The thing is, even I didn't know that the original Fiat 124 was the blurprint for the modern sports car so this is all new to me and maybe even journalists aren't as knowledgeable as you in when it comes to Fiat.
That's just it, and I don't really blame the journalists. I do think they should know better, but I primarily blame Fiat USA. These guys seriously drop the ball all the time. They don't ever mention Fiat's accomplishments, and they have a lot of them.
Here are a few things worth knowing.
1. The original Fiat 124 Spider had a unibody chassis, Double wishbone front suspension, Double Overhead Cams, a 5 speed gearbox, 4 wheel disk brakes and intermittent windshield wipers in 1966. All this in a lower priced car, not something that's priced like a Corvette, Porsche or Jag.
2. With the model 128 Fiat created the now common front drive layout with the engine and transaxle next to each other in a transverse position. It's true that the Mini had a transverse front drive layout, but they put the transaxle below the engine in the oil pan. That configuration never caught on because it has some serious problems. The Fiat configuration has dominated the market place since it's introduction.
3. Fiat has dominated the WRC. Audi won that championship once and they never shut up about it. Fiat/Lancia has won 13 times (all with Fiat engines).
You won't see Fiat USA mention any of this in their advertising. I don't know why not.