Fiat X1/9 Essential History
Fiat X1/9 Beginnings
The Fiat X1/9 made its debut in 1972 as a replacement for the rear-engine Fiat 850 Spider and was one of the first truly affordable mid-engine sports cars, following the more expensive Porsche 914’s 1970 launch. The X1/9 landed on U.S. shores for the 1974 model year using slightly evolved versions of the Fiat 128’s MacPherson strut suspension and 67-horsepower 1.3-liter SOHC inline four-cylinder engine, engineered by Aurelio Lampredi. The X1/9 featured wedge-like styling from Lamborghini Miura designer Marcello Gandini at Bertone, and had four-wheel disc brakes, a four-speed manual transmission, and two trunks, one in the rear and one in the front. The latter trunk was large enough to carry a weekend’s worth of luggage or the X1/9’s removable Targa-style roof panel. These 1974 models featured some unique styling touches compared to later 1.3-liter versions, including smaller bumpers front and rear.
Though the X1/9 wasn’t a quick car, with the 0 to 60 mph sprint taking nearly 15 seconds, it’s 2,200-pound curb weight and mid-mounted engine ensured excellent handling and driving dynamics. In fact, early press launch events were staged on parts of the old Sicilian Targa Florio route and well-regarded journalists such as Paul Frere arrived home raving about the car which seemed much like a baby Ferrari to many.
Restyled X1/9: 5-MPH Bumpers and More
In 1975, the X1/9 received a slight restyling with larger and heavier twin-bar, 5-mph impact bumpers and the car went on largely unchanged through the 1978 model year. In 1979, the X1/9 was given a more comprehensive styling refresh with better-integrated single-bar bumpers and a redesigned interior with a raised instrument binnacle. A modest bump in power and torque were given with an enlarged 1.5-liter engine from the Fiat Strada sedan and a new five-speed manual transmission offered more relaxed freeway cruising. In 1980, Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection replaced the X1/9’s single Weber carburetor both to combat increasing emissions regulations and to restore some of the power and drivability lost from more robustly tuned European-spec cars. The X1/9 continued on like this through the 1982 model year, after which Fiat exited the U.S. market.
Bricklin Takes Over X1/9 with Bertone
But that wasn’t the end of the X/19 yet, as U.S. auto importer Malcom Bricklin struck a deal with coachbuilder Bertone to import the cars as the Bertone X1/9. Bricklin would sell the cars through his national network of dealerships in 1983, with new Bertone badging replacing the Fiat logos, new wheels and other minor changes. Unfortunately, the price of the X1/9 steadily increased and a car that originally sold for less than $5,000 in 1975 was selling for triple that amount nearly a decade later. Increased competition was also coming from Pontiac’s new Fiero and the 1985 Toyota MR2, both of which were more modern designs wrapped around mid-engine layouts. In 1985, Bricklin bowed out and Bertone continued to sell the X1/9 in the U.S. with a variety of gimmicks, such as a tacked-on rear wing, restyled gauges, fresh wheels and the like. By 1988 Bertone ended production, but there was enough of a backlog of unsold cars that you could likely still find a new X1/9 to buy as late as 1990.
Fiat X1/9 Highlights
In Europe, Abarth was likely the highest-regarded tuner of Fiat vehicles, and in 1971 Fiat purchased Abarth to develop its in-house motorsports division, among other tasks. In the mid-1970s, Fiat was heavily into World Rally Championship (WRC) competition and Abarth had developed the 124 Spider Rally to compete on an international level. Abarth also built a handful of experimental X1/9-based rally cars using the 124’s 1.8-liter twin-cam engine, producing more than 150 horsepower in racing guise with a trick 16-valve cylinder head. Dubbed the Abarth X1/9 Prototipo, the new race car was entered in a series of rally events in 1973, including the Giro d’Italia, but retired from most with mechanical trouble. The 1974 season went better, with Ferrari Formula 1 ace Clay Regazzoni handling driving duty in some events and the X1/9 Prototipos coming home with three race wins. Unfortunately, Fiat Group’s Lancia brand had also developed the Lancia Stratos (also designed by Bertone’s Gandini), with a 2.4-liter V-6 pulled from the Ferrari Dino 246 GT. Internal decisions led to the Stratos leading the motorsports charge and the handful of X1/9 Prototipos built eventually made their way into private hands.
