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Robs history & coupes
My name is Robert Catania, I have owed and loved Fiats since I was 16. I am from Vancouver, B.C. Canada. My experience with Fiats started in the early eighties, shortly after I received my driver's license. Admittedly, the thought of owning a Datsun 510 as a first car appealed to me. But that only lasted until I came across my first Fiat, a 72 128. Encouraged by my father's endorsements - "datsa de very gooda car"- I picked it up for $150. It was in need of some TLC but as I was young and enthusiastic, I thought it would be a good initiation into the world of Fiats (or possibly the start of a nightmare). I drove the car for about a year and then one day learned that my friend Dave had also recently purchased a Fiat. I went over to take a look and that was the first time I had ever seen a 124 Sport Coupe. It was a yellow 71 BC and I immediately fell in love with the car. I had to have one. After a bit of research I finally bought one. That was back in 1983 and I still own & drive it today! The car was a yellow 72 with a black vinyl roof and aluminum slot wheels. It looked a bit "disco" but I liked it and more importantly, the car had the sweet little 1608 under the hood.
One of the first things I did was repair some of the rust around the rear fenders arches and paint the car a brighter yellow. Searching, I found that the 1975 corvette yellow was the tone I was after. The cars original “mustard” toned yellow, code 242 was just not to my liking. So with the “new” yellow paint the car was very bright. Also looked very cool with the added black “Fiat” decals that went along the sides of the car. Drove it like that for about a year or so, but the car was lacking some real performance as it was all show but no real go! While searching I found that it was very difficult to find high performance parts at the time. After some time I finally came across a well-known father and son Fiat service garage called Clemente European Motors.(still in business today & same location!) I was very particular about the things I wanted to do to my car but I soon found that they had everything I was looking for: high end parts, accessories, know how, and lots of experience, especially with performance modifications and tuning. The other thing that I appreciated was the fact that Frank and Gio were straight forward and told me exactly what I needed to do and how to do it whether on my own or through them. When I went there for the first time I was quite surprised to learn that the owner's son (Gio), who was head mechanic, just happened to own my coupe back in 73 when he was 18 years old! That for me was really a treat to know. It got me more exited about my car.
So we hit it off great and eventually I actually got hired as a mechanic and worked there for many years until starting my own business. This is my connection to Clemente European Motors and the Clemente family. All that I know about Fiats (mechanically speaking) I learned through them. They tought me all their tricks and know how when it came to modifying and servicing the 124 coupe. Of course it was at Clemente's where I also met the youngest member of the family and my best friend Joey. We were both teenagers at the time and we both shared the same grandiose plans for our 124s. We used to taunt each other mercilessly about who had the faster Fiat (we still do to this day!) About his Spider (he also still owns his car today!) I used to say stuff like "You're never gonna go fast driving that woman's car!" To which Joey would typically retort, "Is that the best you can do? To beat me you're going to need your man's car and the second coming of Christ…" It made for a lot of laughs and a good friendship.
Anyway, back to the car. My first modifications were to the suspension. I had lower, stiffer springs installed along with Koni adjustable gas shocks all the way around and front and rear sway bars. I replaced the aluminum slot wheels with 13X7" Caroll Shelby Libres and Pirelli 205-60-13 tires. I noticed that the long trailing arm mounting points on the floor board side were very weak. Once I repaired those areas the car was road worthy with the new suspension. Upon my first drive I noticed instantly this completely transformed the car's handling abilities. I noticed a nice and tight turn-in response, improved directional stability, higher cornering speed and even better braking.
On to the engine: I saw the trophies in Clemente's shop to back up the stories I had heard and the pictures I had seen of their killer 2.5 Challenge coupe and I knew I wanted to have exactly the same type of performance. I was quite surprised when they explained that it didn't take much to make the 124 competitive, the Coupe provided a good platform for modifications and the 1608 motor was an exceptional power plant. Frank & Gio advised me to install a pair of 40mm Weber IDFs on an Alquati manifold along with a set of Breda 40/80-80/40 cams. No porting, no valve work. I did however install a set of new 80mm (10mm domed) "ASSO" pistons measuring at least 11:1 compression but I did no lightening or balancing to the other internals. I used a block mounted electronic ignition adapted from a Lancia Beta and then finished everything off with an Ansa header & muffler; basic bolt on stuff.
