In a word, as much as you can afford and care to, and, No.

We'd all like to win the lottery, inherit a small fortune, or otherwise evade that workin' for a living thing that takes time away from the important stuff, like driving fast with the top down … but it's a pretty safe bet that pumping money into restoring a 124S isn't even going to cover your costs on the back end. Series EE US Savings Bonds will appreciate faster than a 124S. I've heard it said these cars are appreciating, but I don't see any real evidence of it. Until we have a large enough sample, I'm not willing to extrapolate any trends from the index itself.

I think someone who wanted to go into business exporting California 124S cars to the East Coast for a quick buck could probably make a go of it for a while, but I'm warning anyone who will listen—put into the car what it needs to be safe, and what you need to satisfy your personal vision, but don't expect to reap excessive profits on your outlays. Those … interesting … interior treatments I've seen in the Caribou catalog won't add to the value of your car, UNLESS you can find someone else you shares your exact taste—and in matters of taste, there is no argument. Nor agreement. That expensive camshaft, wicked wheels and aftermarket fuel injection may make your pulse quicken, but they may leave a potential buyer wondering where he's gonna get all that stuff serviced, and how the heck hard was that car thrashed about anyway? If you must get out of the car quick, these items will impede your sale, and you will not recover the price by a long shot. Anyone who's made a documented profit on a 124S restoration or revision can freely dispute me on this. Wudja pay for it, wudja put innit, wudja get for it—keep it simple. Amateurs only, please—I assume people who do this as a business make a profit. (I also assume most professionals don't do cars on spec, but only for customers with cash in hand).

I'm in favor of stock vehicles in general—other than maybe a roll-bar and a rear sway bar, my `77 will stay much as it left the factory. I really like the painted wheels and the little hubcaps, they're honest and they look good, too. But if there are other tweaks that do demonstrably add to the value of the car, then I'm all for listing them and letting everyone decide for themselves.

End of sermon. The following are three perspectives lifted almost whole from Old Cars Weekly. They were authored by recognized experts in the old car marketing business, and you may take them for what they are worth:

Duffy Schamberger, of Duffy's Collectible cars, Cedar Rapids Iowa, said in January 1994:

“Basic rules: You cannot afford to do a full restoration in today's world. There are three ingredients to every car: (1) body and paint (cosmetics), (2) interiors, and (3) mechanicals. All are expensive and must be done right to have value and a car worth showing. You cannot afford to do all three things to any one car today, even if the car is given to you. You might be able to come out by doing one or one-and-a-half of the three components of restoration but not all three. BEST ADVICE—buy a car already restored. Let the first or second owner take his loss. The cost of labor and materials continue to escalate while collector car prices are flat. We believe costs will rise at least three percent this year to match inflation, and collector car prices may do the same; unfortunately, that is a wash—no profit, no gain.” (Nothing much has changed with the collector car market or the Consumer Price Index to change this since 1994).

Is the Spider really an undervalued car sure to appreciate in the future? You could score it against the rules of the road for investment-grade cars offered by the folks from the famous Barrett-Jackson auction concern (my easily ignored comments are in italics):

In rarity there is value. The less of a certain car made, generally speaking, the more it is worth. Mass production cars rarely achieve collectible status unless they become cultural icons like the `57 Chevy or the `65 Mustang.

Hmmm. Negative one point for the 124S, which comes from a manufacturer whose longest lasting impact on the American psyche was the “Fix it Again, Tony” crack. The Spider just isn't in the “instant classic” category, and as the Index shows, the cars are not in short supply. Take heart in the fact that your ownership of a Spider sets you apart from the great unwashed masses of Americans who believe a Buick Grand National GNX is the “ultimate driving machine.”

Beauty equals bucks. Apart from rarity, what counts is distinctive styling, how desirable the cars were when new, quality, and any special merit within the context of the automobile enthusiast community.

Ahh. The 124S gains a point to a 0 overall score. It's certainly beautiful. I guess they were desirable, inasmuch as it lasted second longest of all Fiats in this marketplace.

When the top goes down, the price goes up. Cars with special features are worth more: convertible tops (Yes!), high-performance engine options (Yes!), first or last years of a series, and special production runs such as anniversary editions, pace cars and so on.

Score! Add 1 for that lovely top, and another for all those lovely DOHC sounds coming from under the hood. Total score so far is three. Add more for your own car if it fits the other possibilities.

Buy brand names. Low production or special cars from major manufacturers, or even from small, eclectic manufacturers with a widely known history (e.g., Morgan) among enthusiasts are a better bet than cars built by people nobody has ever heard of.

Well—I'd take back one point for a total of two on this one. Others wouldn't. But whatever brand equity Fiat ever had in the US diminishes year by year. Some pump jockey muttered something about unreliable French cars (ouch!) as I coaxed the Spider back to life the other day …

Consider past ownership. Well-cared-for one- or two-owner cars are desirable. In race cars, events they've run in and who drove them make all the difference. Even in street cars, ownership by a sports or entertainment figure can increase the value (e.g., Elvis' Cadillac, John Lennon's Union-Jacked Bentley).

Add as any points for your car as you find appropriate. My car was last owned by Lambertville, NJ's favorite restaurateur, so maybe I get .05 of a point. In general, this doesn't help most 124S cars. Anyone got Madonna's 124S?

Cleanliness is next to godliness. Buy cars that are either in good, completely original condition or have already been subjected to a high-quality restoration.

Add points as appropriate for your own car. This criteria doesn't specifically enhance the desirability of Spiders in general. Score is still 2.

Love it or leave it. Whether old or new, buy a car that you like, and will have some fun driving while you wait for the value to increase. But don't drive too much, because low original mileage is still a consideration for buyers.

Sage advice. But I think it works against the Spider. DON'T DRIVE TOO MUCH! Say What! If you love this car, you will drive it. But higher mileage works against price appreciation. So … we've gotta drop a point back to one total. If you want a car that's going to appreciate, you've got to accept that you cannot drive it too often or too far … and driving it is what I love about my Spider.

Mountains of money are not required. Take a vehicle's enthusiast infrastructure into account. Lots of clubs and events will increase the initial purchase price, but provide ready markets and uses for your car, and insulation against the ups and downs of the market.

Let's add two points for the enthusiast infrastructure … and remember, when it comes time to sell, a couple of parts catalogs, some tips on where servicing is available, and maybe a free membership on you to FLU for the lucky buyer might help cement the deal. We're back to three points—knowing help was available was a strong selling point when I bought my car.

Speed is an aphrodisiac. As the turn of the century approaches, and alternative fuel and electric cars come on the scene, people turning forty to fifty will want the high-performance sports-cars they lusted after when they were young, bringing worthy cars of the 1970s and 1980s to the fore.

Okay, score one more for the 124S Spider, for a tepid four overall.

I hope the point of this exercise is clear—the 124S Spider has the potential to hold its value, but there are factors working against it. What that means to you, the potential buyer, is to buy quality at a fair price, and enjoy the car—but not to expect to make a killing. If a potential seller is telling you, “This car is one of a kind, there isn't another one like it, it's worth twice the $8000 I'm asking” (and he may actually have that much more in it), thank him for his time and move on. These cars are worth more as drivers than as rolling art.

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