Cute Lil’ Italian Thang

When Mazda reintroduced the concept of “sports car” to the automotive world, a whole bunch of other automakers, who had doubtless been told by Marketing that nobody wanted sports cars anymore, suddenly rediscovered the joys of a small, inexpensive, modestly-powered open-top car.

Of course, people had always wanted sports cars — what they wanted was a reliable sports car, which the Euros and Brits seemed to be incapable of producing (Alfa Romeo Spider, Triumph anything, MG anything, Fiat anything, and so on), while the US had never produced a sports car.  (Corvettes, Thunderbirds etc. aren’t sports cars.  The closest one we’ve ever had was the Saturn Sky/Pontiac Solstice, which was really the German-designed Opel GT anyway —

and  we were late to the party.  By the time these came onto the market in the mid-2000s, Mazda had gobbled up the market already.)

Anyway, Mazda ended all that, or to be more correct, they started it up again.  Now, all of a sudden, everyone else had to get back to the drawing board and play in this pool.

Enter Fiat’s little derivative of the older 124 Spider:  the Barchetta.

If it looks like the Mazda Miata, it’s probably not coincidental:

…because there are only so many ways you can design a sports car, after all.

Another sports car of the late 1970s was the Lotus Elan (which predated the Miata, and in fact was probably the car that Mazda used as their model):

Even Alfa Romeo replaced their old Spider (which was gorgeous) with a 90s lookalike (which wasn’t).  Here’s the 1980’s Spider:

Compare to the 2000 model:

‘Nuff said.

The only thing which set the Alfa apart from the rest was terminal unreliability a snarling 3.0-liter V6 which made the Spider so much quicker than the rather lackluster Mazda- and Fiat roadsters.  (Then of course there came new environmental restrictions [sigh]  and the V6 was replaced by a 2.0-liter turbo version.)

As Longtime Readers of this here website are know well, I love little two-seater sports cars, whether the 1930s MG TA, the Austin Healey MkIII or indeed, the modern Fiat 124 (a.k.a. the “Fiata” because in the Great Circle of Automotive Life, the 124 shares a chassis with the Miata.  Confused, yet?).

I don’t really care for the 1990s/2000s models, though, because that “bar-of-soap” shape was fashionable at the time but really, it’s dead boring.

However, all was not a complete waste of time.  Enter those maniacs at Abarth and a design firm named Stola,who took the staid little Fiat Barchetta and turned it into this:

Ooooh, baby… and that’s  the “cute lil’ Italian thang” in the title.


  1. The wife had a couple 2nd gen Miatas in sequence about 20 years ago as her daily drivers. Lovely little cars and fun. Had it on the track a few times, too. We even put snow tires on them and drove them in the upper midwest winters. At the same time they were incredibly small. Ask me about the road trip to Toronto that came perilously close to divorce from Miata-induced claustrophobia.
    The last one finally got replaced when the exercise of folding herself in and out became more trouble than the residual fun.

  2. > while the US had never produced a sports car.

    You don’t consider the Fiero (Pontiac) a sports car?

    1. Sorry, I’ll fix that. After a while, they all start looking alike…

      Fixed, now.

  3. I’m told that when Mazda designed the Miata, they bought three Lotus Elans, shipped them to Hiroshima, and did a detailed design analysis to figure out what it was that made a classic British sports car. Handling, balance, and of course a convertible top.

    Then they designed one to be as reliable as possible. And were smashingly successful. I retired my own Miata with 243,000 miles on it. Fantastic car. The only real drawbacks were getting in and out, and the lack of cargo space.

    1. IIRC the design shop that did the Miata for Mazda was located in northern San Diego Co./southern Orange Co., and headed by the son of a long-time lead designer for GM.

  4. I had a 2002 Miata that was a wonderful little car. It is said it is more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow which I believe is true. I had a lot of fun with that car, and I don’t recall it ever needing repair. I put lovely MiniLite replica wheels on it and a few other enhancements, and it was a ball to drive. Handsome in all black top interior and exterior. I believe I sold it for what I paid for it to boot.
    The Japanese did a great job of making English sports cars.

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