The Fiat X1/9 was a small, two-seat, mid-engined sports car featuring the latest trendy 1970s wedge shape. The wedge-shape school of automobile design reached its peak during the ‘70s and is as much a staple of that era as pet rocks, polyester leisure suits, and mood rings. Italian design houses favored the wedge shape for numerous concept car studies and for exotic supercars like the Lamborghini Countach and the Lancia Stratos. The X1/9, designed by Marcello Gandini at Bertone, was one of the few wedge cars available to trend-conscious car buyers of average means.
New Fiat sports car
As the ‘60s faded into the history books, Fiat was facing the twin hurdles of enhanced safety requirements and increasingly strict emission requirements in the U.S., both of which were significant problems with its affordable two-seat sports car, the aging Fiat 850 Spider. The design group Bertone not only designed the 850 Spider, but was also producing the bodies for final assembly of the car by Fiat. By squinting their eyes hard and peering into the near future, Bertone could see the demise of the 850 Spider and their production work, never a good omen for a small design house.
Signore Gandini had styled the Runabout, a wedge concept car for Autobianchi, a subsidiary of Fiat, but it was too radical for Fiat’s taste and development budget. Bertone and Gandini went back to the drawing board and turned the exotic Runabout into a more practical small sports car to replace the 850 Spider. The development budget was kept within Fiat’s reach by using parts from Fiat’s then-new 128 front wheel drive sedan. Disc brakes, suspension parts and the entire drivetrain from the 128 were used in the new X1/9. The engine/transmission package was located between the rear wheels and the cabin to make the X1/9 the most inexpensive mid-engined sports car on the market. Fiat’s development moniker, X1/9 (X1 = passenger car and 9 = ninth variation) remained with the car when it went into production.
X1/9 specifications and performance
The X1/9 was initially powered by a 1300 cc SOHC, four-cylinder engine mated to a four-speed gearbox located transversely ahead of the rear wheels. The engine was the same as that in the Fiat 128, except for an aluminum sump and a cooling system expansion tank. The 1300 cc engine produced 75 horsepower at 5,800 rpm, but with a weight of only around 2,000 pounds, the X1/9 had a 0 – 60 mph time of 13.3 seconds with a top speed of 90 mph.
As emission controls were added, the horsepower rating of the 1300 cc engine gradually dropped to 61 horsepower. In order to regain some measure of performance, the engine was bumped up to 1500 cc in 1979 and a five-speed transmission was added, reducing the 0 – 60 time to 11.1 seconds and boosting the top speed to 110 mph. While not having neck-snapping speed, the X1/9’s extremely rigid body structure, rack and pinion steering, four-wheel disc brakes, and MacPherson strut front and rear suspensions gave it go kart-like handling that kept a smile on the driver’s face.
Fiat/Bertone X1/9 production
Following the X1/9 debut at the Turin Auto Show in 1972, Fiat began production for Europe and the U.K., but in actuality it was several years before right-hand drive versions reached the U.K. The X1/9 did not appear in U.S. Fiat dealer’s showrooms until 1974. It was well-received by car journalists and buyers alike. More than 20,000 were sold in its first year, with a $3,900 price that was comparable to a new MGB. Road & Track magazine commented that the X1/9 was, “One of the most refined and entertaining sports cars in the world today, with styling and handling characteristics second to none in its price class.” Autocar magazine’s Peter Wilson, after giving the Fiat X1/9 a 12,000 mile road test called it a “Baby Ferrari.”
Despite a wheelbase of slightly less than 87 inches and an overall length of only 150 inches, judicious placement of the spare tire and fuel tank gave the X1/9 sufficient interior room for two adults, and useful front and rear trunks. The removable Targa top stored on the inside of the front hood and did not restrict luggage capacity, even when stowed. X1/9 production between 1972 and 1987, its final year, totaled over 156,000 cars.
Fiat left the U.S. market after 1982 and Bertone took over all of the production and sales of the X1/9. The Bertone X1/9, as it became known, continued in production until 1987 when all production ceased. Some unsold new cars were kept on sale until 1989.
While the original Fiat version carried a price of around $3,900, when Bertone took over production, they added more luxurious accommodations, such as leather seats, and the price increased accordingly. New car prices of the Bertone model topped out just over $13,000. Prices of Fiat/Bertone X1/9s remain reasonable and the car is considered a good entrée into the collector car world. Remember to do your due diligence and keep a wary eye out for any signs of rust. The value of used X1/9s has not increased dramatically and the cost of any major repairs will quickly exceed the value of the car.
According to Hagerty, the average value of a 1972 Fiat X1/9 is $4,900, with cars in number one concours condition fetching $17,500 and number four cars in fair condition going for $2,700. Prices have remained flat for several years, so don’t buy an X1/9 hoping to make a quick profit on its sale.
Buy a Fiat/Bertone X1/9 with the idea of driving and enjoying it—remember Peter Wilson’s comment above, and think of it as a “Baby Ferrari.” When you arrive at a posh affair and step out of your trendy wedge-shaped ‘Baby Ferrari’ wearing your powder blue leisure suit, you will, no doubt, be the talk of the town.
Storia Fiat X1/9: https://storia.me/@SeeBorisGo/car-porn-aawf3/herbie-2pq6yw
My Classic: http://www.myclassicuk.com/fiat-x19-1972-1989-the-baby-ferrari/
Automobile Magazine: http://www.automobilemag.com/news/marcello-gandini-automotive-designer/