The Fiat 124 Spider: The perfect fixer-upper for the novice gearhead

With summer right around the corner, even novice gearheads are starting to feel the need for speed amp up and are likely looking for a project to tinker on now that the weather is starting to warm up. While everyone wants to drive a mint-condition antique set of wheels, those kinds of investments are hard to justify for the casual muscle car lover, and maintaining the best American classic cars will usually require the help of a mechanic if you don't have a lot of experience toying around under the hood.

Instead, if you are looking to sow your wild oats this summer and turn your garage into the best vintage cars workshop, consider a starter car that won't break the bank but will help you learn the basics of antique car maintenance.

One affordable option is to go for less-than-classic cars that have the potential to be great investments in the long term that are as fun to drive as they are to rebuild. One such car is the Fiat 124 Spider, which graced America's roadways between 1968 and 1985 before the company abruptly exited the continent to focus on sales back in Europe.

The recent reintroduction of the Fiat badge to the North American market in the form of the peppy 500 has done a lot to help the resale value of older Fiats and has even made them collector items in their own right today. However, because the new Fiats still only occupy a niche sector of the industry, older Fiats can still be purchased at a relatively affordable price and offer the promise of even bigger returns as the company undergoes further brand-rehabilitation stateside.

The Spider has superb handling given its compact size and Italian pedigree and looks that could kill. Best of all, this model is a convertible, which makes it the perfect car for summer.

According to MSN Auto, more than 200,000 Spiders were built back in the day, and roughly three quarters of them were shipped stateside. This means that they are not hard to come by and a nice fixer-upper can be found for roughly $500.

What's your idea of a cheap, fun ride to toy around with this summer? Leave your thoughts below: