1971 Fiat 124 bc Coupe –good and bad

1971 Fiat 124 bc Coupe –good and bad

This month we’re focussing on ‘young people’ and their classics – and, first up, we’d like to introduce 19-year-old polytechnic student, Scott Lowe, and his nicely fettled Fiat 124 coupé
Scott hails from Rotorua and is a good mate of Paul Lyons – you can check out Paul’s Ford Capri elsewhere in this issue.

When we caught up with both these lads in Rotorua it was clearly obvious that classic cars played a huge part in their lives and, as they’re students, it was also apparent they had both poured every cent they earned – plus every ounce of heart and soul – into creating their own very individual styles of car.
Scott is certainly no stranger to anything to do with classic cars, as his father, Mike Lowe, is definitely not unfamiliar to our readers as a regular Targa competitor in his Fiat Abarth – Mike’s Lamborghini Espada also appeared in last year’s NZCC yearbook.

Italian Classic

Given his father’s passion for Italian classics, it’s perhaps not surprising that Scott also has strong feelings for Italy’s motoring classics – and in particular for the Fiat 124 coupé. In Scott’s opinion, these stylish coupés are truly fun and competent driving cars that look fantastic when left in original form. 
They are akin to other Italian high performance cars, responding best to mild changes rather than radical street machine-type modifications.
As Fiats are somewhat alien to me, Scott was able fill me in on some details of the Fiat 124, a car that was produced in Italy from 1967 in three models, the AC, BC, and CC.

The 124 was introduced in spectacular style by being dropped by parachute from a plane, and instantly won critical acclaim for its spacious interior, advanced coil spring rear suspension, disc brakes and lightweight construction; it was a worthy recipient of that year’s European Car of the Year award.
The AC model began production 1967 and was equipped with a 1438cc twin-cam engine designed by ex-Ferrari engineer, Aurelio Lampredi, a five-speed ’box and torque tube driveline. It also featured a rear sway bar, 120mph (193kph) speedometer and sporty dash-mounted warning gauges. The interior boasted a fake wood-rim steering wheel with stainless spokes and a wood-grain dash and console top. The taillights were courtesy of the Lamborghini Espada, providing a contemporary rear design feature. For their time, the Fiat 124 sport coupés were quite modern in terms of chassis and engine design, with fine tolerances not unlike today’s engines and good braking thanks to four 229mm disc brakes. Other stand-out features included sealed cooling systems, ‘thermatic’ fans and toothed timing belts.

Throughout the production cycle, AC 124 coupés were continually improved. Changes included an open tail-shaft, wider rear wheel bearings, and the rear sway bar was dropped in favour of the BC-style Panhard rod rear suspension.
The BC (as our feature car) heralded a new look with a nicely restyled twin headlight front and different taillights, although they were again shared with a Lamborghini, this time the Jarama. The BC was available with both the 1438cc and later the 1608cc engines. Other details remained similar to the AC except the interior dash now housed a 140mph (220kph) speedometer and 9000rpm tachometer, while 1608cc models received a clock that was added to the new look ancillary gauges to match. The ‘wood’ steering wheel now had black painted spokes, and the seats featured cloth inserts. The wood grain inside was now history, and the BC gained more functional ‘eyeball’ vents in the centre console. The options list for the BC included green tinted windows, Cromodora alloy wheels with chromed centre caps, a radio, and seat head-rests.
The CC coupé was launched in 1973. Revised features included a subtly restyled grille and front section, revised squarer-looking rear tail section and deeper boot-lid, new vertically styled non-Lambo taillights and revised, larger side rear windows.
The CC began production offering the 1608cc engine, soon changing to a revised 1592cc engine before using an enlarged 84mm bore engine boasting 1756cc in 1974 and ’75. The 1592cc and 1756cc both used a single Weber 34 DMSA carburettor and, in spite of this change, the 1756cc was the most powerful standard engine, being capable of producing 88kW (118bhp) for an estimated top speed of 185kph.
The interior also received a make-over, this time with a newly restyled dashboard incorporating a lower panel on the passenger side, an alloy fascia panel in front of the driver with revised gauges and cloth-covered seats, while additional plastic was incorporated into the smaller items compared to the previous models. There was also a new non wood-grain steering wheel as well as revised, and safer, seatbelts. The optional, but not uncommon, Cromodora wheels lost their chromed centre caps, exposing the wheel nuts.

Scott’s 124

As I said earlier in this story, Scott is no stranger to classic cars. His first memories go back to when he was about two years old, when he would watch and help, as much as a two-year-old can anyway, his father working on Super Karts. He even remembers ruining his father’s chances of winning the National Super Kart Championships in Surfers’ Paradise back in 1993 when he accidentally dropped a small three or four centimetre bolt down the kart’s exhaust. After qualifying sixth out of 64 karts, his father was progressing well in fourth position during one of the final races when suddenly the engine didn’t like the bolt any more, and let go. Attributing the engine failure to “That’s motor racing,” Scott’s father, Mike, stripped the engine down in the bathroom of his hotel room and discovered the rogue bolt when it fell out. Mike made a call to Scott’s mother, and asked Scott to go into the garage a get a bolt. Scott was keen to do as his mother asked and returned with an identical bolt to the one his father was holding in his hands. After putting two and two together, Mike had a fair idea what must have happened.
When Scott turns 21 he is expecting a 1993-dated invoice for about $2080 and a cracked piston for his birthday. I don’t think some of us would wish to remember such things, but it just proves how different circumstances and events lead us to become interested in classic cars.
Scott remembers moving to New Zealand with his family in 1993, and he also recalls 1995 – the year the first Targa event kicked off in New Zealand, and when his father began building his now well known 1964 Fiat Abarth Berlina.
As Scott got older he enjoyed helping Mike work on the car, cleaning parts and, as Scott put it, “Doing mainly grease monkey stuff.” In 2003 Mike started building a Fiat 124 race car, and decided to look for a parts car. Thanks to a good friend, Phil Sutton, a suitable car was located in Wellington and brought back to Rotorua. After giving it a thorough going over Mike and Scott came to the conclusion that it was too good to wreck. Scott said, “I’ll have it,” and Mike agreed it would make an ideal father/son project. For Mike, this was a case of déjà vu – his first car had also been a Fiat 124 BC, spookily, in the exact same colour!

Bad News

Unfortunately, after the car made a trip to Central Panelbeaters in September 2003, its proprietor, Mark Lysaght, discovered that 30-odd years of weather had taken its toll on the 124 and, after poking a few holes through the car in various places with a screwdriver, he determined that the coupé was in need of some serious attention.
Undeterred, Scott spent most of his spare time, weekends, holidays and after school time helping Mark with whatever he could on the car – learning to grind, weld and properly prepare panels as he went. That’s of course when he wasn’t working at the local CD/DVD store to earn money to put towards the car.
Scott enjoyed this process immensely, but learned about classic car restoration the hard way as the estimated nine-month body restoration took over four years – it would not be until December 2007 that the painted body shell arrived at father’s workshop ready for re-assembly. Fortunately, the car was in good shape mechanically – the standard 1598cc twin-cam engine had been bored out to 1800cc and, along with the complete drivetrain, had remained in place during the body restoration, which meant the car was completely drivable when Scott got it back. It was originally painted in the same blue colour as you see it here, and when it came time to make a decision to choose a colour, Scott’s father made an offer he couldn’t refuse – “If you paint it the same colour, I’ll pay for it. Any other colour, you can pay for it.”
Scott’s not a daft – and he loves his blue Fiat 124.

Daily Driver

Bit by bit, night by night, the car slowly started to take shape, and in January 2008 it was ready for the road.
Now Scott uses the car as his daily driver, whilst continuing to add final touches – including a fully certified roll bar, and a set of 40mm Dell’orto side-draught carburettors, with manifold, which he received from his father as a Christmas present last year.
Other modifications include a slightly warmer PBS2 inlet camshaft, Fiat 132 electronic distributor and Abarth coil pack (Mike’s spare) and a factory 124 sump guard, all thanks to good friend and Mike’s co-driver, Phil Sutton. Scott has also fitted custom four-into-one extractors (off his dad’s old 124 race car), a brake master cylinder heat shield, Gabriel gas shocks and 51mm lowering springs. The car runs standard Fiat disc brakes all round.
Scott discovered a set of wheels in the back of his father’s shed, and although he has no idea what they belong to, he decided to clean them up and fit them to the car. They look as if they were originally intended for the 124.
The interior has been modified slightly to include Recaro high-back seats and inertia seat belts for safety and club sport activity, something Scott thoroughly enjoys.
Since 1993, at the age of just 13 years old, Scott has been involved with motor sport, helping out Greg Paul who runs Rally Tours (www.rallytours.co.nz), an exclusive spectator tour of each day of the World Rally Championship round in NZ. Scott has progressed through the ranks, and in 2007 was promoted to lead vehicle with Alan Brown. That task involves leaving before the tour, setting up parking bays and being a lot more official. With that role Scott gets his own official’s badge, enabling him to go anywhere at any time. Scott has held this position since then.
Scott has also enjoyed many track days Taupo in his Fiat, as well as competing in hill climb events with the Rotorua Car Club, and reckons it’s such great fun to drive the coupé at such events. His future plan is to perhaps buy a cheaper ‘runaround’ as his daily driver, reserving the Fiat for weekend use only.
Naturally, when undertaking any project of this type, there are always plenty of skilful people behind the scenes – and in this case, Scott would like to take this opportunity to thank his father; Phil Sutton; and Ian Savage and Dave Bang from Autoplus, Rotorua, for their expertise in fitting the Dell’ortos, extractors and distributor. He’d also like to say a big thanks to panel-beater and good friend Mark
Lysaght, for a brilliant job of making this Fiat 124 such an eye-catching classic.
I’d say that Scott has well and truly got the classic car bug, and if he continues in his father’s footsteps, there’ll no doubt be a lot more in store for him in the future.

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