Before we tell you all about Mike Brewer’s 1974 Fiat X1/9 featured in the season premiere of Wheeler Dealers on the MotorTrend App and how much of a unicorn a relatively rust-free, running, driving, everything-electronic-working Italian car from the 1970s is—let’s talk cars and people. Car people can be split into two categories (with far too much generalization, of course): spectators and drivers. Spectating can be fun, but there are very few look-only-never-drive enthusiasts out there.
For the majority who enjoy cars for the driving pleasure—using too much simplification and generalization again—there are two categories: slow and fast. There can be much joy and entertainment in taking the slow route, cruising the highways and byways, enjoying the scenery and adventures outside of the rubber-shod steel box. But again, most of us enjoy the exhilaration of motoring in earnest.
Quarter-mile, closed course (paved or otherwise), or the twisty back-road in the hills you wish less people knew about—driving a car at or near its limit is where the most fun is had. But when words like “mid-engine,” “Italian,” and “sports car” are thrown around, most enthusiasts think they’ll never get the chance to drive a car described in such a way, especially after “classic” is thrown into the mix. But for the driving enthusiast of average means, it is possible, and Mike Brewer can prove it. Harken back to the aforementioned sexy little 1974 Fiat X1/9.
Styled by Gandini, Engineered by Lampredi, Priced for the Masses
Marcello Gandini and Aurelio Lampredi. Don’t sound familiar? How about Lamborghini Miura, genesis of the modern supercar? Or Countach? Lancia Stratos? DeTomaso Pantera must be a ringing a bell. Yes, the creator of the modern supercar design and the iconic wedge shape, Marcello Gandini, penned all those models and so many more while working for Italian design studio and coach builder, Bertone, including the Fiat X1/9. The monocoque of the X1/9 was even built at Bertone’s factory, right alongside cars like the Lamborghini Espada and Maserati Khamsin, then shipped to Fiat for final assembly.
The other guy just happens to be the famed Ferrari engineer who designed the naturally aspirated V12s and twin-cam, four-cylinder engines used to great success in Ferrari’s early 1950s racing efforts. In 1955, Lampredi left Ferrari to go to Fiat (Ferrari was then a subsidiary of Fiat), where he oversaw all engine development for Fiat and Lancia until 1977, then continued as manager of Abarth (think AMG for Fiat) until 1982. The 1.3-liter single-overhead cam engine that Lampredi designed for the Fiat 128 may have only made 75 horsepower—way up there at 6,000 rpm—but when it was crammed behind the seats of the 1,940-pound X1/9, it created one of those magical combinations that is more than the sum of its parts.
Iconic wedge shaped penned by one of the most influential car designers in history. Powerplant designed by the engineer who helped build the legend of the Prancing Horse. Engine behind the two bucket seats, four-speed manual transmission, four-wheel independent suspension, and disc brakes—sounds just like the top performance cars of the day, or even the modern day. Pop-up headlamps and a Targa top, even a separate storage compartment for the roof panel—cutting-edge styling for 1974. All that in a communicative and nimble package, priced at only $4,167 in 1974 (about $23K today) and rated for 30+ mpg combined; it’s no wonder Fiat moved more than 160,000 X1/9s throughout the model’s 17-year life cycle.
Mike Brewer Found a Unicorn 1974 Fiat X1/9
Old Italian cars made for the masses have a bad, but well-deserved reputation. They’ll turn to a pile of rust in the middle of the Sahara in a matter of minutes, but you won’t have to worry about that because more than likely the electronics stopped working sometime between final assembly and the first oil change. When Mike Brewer heard about this 1974 X1/9 with relatively no rust that was running and driving with all the gizmos working properly for only $5,500, he had to jump on it.
Ant Anstead was also in disbelief, but sure enough, no rust in the bulkheads, door skins, sills, or under the trunk lid—just a small hole in the windshield frame that Ant fabricated a patch panel to repair. The stainless steel coolant pipes running front to back are still solid, the pop-up headlamps work perfectly, the seats have been protected by covers seemingly since new, the 46-year-old suspension bushing and radiator hoses don’t even show signs of rot or cracking! An alignment job and a new rear main seal, along with the standard Wheeler Dealers paint buff later, and this could possibly be the best original Fiat X1/9 left in the world.
And what a perfect time in the world for this classic Italian sports car, too! The skinny tires on 13-inch wheels will lose traction well before city street-level speed limits are broken. The 1.3-liter four-banger is so underpowered, you’ll need to wring out every last ounce just to get anywhere. It’s a good thing the Italians tune an engine note better than anyone else. The wind rushing through the cab, the steering wheel transmitting every bump, the pulse of the entire machine communicated through your hand by the shifter, all while that Italian four-part harmony sings behind your ears.
A pure driving experience, it’s a classic, it’s Italian, it’s a mid-engine sports car, oh and it’s cheaper than decent used Honda Civic. Got the COVID blues? The Fiat X1/9 is the cure.