A couple months back, I found a 1974 Fiat 128 Sport Coupe while searching for likely Project Car Hell candidates. Only 500 bucks, and the listing included those three magical words: Ran when parked!
Even though I live in a parking-challenged downtown neighborhood and have maxed out my off-street parking with several cheap heaps, I really really really wanted to go over to San Francisco and buy this car, that very minute (the listing included the ominous words "MUST SELL THIS WEEKEND"). My parents bought two brand-new 1973 128 sedans when I was 6 years old, and at the time I thought they were the most awesome-sounding motor vehicles on the face of the earth. In fact, the engine noise produced by those Fiats may have been what turned me into a car freak at an early age (I choose to not dwell on the fact that both cars were completely kaput within several years and sent my parents scurrying back to Detroit iron for the next decade). Foolishly, I decided that buying a Fiat wasn't my best move, and I never called the seller.
About a week later, I spotted a very Italian-looking profile in the holding yard of the now-defunct Hayward Pick Your Part wrecking yard. Orange, plenty of surface rust, hatchback- why, it's got to be the same car! At this point, I'm really kicking myself; this super-rare Fiat is about to get picked up by a forklift and dumped on the yard, where maybe 1% of its components will be purchased prior to its final ride to The Crusher a few weeks later (and yes, that's an early Scirocco in the background, also doomed to the same fate).
The engine looked intact and the car seemed complete. Junkyard employees just laughed, in traditional junkyard-employee fashion, when I asked about buying the car before it hit the yard: "¡Ja, Ja! ¡Gringo estupido!"
Fast-forward to last weekend. I was at the All-Italian Car And Motorcycle Show and here's an orange Fiat 128 Sport Coupe that sure looks familiar. What the hell's the deal here?
It turns out that the car on Craigslist and the car at the junkyard weren't the same Fiat after all; had I been a bit more knowledgeable about the 128 hatchbacks- which, needless to say, weren't exactly hot sellers in North America- I'd have recognized that one car was a Sport Coupe, while the other was a later 3C; similar cars, but different taillights and badging. The differences might be obvious to you Yurpeans, but I hadn't seen any 128s in the wild for many years.
And, in one of those weird small-world twists, it turns out that I know the car's new owner. It's Jalopnik reader Superasiaone, of Wedginators Buick-V6-powered TR7 24 Hours Of LeMons fame. The car just needed a tune-up to become a decent driver; you can read more about its story here.
The Buick-ized TR7 is long gone and Scratchy Bottom Racing is considering making the 128 Sport Coupe into their next LeMons racer. The car got pretty rusty during its long spell sitting in a San Francisco driveway, but the mechanicals are in great shape. Cars don't get destroyed in post-Altamont LeMons racing, so we might end up seeing a caged 128 SL getting track and street time in the near future.
Meanwhile, we can assume that the poor 3P and its Scirocco neighbor have been crushed by now, no doubt packed into cubes of metal in a Guangzhou-bound container ship at this moment. Contemplate the randomness of automotive survival versus death as you enjoy these galleries:
Fiat 128 3P On Death Row
Fiat 128 SL Gets Rescued