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Fiat X1/9

The Fiat X1/9 was never a great car; at best, at its introduction in the mid-1970s, it was a novel styling exercise and a miracle in packaging that yielded a tiny mid-engined sports car with the agile handling to match its excellent weight distribution.

By the standards of 1974, the X1/9 was not a fast car, running only about as quickly as the bog-slow standard family sedan of the time. When the car was discontinued in 1988, wearing a Bertone badge in honor of its designer following Fiat's pull-out from the American market, it was one of the slowest cars on the market, neck and neck with low-grade economy sedans and base-model minivans.

The 1974 edition ran 0-60 in a halfway respectable 11.0 seconds (respectable by the standards of the time, anyway), but by 1976 tightening emissions standards had caused the Fiat to fade to 14.0 seconds--an eternity in virtually any era.

What the X1/9 always had going for it, though, was style. Mid-engined cars are a novelty even today; in the 1970s, they were the stuff of exotica. With its extravagantly wedgy profile, intimate seating arrangements, and trim, tidy proportions, the X1/9 perfectly captured the time and looks sharp and contemporary even today.

Nowadays, you can find ratty old X1/9s behind gas stations, parked in alleys, and in fields--their marvelous designer lines left to slowly (or rapidly, as the case may be) rust away into nothingness.

I'm sorely tempted to nab one and fix it up to have my own boutique mid-engined, two-seat sports car, but Fiat's legendary unreliability, expensive parts, and typically casual 1970s approach to rust-proofing would probably make even a free X1/9 a very expensive proposition.

Someday, perhaps.

The international appeal of the X1/9 is displayed by the fact that these photos are courtesy of www.peterboehi.com, a German-language site that discusses his love of quirky cars and Fiats in particular. This is just more proof that Car Lust transcends national and linguistic barriers.

--Chris H.

Edit: This post was discovered by the fine folks over at X1/9 Automobili North America (XANA), and some of the posters there took issue with my characterization of their beloved car. Their counterpoints can be found here.

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I always wanted to drop an Orange series rotary engine in the engine bay, put a clear glass targa top on the top and replace some of the molding.

I always thought that with 200 horsepower, my X1/9 would finally be able to break into the triple digits.

Hmm, found some good links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiat_X1/9

Great image: http://www.channel4.com/4car/gallery/gallery.jsp?id=18&page=3

http://www.irata.com/x19/ -- he bought his for $200.00 and got it running for $50.00 more.

Not great and not fast? Well, everybody is welcome to their own opinion. Sure, it wouldn't break triple digits, but with that super-tight steering (The closest thing to cybernetic control I've ever seen, even in mega-dollar machines!) you'd never be able to control it. But, cruising down a twisty-curvy back road in that thing with the targa stowed on a nice day was the closest thing to auto-nirvana I've ever seen in my 30 years of driving. Sure, I've owned cars that would go twice as fast as my old X 1/9's, but I've never had or driven anything that was even close to being that much FUN!!!

Not great and not fast? Well, everybody is welcome to their own opinion. Sure, it wouldn't break triple digits, but with that super-tight steering (The closest thing to cybernetic control I've ever seen, even in mega-dollar machines!) you'd never be able to control it. But, cruising down a twisty-curvy back road in that thing with the targa stowed on a nice day was the closest thing to auto-nirvana I've ever seen in my 30 years of driving. Sure, I've owned cars that would go twice as fast as my old X 1/9's, but I've never had or driven anything that was even close to being that much FUN!!!

Hey, don't get me wrong - I'd love to have an X1/9. It's an object of my car lust, after all.

But no, it wasn't a fast car. Not in the conventional sense, anyway.

Not fast?
Well I have a 1500 as my first car, and the speed it gets off the line and round corners is just great.
And when u get the breif summer sun a stowed targa is a good targa

I got a 1974 Chrome Yellow X1/9 when I was a senior in high school (1975-76). Slow? Yes, but did that puppy handle! Tighten up the cones enough, and NOTHING could out handle it. I loved that car, and I miss it. I even dream about it sometimes. Yes, I STILL dream about it.

I also took it on a 10K mile vacation all over the States the summer after I graduated, with no problems. It really needed a tune up when I got home, and the tires were fried, but it was a memorable adventure for an eighteen year old.

I wouldn't mind picking up a perfectly restored one just for giggles.

HEY!!! We're are still around in the US as well. You can find us at Xweb.

