirable models of Rolls-Royces. So congratulations, you got 3rd in class at this concors, because your $200K resto wasn’t as impressive as the $250K restos of more original cars sitting next to yours!

fiat 2

Rather, the type of barn find that I like is a complete and original car that can be put on the road with just a weekend’s worth of wrenching, some quality impressions of State Senator Clay Davis, a couple trips to AutoZone, and one whose market value does not exceed $5K on eBay Motors. Especially if the maker of that car was chased out of the country after (circle one) long pattern of manufacturing snafus/tendency to dissolve after the first snow/Lucas electrics/financial ineptitude/violent labor strikes/complete misunderstanding of what America is all about.

Is midtown Manhattan an unlikely place to encounter a garage find Fiat that’s probably one of 3 in the entire state? Sure, but Manhattan can surprise from time to time like that. There are plenty of collectors of cars like this in the city and in the surrounding area, and there are still plenty of treasures, like some maroon Peugeot 604, sitting in garages in the five boroughs and north along the Hudson, just waiting to be found.

What common and once ubiquitous classic do you dream of finding in a garage?

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38 responses to “Weekend Edition – V.I.S.I.T. – Preservation Class Edition”

  1. Maxichamp Avatar

    Awesome find. My Michigander father-in-law's first two cars were these Fiat saloons. There was so much corrosion, during his and his wife's (my MIL) drive to California, they could actually see the asphalt below them through the floorpan. The second one died after being rear ended. They put the car on a lift to check for damage from the crash. As it was being lifted, the car collapsed onto itself like a black hole.

  2. stigshift Avatar

    Our next door neighbors in Maryland bought a 4door 128 in 1972. What a cool little car! Watched it rust daily until it went away in '78. I have always wanted one ever since, but they don't exist anymore. Did have an X1/9 a few years back, though.

  3. Lex Avatar

    It's beautiful! And that's a good question for which i don't have an answer, though it's getting to the point where an unmolested, pre-91 Civic hatchback might do the trick. I'd almost call myself sad, except that i started this by drooling over a Fiat 128. Yeah, nevermind.

    1. Maxichamp Avatar

      We're a hopeless lot.

  4. joedunlap Avatar

    Judging by the rust on the lug bolts, Im of the mind that one would drive this until the first blowout, and then retire it like an empty milk carton.

  5. Vavon Avatar

    I always liked the little Fiat 128. Somehow it just looks very cute.
    It was very popular in Europe, but even I can't remember the last time I saw one!
    I never knew they sold the 128 in the USA until 1 day when I saw one driving by in CHiPs.
    <img src="http://www.imcdb.org/i018207.jpg&quot; width="650/">
    And look what I just found on an Italian site… These pictures were taken in 2009.
    <img src="http://www.users.cloud9.net/~sus321/cars/128Hill1.jpg&quot; width="650/">
    <img src="http://www.users.cloud9.net/~sus321/cars/128Hill3.jpg&quot; width="650/">

    1. dukeisduke Avatar

      Vavon, I remember seeing the 128s when they were new, exhibited at The State Fair of Texas. I especially like the four-door sedan in red.

    2. duurtlang_ Avatar

      I can actually beat that. I took this picture January 12th at a preview gathering of a rally. It really stood out, in a positive way. I don't remember seeing it during the actually rally though, unlike the couple of DAFs, a SEAT Fura and a metric ton of ~20 year old Volvo, BMW and Audi wagons.
      <img src="http://i46.tinypic.com/xfz0ph.jpg&quot; width="600">

  6. Alff Avatar

    My dream once mundane barn find? Mk1 Sirocco, with houndstooth seats and the canvas sunroof.

  7. Felis_Concolor Avatar

    Being one of those freaks who enjoys stripping, priming and painting steelies, I like that particular bit of embossing; paint those things black with body color red filling in those depressions in the quadrants. Sharp!

    1. Maxichamp Avatar

      Any idea how I can repair curb rash on a rim?

