Fiat has been a major force in the Italian automotive industry for decades, and its origins dating back to 1899 make it one of the oldest automotive manufacturers still in existence. While Fiat dabbled in some larger cars in its early years, it has achieved great success in the city car and supermini sectors; one of its most successful designs was the Fiat 600. The funky little car swamped the global market, with over 2.5 million units during its long production run beginning in 1955.
The Fiat 850 took over the role in 1964, and was a logical development of the 600’s diminutive rear engined configuration. It retained that small car charm that was one of the 600’s major draws, and added some much needed interior space and a marginal increase in power. Available in a variety of shapes and specifications the 850 soon became another great success, and it remains a desirable little classic today.
Which one to buy?
The Fiat 850 platform was a versatile one and there were a multitude of body styles to choose from. The basic layout was rear-wheel drive with the engine at the rear, which could be had in coupe, roadster, van and small saloon shapes.
While the transmission was limited to a four-speed manual, there were a lot of variations on the basic 843cc engine – with power outputs ranging from 34bhp in the standard saloon to 49bhp in the 850 Spider. A slightly enlarged 903cc engine with 52bhp was used for the updated Sport Spider and Coupe from 1968 onwards. All US Spec Saloons, Coupes and Spiders received a smaller capacity 817cc to avoid emissions regulations. As the engine is so receptive to modifications, it’s unlikely to find a car still powered by a completely original engine.
Abarth also made a number of tuned versions of the 850, ranging from the relatively sane Fiat-Abarth OT 850 and 1000 – which used slightly modified versions of the 843cc engine – to the off-the-scale Fiat-Abarth OT 1600 Mostro and OT 2000 models. With 1.6 and 2.0-litre engines, these cars had top speeds in excess of 137mph.
There were also limited runs of special sports cars called the Francis Lombardi Grand Prix, as well as some beach cars designed by Michelotti Shellette. SEAT also built a version of the 850 under licence.
A key factor in any 850 purchase is to ensure that the body is in good condition and is relatively free from corrosion. Rust is this cars biggest enemy and too much of it can make it unviable to restore.
Performance and specs
1968 Fiat 850 Saloon
Engine 843cc 8valve OHV I4
Power 34bhp @ 4800 rpm
Torque 40lb ft @ 3200rpm
Top speed 75mph
0-60mph 20 seconds
Fuel consumption 40mpg
Gearbox Four-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
The attrition rate of these little cars has been rather high, and original body panels and certain trim parts can be very difficult to source. Breakers yards, Fiat car clubs and online sources are your best bet to finding decent spares for your 850.
• The original body panels were not the thickest to begin with and rust can be a real issue. Most common panels were interchangeable between the models but make sure to check thoroughly around the car as a very rusty body can be difficult and generally financially unviable to rescue.
• Without any decent anti-corrosion measures or galvanising, cars that have spent their lives in coastal areas need to be checked over extremely thoroughly. There was even a recall in the US for rust related issues, many years after production had ceased.
• Transmissions are very robust and last for years. Flywheels can be hard to source and if the second gear synchro is crunchy, it may indicate an abusive previous owner.
• Brakes on most cars are generally drums all round with some of the sportier models getting discs up front. A fair few have also subsequently had larger Fiat 124 parts installed. This not only improves braking performance, but also makes future maintenance cheaper and easier.
• Engines are tough little units, and some oil leakage is perfectly normal. Check underneath for the engine oil pan, which helps re-circulate hot air and prevents heat build up. Regular valve adjustment and correct carburetion are vital for the engines to perform well, especially under load.
• HT Leads and the distributor cap can crack from excess heat in the engine compartment, so should be checked over. Replacements are cheap and plentiful.
• Cooling systems need to be well maintained, however in colder UK weather overheating is not as prevalent as in hotter countries.
• Electrical problems are par for the course, with an older Italian car so check that all lights, switches and gauges are functioning normally as tracing the source of an electrical fault can be costly.
1964: Fiat 850 launched in saloon body style replacing the successful 600. Engine capacity was now 843cc and available in standard 34bhp or Super 37bhp flavours.
1965: Fiat 850 Coupe and 850 Spider introduced, producing 47bhp and 49bhp respectively. 850 Familiare released, with seating for seven passengers.
1968: Spider and Coupe variants receive update and now renamed as Sport models with larger 903cc engine producing 52bhp. Fiat 850 Special launched as sportier version of standard 850 sedan
1971: Coupe production ends
1972: Saloon production ends
1973: Spider production ends marking the official end of the 850 series however 850 Familiare continues until 1976
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.fiatownersclub.co.uk - The Fiat Owners Club
• www.fiatmotorclubgb.com - The Fiat Motor Club GB
• www.ricambio.co.uk - Italian car parts specialist
• www.sfconline.org.uk – The Sporting Fiats Club
Summary and prices
Despite the huge production numbers, survival rates are low. Values on the other hand are starting to reflect this lack of supply, meaning that prices start at around £4000 for useable cars. You will have to spend something in the region of £9000 for restored or generally very nice examples.
Coupes and Spiders are in high demand and command a premium over the Saloons, with some pristine condition low mile Spiders trading for £18,000 and up. Abarth versions can sell for many times these prices, however finding an original one is a very tricky proposition.
With well weighed steering and sharp handling, these small Fiats are great for a Sunday blast. The small engines rev freely, and the low-grip but ultimately well-balanced chassis make for a small car that is a joy to drive.
Words: John Tallodi