Xweb : http://www.network54.com/Forum/366698/

I have 2 pretty nice X1/9s and my fellow owners at Xweb have many, many more. Here is a picture from a couple years ago when I still had 3. Not a rust bucket among them, thank you very much.

http://i49.photobucket.com/albums/f289/soshootme2/JimDecker_X19s/IM001716.jpg

I agree they are not fast, but they are fast enough to get your blood pumping in the twisties. Great fun and they are very rare on the roads these days. I like that.

Chris, I think you need to drive an X. We have owners all over the US, heck all over the world, I am sure we could find you a nice car to drive. :)


JimD, I would *love* to have a nice X, but unfortunately I don't have the disposable income to purchase and maintain it. Someday, when my ship comes in, I'll pick up a nice one and treasure it as the endearingly flawed but gorgeous little jewel it is.

Thanks for keeping the torch lit on these cars - we'll add the site to our navigation.

By the way, your three black X1/9s are *fantastic.* Completely beautiful.

Hi Chris,

Thanks for the compliment on my Xs. I like them too. :)

I was thinking more of getting you a test drive rather than you actually buying an X. :) I think you mentioned in another post you are up in the Seattle area. If so, the "owner" of the Xweb site is the Seattle X1/9 club. Hmmm... that's mighty convenient.

Ah, I thought you were trying to convince me to buy one. A drive would be a blast! I am in Seattle, and would love the chance to drive an X1/9, if anybody was brave enough to put me behind the wheel.

:-)

Let me see what I can do about that Chris. Personally, I am in the Midwest, but I will reach out to the Seattle folks and beg. :)

"Legendary unreliability and expensive parts"?

Parts are almost absurdly available (probably because the X shared components with so many other cars of that era) and affordable for a 30-yr-old import. I spend less on pads and rotors for all four corners of one of my '74 exxies than a Porsche-owning friend pays for just front pads for his Teutonic babies. Check out Midwest X1/9 at http://www.midwest-x19.com/ for a representative sample of what's out there and what it costs; several other Italian car specialists offer parts for the X at the same general price points.

The legendary unreliability is just that - legendary. They need a fair amount of preventive maintenance, as befits their age, but as long as they get it, they are as reliable as any other sports car of their era. It is perfectly realistic to expect to spend less than $3500 on a drivable X, do all the deferred maintenance for less than $1000 in parts and supplies, and have a 30mpg daily driver.

I would agree with Eric Hamilton. Just as reliable as any other similarly equipped sports cars from the same time period. Mine's a daily driver at 270,000 miles and counting, with 33 mpg overall. And you can't beat the handling...

I've always appreciated the X1/9's, because they are perfect race-fodder for my similarly under-powered Porsche 914s. Unfortunately, my 914s were never running when I'd come upon an X1/9, and when my 914s were running, I would never see an X1/9 on the autocross course to compete against.

These little 1970s mid-engined cars had plenty of power -- when used at the right time. Go to any curving on-ramp to a highway. Observe the recommended speed. Take the on-ramp at precisely double that speed. Feel grippy exhilaration. Do not try this in any muscle car from that era, if you value your life or the the muscle car. A 1980s' vintage Camaro that was tailgating me in my 914 once tried to follow me onto an on-ramp at speed. He lost control of the rear end of his car just as he was swinging on to the highway, and was nearly clobbered.

I have a 82 Fiat x1/9 and 76 Fiat 124. I am slowly getting them back on the road again. The x dropped a transmission a while back and gotta replace. Just have to find time. Love to drive them both

Not a fast car? Yes, but that's ok for me. I prefer to drive a Quick car. Any '70 Corvette could be driven in straight line to fast speeds, but wouldn't be able to negotiate hillside curves as good as the X1/9.

And for those interested in having an engine upgrade, gere's a tip: buy either a Fiat Uno engine or an 90's Honda Civic. Here in Venezuela lives a red X1/9 with an Honda engine and it just kicks ass. That's a good mix: Japanese reliabilty and Italian style.

By the way, have you ever seen how a great design could look even better? See the X1/9 with the Eurosport package:
http://www.x1-9.it/eurosportkit.htm
http://www.cascu.co.uk/X19.htm

It's handling was phenomenal. Had it the horsepower to match, it would've been worth its salt that much more. The integrated crash cage took out the stabilizer arm on the fire truck with which I collided. However, due to its poor reliability, low rust-resistance, and lack of available parts, the car was just not suited to be a daily driver. I miss my three (78, 74, and 81) but not the hardships that they put me through. Especially at a time when I didn't make a lot of money. Good times!