      1. Felis_Concolor Avatar

        I tend to use the smaller flat files and lightly deburr if there's been a contact and the lip hasn't been chewed away. I just switch to a finer file for each stage of "doneness." For concave grinds, I have a few round files to try and salvage the lip.
        If it's very light work, I have this thing called a SandDevil, which is a multi countoured sanding block that accepts all standard sizes of 3" sanding belts, which gives me the full range of grits available there and has some nice quarter round, pointed round and a right angle section as well, so it's especially versatile for close-in work.
        After achieving the level of smoothness I desire, I can mask and spray some covering paint if I'm going for a cheap Rustoleum-style protection job – or I can occasionally have fun with with priming and painting those embossed wheels, as this photograph illustrates.
        <img src="http://www.desertshard.info/images/plog-content/images/sjards-test-collection/b3ta/062.jpg&quot; width="600">
        Those were prepped beforehand by a visit to a friendly local stone dresser, who enjoys the change of pace; I guess it beats polishing grave stones all the time.

        1. Alff Avatar

          Those are very cool. Is that an Alfa steelie on the bottom? I have four of those in the backyard looking for an application.

          1. Felis_Concolor Avatar

            I think it may well be, although I can't be certain. I do know the forest green powder coated steels currently on the Haf are Yugo wheels, as I personally removed them from a Yugo in a wrecking yard a decade ago. The "sunburst" wheels should be from a Spyder and the poinsettia-styled wheels could have been anything as I've seen those on Ritmos/Stradas, Bravas and X-1/9s.

        2. dukeisduke Avatar

          Those look like they should be hanging on the wall in a Mexican restaurant.

        3. Vavon Avatar

          Those are some cool steelies!

    1. dead_elvis Avatar

      This could use a set of steelies rocking Felis_Concolor's blue & yellow paintwork posted above!

      1. Felis_Concolor Avatar

        I miss the era when steel wheels were considered a part of the car's styling and decoration, instead of the "you couldn't even afford the base alloy wheels?" afterthoughts they have become today. Some of those embossings and stampings are every bit as beautiful as what is placed on modern automobiles – and the powder coated units I have on the Haflinger are tough as nails. I like the idea of keeping a set of body color or contrasting color coated steel wheels around for winter duties; they shrug off all the nasty chemicals many municipalities use for road clearing duties and a hose and brush can clear them out in an instant.
        I tend to focus on FIAT's offerings as they share the same 4x98mm bolt pattern used on my Haflinger – and I'm still seeking out a decent looking set of 12" units to fit modern mudders on, as the 13" size is nearly an orphan in the aftermarket tire arena.

        1. dead_elvis Avatar

          I know a guy with an elderly Toyota pickup, maybe a '70. He painted the wheels red & yellow. It gives the trucklet even more of a clown-car/toy truck appearance than it already has… and I love it.
          My studded winter tires are mounted on black steelies – they definitely butch up a Volvo 244 a bit.

          1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

            I appreciate that Volvo actually styled its 240 steelies, too, even though they were covered with full hubcaps from '86 on. My 244 is the same way, although I need to repaint the wheels.

  8. Van_Sarockin Avatar

    Nice FIAT. They used to be pretty common in NYC, but they tended to get beat up pretty quickly by the roads and traffic. Still, folks kept buying them.
    Sorry your Rolls got subbed, but yeah, like you say. I had a client with a 1920s Rolls in his garage, needing a good bit of work. I don't think he ever did a thing with it.
    I once took a look at a Lincoln Zephyr in an upstate NY barn. It was heartbreakingly complete and in excellent condition, with the exception of not having run in about thirty years. It would have been such a great deal and project, but it was so far beyond my capabilities and wallet that it would have been insane to take the car on.

  9. JayP2112 Avatar

    Top Gear "Crushing a Marina with a piano" aside- the Marina.
    It's basically an MGB sedan for bad and good. Gimme a weekend with one of these and I'll have it handling like a Sebring racer.
    <img src="http://gomotors.net/pics/Morris/morris-marina-06.jpg"&gt;
    Then the truck… didn't see that coming did ya?
    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/c1/Austin_Marina_Truck_1275cc_Reg_March_1975.JPG/250px-Austin_Marina_Truck_1275cc_Reg_March_1975.JPG"&gt;

    1. Jay_Ramey Avatar

      You know, I was just thinking about these the other day. They were sold in the US and Canada for a few years (longer in Canada actually, their stomach for them proved stronger) but so far I've never seen one stateside.
      A few months ago Tony Piff, you know from SCM, saw and photographed one in Portland that looked to be a daily driver.
      Would love to find one in the northeast to do a full article on.

