In 1979, Danny O’Donnell bought his first Fiat 124, a 1973 model he saw sitting on the side of the road with a For Sale sign in the windshield. “The car didn’t run, it was kind of banged up, it had a gazillion miles, and the interior was a little ratty,” he says. At the time, O’Donnell worked at an auto parts store in Connecticut that had a machine shop, and he rebuilt the motor there. He then bought a second parts car for its clean interior and a third for its convertible top. With one solid driver and two partially stripped ones, he did what any intelligent autophile would do: started selling parts from the parts cars.
It didn’t take O’Donnell long to rid himself of his stock. “Back in the day, when you went to Fiat to order something, if it wasn’t oil filters or air filters, it took a minimum of 30 days or 60 days to ship,” he says. “People were buying parts from me left and right.” He bought a few more parts cars and parted those out, repeating the process for eight years before finally going all in. “In 1986, I had a chance to go to California to buy out a dealer’s supply,” he says. “I shipped 51 skids of Fiat parts back and said, I guess I’m in the Fiat parts business now.” He got a sign and a retail license in May 1987.
O’Donnell has since bought out dozens of failed Fiat dealers and repair shops. At his shop, Fun Imported Auto and Toys in Vernon, Connecticut, he maintains one of the largest stockpiles of vintage new-old-stock Fiat Spider parts in the United States. “I used to tell people that we could lock the door here for a week and build a brand-new Spider, with all the sheetmetal, engine bits, and interior,” he says.
O’Donnell doesn’t exactly need a new Spider. In the four decades since his first Fiat purchase, he estimates that he has owned “around 400” Fiats, many of them 124s, but a smattering of others as well, including some rarities. He currently has 76 cars in his collection, a hoard that includes a trio of 1966 Impala Super Sport convertibles he’s had since the ’70s, but he’s mainly focused on Italian iron (or alloy). “I have a 1958 Multipla,” he said. “I have a Fiat Moretti Sportiva. I have a Double Bubble 1958 750 Zagato. I have three 1983 Pininfarina Spiders from when Pininfarina took over production of those cars. I have four 1985-½ Pininfarina Spiders, which are really rare, final-year updated cars. I have a 1959 U.S.-spec 500, one of a few that were imported here with the big ‘bug eye’ headlights and bigger bumpers. And I have a few Abarths from the ’50s.” He mentions a Maserati factory prototype and a Lancia Scorpion from the factory race team.
I met O’Donnell because my beloved 1979 Spider needed its transmission rebuilt. I fell in love with that car as a kid, and bought one drunk on a trip home from China as an adult. I ended up visiting O’Donnell’s shop, buying many hundred dollars’ worth of other parts for my mechanic to install, and wandering through the towering shelves of gaskets, gauges, seatbelts, steering wheels, bezels, bushings, mirrors, and miscellany. I asked whether these stacks were arranged according to some obscure system to which only O’Donnell knew the key. He laughed. “It’s all in Fiat part stock numerical order.”
A shop and collection like this, a one-man operation, a labor of love for a beloved marque and make, raises the question of succession. O’Donnell isn’t married and has no kids. But he has a plan of sorts. “I’m guessing it’s going to go by the wayside after me,” he says. “But I have an agreement with the big guy. I’m going to work every day, and then one day I’m just going to die. And when I die—I already talked to him—he’s got a convertible up there for me, and I get to drive.”
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