Question about rusty Fiats

Just a thought after browsing Fiat pages online and remembering Dad’s anecdote about his cut price Lancia coupe bought in the 70s. Of course rust is mentioned a lot

Did Fiat just have awful quality control in the 70s, or did they really receive a lot of dodgy Russian steel to build cars with? I’m not sure if the latter is an urban legend or not, Dad’s british cars from the same period rusted like hell too :slight_smile:

Can’t say about Fiat, but Lee Iacocca blamed the rust problems that plagued Chrysler products in the late 70s and early 80s on cheap steel. According to Iacocca, Chrysler bean counters had ordered it as a cost-cutting measure.

Perhaps there was a massive hike in steel prices in the 70s and car companies all over the world decided to try the cut-rate stuff.

There’s a current of rude joking in the auto press and among mechanics about Italian-made cars. Rather than trying to explain rust or mysterious problems, they shrug, smile, and say, “It’s Italian!” :cool:

There was a big difference in various makes of cars and their propensity to rust back then. Many did, especially in the “rust belt” where a huge amount of salt was used on the roads and highways to remove snow and ice.

I had seveeral cars rust out way too soon, especially the rocker panels. However, I had a 1953 VW bug and later a 1964 bug. Both I drove through New England and upstate New York. Both I kept six years. Neither had a spot of rust.

One reason, I believe, was that the entire car’s body was dipped in paint, so it was protected inside and out.

In the 70s I had a couple of inexpensive Japanese cars, which were good, but they also rusted far more than others on the road.

My impression is that most cars in the late 80s and 90s were much better, but by 1995 I was in Arizona where practically nothing rusts, so don’t know how they hold up today.

I can only speak to the FIAT X 1/9 and the FIAT Spider series…

The FIAT X 1/9 had something seriously wrong with the pre-treatment before painting was done. I know that Bertone and FIAT reputedly worked on several different versions of this, to the point where by the mid-80’s - the end of the US sales era - they claimed that they got it right. IIRC they went so far as to offer a 10-year “unconditional” rust guarantee which had so many conditions in it it would have confused the O.J. legal team. I know they did not change the metal at the time, but played around with many different coatings and such. This leads me to believe that maybe the metal was at fault, since the technique to coat and protect metal on cars was somewhat established by the Reagan era…

I will say that the metal of the FIAT X 1/9 of the 1970’s behaved very oddly - I remember distincly stripping paint off of part of the body one afternoon, and the next morning coming out to find light, powdery rust spots already having formed on it. A week unpainted would lead to tiny pin-prick rust pits - definitely not a good sign. This wasn’t just on exterior parts either - the inside of the engine bay had serious issues, which could become critical if you saw the dreaded “shock tower rust” - often meaning that your nice little sports car had just become a parts car.

People in States which did not road salt claimed incredible lives for the bodies of their cars, and for a very brief time X 1/9 buyers were trying to get “Arizona cars” if they wanted to make a show/collectable piece out of it. The same happens with many other makes, of course…

The FIAT Spiders had even more rust issues than the X 1/9, but the problems were exacerbated due to the weaker body structure of the Spider (the X 1/9 had a damn tough body, as I saw from the results of accidents, and as a result was woefully overweight for its engine). IIRC, the FIAT Spider 850 was recalled at least once due to massive, catastrophic rust that made the early versions “unsafe at any speed”, so to speak. I know that looking at same-year same-location Spiders and X 1/9’s always showed the Spiders with more serious rust problems, especially under the door sills and front suspension mounting points (the rear never seemed to fare as poorly, however). Again, this was blamed on road salt and its depredations, but I know that there were many claims that the Spider was made from what wags called “pot metal”, but no cites given of course.

Una, a FIAT assistant mechanic for about a year…9

Northern Ireland is in what you might call a rust belt, you can see a lot of difference between older cars from across border in the Republic of Ireland where, apparantely they don’t salt as much. You’ll rarely find old Ford Sierra’s, Vauxhall Cavaliers on our roads but cross border and you will, easy to tell the year with the Republic’s EU number plates too.

Una, I remember seeing photos in a classic car magazine of Fiats being painted using an electrolysis technique and my Dad’s was bought after the Lancia scare in the UK so was heavily rust proofed from new, but I can’t shed any more light on shoddy Italian painting than that.

The worst painted car Dad had was a Volkwagen Sirocco. Nice looking car but the first changed colour in the rain on the way home :eek: I remember it as the car something fell of the bottom of and the one the flying ants loved that one summer. Also the car that needed a push start when visiting Mum in hospital, good thing the maternity ward was up a bit of a hill.

Thanks all for the input :slight_smile:

It’s not just Fiats, a LOT of older vehicles had rust problems. Any given 60’s American car will have rust unless it’s been a garage queen or completely restored. I see old Toyota pickups that seem to run fine but have terrible rust problems.

I owned a Fiat 124 Spyder and didn’t have any rust problems with it for the couple years I owned it, but I had a 1978 MGB that had rust problems around the back wheel wells.

My friend God of Citroens says that the DS was a major ruster. It was built up out of lots of small panels, with lots of joints for water to collect in.

Excellent choice of vehicles, my Dad had one each of those cars before his Lancia :cool:

I wondered if it was an urban legend that Russian steel did for Fiats because, as mentioned before, lots of cars of the period rusted quite easily. Dad’s first Spitfire had a big hole in the floor he repaired by simply riveting a sheet of metal to the underneath of the car :dubious:

According to The World’s Worst Cars by Craig Cheetham:

(No mention of Russian steel in the Strada.)

That’s 'cuz the X 1/9 was designed for 1975 safety standards that never went into effect and nobody else designed their cars to pass (Cite: an R&T I have laying around someplace).

[aside] the 125 Spyder, regardless of anything bad one can say about it mechanically, was the prettiest classic post-war sportscar ever. Guigaro’s masterpiece, for my money. [/aside]