      1. JayP2112 Avatar

        I'd never seen one in the flesh. I read about it in a British car mag back in college. I think I was the only subscriber…
        But the details for the US spec Marina made it sound like an MGB family car. Leaf springs, lever shocks, 1.8 OHV engine. I was enamored.
        Also… Lou Grant from Mary Tyler Moore had one. Sold.

    2. faberferrum Avatar

      There was one claiming to have only 60,000 kilometers on it for sale in Alberta for over a year. Haven't seen the ad for a while, maybe someone finally sprung for it.

    3. Felis_Concolor Avatar

      Lovely colors.
      While I definitely do not miss many excesses of the 70s (carpet in the kitchen and restroom; gaah!) I do enjoy the lovely variety of colors available for new car purchasers which was the norm for that era. Pea, avocado, mustard, butterscotch, squash and other colors straight out of the kitchens of the day still radiate a warm, welcoming aura 40 years later.

  10. Vavon Avatar

    What common and once ubiquitous classic do you dream of finding in a garage?
    After putting way too much thought in to this question: An orange base model Renault 5.
    <img src="http://www.pixauto.net/2012/mondial-automobile/renault-5.jpg&quot; width="550/">

    1. Jay_Ramey Avatar

      Daaang, that DOES sound good. I can't think of anything this minute that will top that, and most of the runner-ups are French too.

  11. stigshift Avatar

    I would love to find a first gen Civic 5-speed. They came with the wood steering wheel, tach, and houndstooth cloth seat inserts. I haven't seen one in probably 15 years.

    1. racer139 Avatar

      There was one here in Nova Scotia I dont remember what year it was but I was a very nice original car black with black and grey houndstooth and a four speed.. The price was the only thing that stopped me at $16000 I dont know if he ever sold it.

      1. stigshift Avatar

        Sixteen grand?!!!! Wow. I'm guessing that Canadian cars may have been equipped differently from U.S. models. Here the 5-speed was it's own model on the gen one series. All the rest had 4-speeds and all vinyl seats, plastic steering wheels and no tach. Five-speeds were CVCC 2 door hatchbacks exclusively. We also never had black available on gen ones.

        1. racer139 Avatar

          I have such a terrible memory. It was a cvcc and it wish I could remember if it was a five cog. I do remember it was a canadian special edition as the seller was SCREAMING it, I just dont remember what he called it. As for his price I doubt the car sold as it was for sale for about five months. Its more likely that it went into storage. If it didnt it would almost be a rusty shell by now, just joking. The winter her is really hard on these cars. If the car pops back up Ill send a link.

          1. Jay_Ramey Avatar

            With minimum mileage and near-concours condition that sort of asking price is possible. There was a flurry of CVCC sales a couple years back that gave everyone with an old and complete CVCC the idea that they were all suddenly worth 20K.
            A few weeks back I noted in a post that there was a no-sale 1979 CVCC wagon with a whopping 100K on the clock at Bonhams at Fairfield Concours in 2011 which was estimated to hammer right in that price range. http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/19385/lot/708/
            People see that, and that's how you get asking prices like that for a CVCC that spent its whole life in Nova Scotia : )

          2. racer139 Avatar

            The car was in better than new condition, definatly detailed to within an inch of its life. I wished I had the cash, it would have been mine despite the rediculous asking price Ive only seen two others for sale that were as nice, none of them in Canada and definatly not on this coast.

  12. BlackIce_GTS Avatar

    "once ubiquitous classic" Well, two out of three: '86 Aries turbo 4 speed, black with red interior, 2 door or wagon.
    Or maybe zero out of three, while K bodies in general were bankruptcy-avertingly common, that combination of features has slim odds of ever having existed. (especially the coupe)