I'm 21...my dad has had many of these cars, bought em sold them and always kept his original its a collectors now! mint parts...i could not believe when i found one with NO rust for sale for 2grand canadian....the car started up perfectly with no problems or struggle. Yes im still in debt and need to do a few things, mainly electrical issues and some maintanence but i love this car! it FLYS around corners....its hillarius seeing a 50-60yr old man in his nice 70's jaguar just stare at my car and give me a thumbs up. Ive wanted this car since i could remember and now i have it so amazing!

There is no other car like an X 1/9. I have owned 4 and can't stop dreaming about driving them. This car can do tricks no others can match. Like red lining 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and back down between city traffic lights. FUN. They handle curves and corners like no other sports car I have ever driven. When you drive them too much in the air-polluted city and they become groggy. So slip out to the country side and red line them all the way. They wake right back up and drive like the greatest 4 wheeled creation on earth. Also, never mentioned, is the way the X 1/9 machine conforms to you and you conform to the machine. No other car I know of allows you to bond so closely together. Literally, you and the car become one. This is why there are so many X heads out there. Someday when I can afford it again (I had kids) I am going to get a mint condition black 1988 Bertone X 19. Then I can stop dreaming about looking for the car I misplaced. And as far as being a slow car? If mine had been any faster, I probably wouldn't be alive to write this.

The X1/9 is a fantastic car, whose "dollar-to-fun" ratio simply cannot be beat. Most of the previous posts have accurately covered this fact. These cars were very capable as issued from the factory, and with modern upgrades now available, the result is a car that handles and performs better than most new sports cars available today, for a fraction of the price. The chassis and technical design was cutting edge thirty years ago and completely relevant still today. Preventative maintenance is the key on these cars. They have a lot of aluminum components that require close monitoring to prevent galvanic corrosion problems. Common sense stuff really. Inspecting and lubricating the brake caliper mounts each season, using the correct mix of antifreeze in the engine, doing regular preventative maintenance inspections, and oiling the undercarriage and uni-body to prevent rust at every opportunity.

A large and loyal following of owners and afficionados exist, and the X1/9s popularity is being revived by people who experienced them when issued new, moved onto other cars, and now are seeking them out again because of their fun factor.

Furthermore, you can't beat a 13 foot length and 35MPG in today's driving environments. It is a great two-seat runabout, perfect for urban commuting, and again, perfectly relavent today. Dollar for dollar, one can make the argument that you can't afford NOT to resurrect a solid X1/9 as a daily driver in todays economic climate. It sure beats spending $40K on a new car that will be worth half of its purchase price in five years.

There are still a lot of good ones waiting to be found. No one ever seemed to throw them away. Even if they were basket cases, they were pushed to the corner of the garage, or behind the shed as a "future project". Because of that, a steady supply of affordable starting points are still being shown the light of day and finding their way into the hands of enthusiasts. We are happy to offer advice to anyone contemplating a purchase of an X1/9.

-Matt Brannon, owner
Midwest X1/9
www.midwest-x19.com

I have a 1984 x with only 10,000 original miles and it looks like new from the showroom.The original owner only drove it about 25 to 35 miles per year.I have always loved FIAT's when I was a kid back in highschool in the 70's. I had an 74 128 and my brother later had an80 131 Brava.Bt back then they were just another car and we never thought that they be a classic.I also have an 88 YUGO GVX which is the closest thing to a newer FIAT that you can get in USA.

I owned a '75 back in '78

It was the best handling sportcar for autocrossing that I ever owned. I have owned Porsches, Ferraris, Corvettes. They could not match the handling characteristic of th X1/9. A little down on power, and it was not the most reliable car I owned, but nothing could keep up with it in the corners. Perfect weight distribution. It would do strange things - like doing a 360 when going down a snow packed road. Weird

I am and always have been a seen a serious sportscar enthusiast. The first sports car I ever owned was a '78 Fiat x1/9 back in '83. It is one of the slowest sports cars I have ever driven and it is also the most fun. It burned less that a year after I bought it due to a fuel leak. It was slow, miserably unreliable and I loved it. Apart from the unreliability, I still think the x1/9 to be one of the best sportscars ever made. It is a perfect example of the fact that horsepower doesn't always make a great sportcar. That thing could really get under your skin. After it burned, I replaced it with a '73 Porsche 914, also a great car and faster than an x1/9 but not nearly as much fun.

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