Fiat 124 Spider – swinging back to the beat of the 1960s

England won football’s World Cup, The Sound of Music topped the albums charts and Fiat unveiled a new two-seat convertible to rival the best-selling MGB roadster.

London was swinging to a new beat in 1966 and car manufacturers hoped to capitalise from the same feel-good vibe. The 124 Spider wowed audiences when it was unveiled at Turin Motor Show that year, looking every inch as cool as a Ferrari.

Pininfarina styling and a budget price made the soft-top an instant hit –just a little racier than the more ‘traditional’ MG, with a whiff of dolce vita about the tasteful design.

Fifty years on and Fiat has launched a new Spider that captures the same spirit. It shares a platform with the popular Mazda MX-5 – a car that also happens to be it’s main rival.

Both offer a very different driving experience, the Italian powered by a turbocharged engine that requires plenty of gear-shifts to extract the most fun. Like Fiat’s 500 city car, the bodyshell shamelessly harks back to a 1960s original.

To my eye this is no bad thing. The MX-5’s slit-eyed headlights and angular styling lacks the charm of the retro Fiat – although the Mazda’s 2.0-litre engine is more relaxed around city streets and has been the number one convertible for decades.

Spider strips open-top motoring back to the best of basics, although my Lusso Plus model has plenty of standard kit, such as sat nav, Bluetooth and a DAB radio. Heated seats might be just as important for open top winter jaunts around the West End.

The Fiat sports a decent sized boot for shopping, a cheeky rasp from the exhaust and an interior that feels very smart indeed. It’s just a shame the infotainment screen sits flat on the dashboard like a bolt-on afterthought.

I wasn’t old enough to enjoy the swinging sixties but I’d like to think I would have been more of a Fiat Spider man that a MG driver. A car to put a smile on your face – even if we haven’t won the World Cup since.

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Has the Fiat Spider got the legs to beat the Mazda MX-5?

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For those of you lucky enough to be stuck in a dilemma over whether to buy an MX-5 or the new Fiat 124 Spider (pictured) I have to say there is no easy fix.

However, I can tell you that the outcome of your deliberations may well depend on how old you are.

Why? Well, I would suggest the Fiat is the better looking car. I can’t say there’s anything wrong with the Mazda especially, just that the modern design doesn’t appeal as much as the Spider.

But then I’m a sprightly 53 and my younger friends have no idea what the original 1966 Fiat Spider looked like – or why the cool bonnet on the new version really works for me.

It is going to be fascinating to see how the Fiat sells compared to the MX-5. I think there is a place for both in this world but the Spider, it has the legs on the Mazda for me…