Gian Paolo Dallara, a legendary automotive engineer who worked with Gandini on the Lamborghini Miura, also built a special X1/9 for motorsports with a fiberglass wide-body kit, a massive rear wing, and a significantly re-engineered suspension and drivetrain. The Dallara Icsunonove (X1/9 written phonetically in Italian) debuted at the 1975 Paris auto show as a Group 5 racer. Dallara only built a single car, but licensed the design to several privateers, resulting in about 30 cars built between 1975 and ’78. Fiat Group did take notice, subsequently hiring Dallara to develop several of its Lancia race cars.
It’s worth noting that the X1/9 was somewhat overbuilt for its size to cope with then-pending U.S. safety regulations that would have mandated all vehicles sold in the country to withstand a 50-mph head-on collision. The X1/9 was one of two production cars of the day able to pass the test, the other being a Volvo sedan.
Fiat X1/9 Buying Tips
For many years, the Fiat X1/9 was ill-regarded for looks which had become dated by the 1990s, its lack of power, and its questionable reliability. Today, rising classic car values leaving fewer affordable options have helped to lift the X1/9 out of perpetual ridicule. For less than $10,000, just about anyone can purchase this Italian classic with mini-exotic looks, a mid-mounted engine and a removable roof.
The most desirable X1/9s are the first-year, 1974 models for their more handsome bumpers and relative rarity. Late Fiat and Bertone models with fuel injection come next for their improved reliability and performance, while 1975-78 models are probably the least desirable to most buyers with their limited power and fussier temperament. The Lampredi belt-driven SOHC engine is relatively easy to tune for more power, and is engagingly high-revving with a redline of nearly 8,000 rpm. Drive belt changes are generally recommended at five-year intervals—pistons can meet valves if they’re overdue.
Fiat X1/9 Articles on Automobile
Another look at the affordable mid-engine Italian exotic.
Bertone’s bankruptcy brings the company’s X1/9 items to market.
Yep, the X1/9 is one of them.
Fiat X1/9 Recent Auctions
Fiat X1/9 Quick Facts
- First year of production: 1972 (1974 model year in U.S. )
- Last year of production: 1988
- Total sold: approximately 140,000
- Original price (base): $4,167
- Characteristic feature: An affordable Italian mid-engine mini-exotic, the X1/9 rewards its driver with handling prowess rather than sheer speed.
Fiat X1/9 FAQ
● Is a Fiat X1/9 a fast car?
Absolutely not! The best a 1.5-liter stock Fiat X1/9 can hope for is a 0-60-mph sprint in just over 12 seconds and a top speed of perhaps 115 mph. Downhill. In a tailwind. Fiat X1/9s are bought for their handling, heritage, and style—or because it’s the closest you’ll come to exotic car ownership.
● Are Fiat X1/9s reliable?
Fiat got a bad reputation in the U.S. due not just to sloppy quality control, but also due to poor dealership service department training and funding. Properly and proactively maintained, a Fiat X1/9 can be a very reliable car. Let the little things go, like regular oil changes and other preventative servicing, and you’ll quickly have a problem car. Because of the X1/9’s tendency to rust, it’s ideal to have indoor storage, which can double as a workspace. Parts availability is generally good for a car of this age with several U.S. importers competing for your business.
● Will the Fiat X1/9 increase in value?
The X1/9 has already benefited from a significant increase in value over the past decade, especially for nice examples of which relatively few are left. Whether the X1/9 continues to rise in value is anyone’s guess, but we wouldn’t buy one as an investment.
|2020 Aston Martin Vantage Specifications|
|ENGINE||1.3L SOHC 8-valve I-4/67 hp @ 6,200 rpm, 68 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD convertible|
|L x W x H||153.5 x 61.8 x 46.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||14.5 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||100 mph (est)|