The results were better than I had anticipated. The motor made a solid 145hp and revved off the tach. This doesn't sound like much by today's lofty standards of engine output but let's put this in perspective, it was 1984 and there were no 1600s that could come close. I had so much fun racing Datsun 510s, Vw siroccos, BMW1600/2002 and even 240Zs did not scare me. In fact, I was eating up a lot of bigger displacement cars, even modified ones. Every now and again I like to bug Joey's older brother Gio about a certain race involving my 1608 and his bad-ass two liter Alfa GTV? dead even! To this day he'll downplay it. But we know... The coolest attribute of that 1608 was what we referred to as "the whistle". Like nothing I ever experienced before or since, the Webers on that 1608 created the most incredible sound. It was a high pitched whine which, people tell me, was most audible when I was coming up behind them at about 8500 rpm. It really rattled a few people; especially dumb V-8 muscle car goons who would ask if I was running a small block with a blower. As I was a rather cocky young Italian, my typical response to these guys was a simple middle-fingered salute as I drove away and laughed.
Cosmetically, the wheels were very appealing and complemented the car's "look-at-me" yellow paint by lending it a sporting but altogether more business like demeanor. The car still lacked something though; a front spoiler. The old school spoiler that Gio had on the car was long gone so I had to shop around. Most Coupes around at this time, assuming they had any spoiler at all, usually sported something adapted from Datsun 510s or VW Sciroccos or worse, really bad homemade items. They looked awful. That said, I realized that a homemade job did not necessarily have to equate to a bad one. So I decided to fabricate my own front spoiler. My principle design criteria were that the spoiler was to be functional, that it should fit perfectly, mount easily and above all, be aesthetically balanced and pleasing.It was a hell of a lot of work molding the contours with sheet metal, plastic filler and fiberglass. But in the end it turned out to be a masterpiece. All the edges were clean and the fit was precise. The spoiler's profile presented a natural and uninterrupted progression of curvature integrating nicely into the lower front wheel arch. Not only did the car look classier, but its handling characteristics changed now as well. The car was much more stable at speed and the bit of lip on the spoiler provided sufficient load on the front end to enhance the grip in turns as well.
My penchant for more power was still not satisfied though. Next order of business was a carburetion upgrade to two 44mm IDFs. I would not recommend this upgrade if the majority of your driving is in and around town, 40s are more than enough for that. However, since I did a considerable amount of driving on the open road and on open track days, I wanted to maximize the output. The difference in top end thrust was quite impressive, so much so that I felt compelled to put the 40's back on just to double check. The motor just kept pulling now, well into the red line (8500 rpm) in each gear finally topping out in fifth at 7500 rpm!. For an 18 year old this was a tremendous rush. Naturally, cruising around at night under Vancouver's lights was always an adventure. In retrospect, I think I was lucky not to get myself into any trouble or even hurt given the amount of racing I did. And like most typical teenage smart-asses I took on anybody from Alfa GTVs to V-8s, it didn't matter. I loved to mess with their minds. Fortunately, we had enough sense to take it out of the city and for me a more appropriate proving ground was the track.
As a testament to just how good 124s are, this car was driven everyday to work and back as well as to track events and car shows on weekends without missing a beat. The key is simple; regular maintenance. By 1987 though the age of the car was taking its toll and it became clear to me that if I had any intention of keeping this car going any longer the maintenance would have to be extended to include bodywork. There were areas where rust was becoming more evident and I was disinclined to patch jobs here and there. If bodywork was to be done it would have to be done correctly, one time. That is when I finally took the car off the road and started my step by step 5-year restoration.
My Imacculate one of a kind 1972 BC US model
My Imacculate 1971 BC US model
My 1968 AC with A/C
My old 1974 CC coupe 1756cc (RIP)
My old red 1972 BC