The Carchive: '87 Fiat X1/9

Once again it’s time to strap ourselves into the de Haviland Otter Floatplane of knowledge, skim across the cold, murky lake of time and go fishing for something from motoring past, to be dredged up from the depths of automotive history. Welcome back to The Carchive.
Recently I’ve had enough of England, frankly, so today we’re heading to Italy and the late ’80s, when the life of the legendary Fiat X1/9 was coming towards its end.

Enhance legibility (a bit) by clicking on the images

“At Fiat, we have a long, proud history of sporting cars.
In 1907, our cars won all three major European Grand Prix.
And with Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Lancia now all owned by the Fiat Group, we can draw on a tremendous pool of experience”.
That was undoubtedly the case, but by the time this slim brochure was published in ’87, the curtain was beginning to lower on the X1/9, and it hadn’t really had a massive amount of development since Bertone took over production from Fiat in 1982.
And in truth, apart from efforts in self improvement, namely developments in quietness, comfort, roadholding and attempts to quell that annoying X1/9 habit of wanting to return to the ground from whence it came as soon as possible, there was no real need to do much to it. This was because although there were plenty of other cars you could spend an X1/9 shaped sum of money on, none of them were really rivals.
“The leather trimmed steering wheel is perfectly positioned for a relaxed, arm’s length driving style”
Some people spoke of the driving position being a thing of glove-like perfection. Others, not so much. Nobody ever criticised the handling, though; nor the balance of the car. It was, quite simply, a little gem of a car, and if you could keep yours from fizzing away before your very eyes, you would surely never stop smiling. And whenever I see one these days, which is a rare occasion indeed, I immediately break out into a broad grin.
These things used to be all over my neck of the woods. When I was young enough that they were taller than me I genuinely thought they were little Ferraris, only as I grew did I begin to realise how tiny the X1/9 was. It’s certainly way too diminutive to stand any chance of being recreated for production today without gaining several feet in extra length and girth.
Though based on a lot of ordinary production Fiat components, the clever design thinking behind the X1/9 meant it wasn’t even really a car of its time. It seemed to be from a parallel plain of existence.
(All images are of origibal manufacturer publicity materials, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of Fiat SpA. New 124? If it ain’t got pop-ups, it ain’t shit.)

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  1. Mister Sterling Avatar
    Mister Sterling

    I remember researching the final year of that car in the US, and it mentioned how the ground effects and aero kit were dealer installed. I think Road & Track wrote that they were attached with a staple gun by a big hairy mechanic.

  2. Alff Avatar

    By 1987 they were sold as Bertones over here. I guess that wasn’t global.

    1. karonetwentyc Avatar

      True, but I seem to recall that that was yet another Malcolm Bricklin venture – IIRC, he didn’t have the rights to the Fiat name in the US after they’d pulled out of the market, so he badged them as the Bertone X1/9. Same with the 124 Spider.

      1. stigshift Avatar

        And don’t forget, besides his ungainly looking gull-winged eponymous SV-1, he also brought us the Yugo.

    2. Van_Sarockin Avatar

      They couldn’t be sold as FIATs any longer, as FIAT had exited the US market, though demand still remained for the 124 and X1/9, not to mention the Alfa Spider.

  3. Fuhrman16 Avatar

    This is one of those cars I can’t really stand in pictures, yet absolutely love when I see them in person.

  4. I_Borgward Avatar

    As a young car nerd, I used to pester our grade school librarian over his yellow X1/9. If nothing else, it sure was a cool looking little car to my eye. But roads were salted in winter like the bottom of a bag of pretzels there, so it didn’t last long. It was followed by a Citation, and a Vega preceded both. He sure knew how to pick them.

  5. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    I still can’t understand why people want these at all when the better handling, faster, better built, better in a crash, cleaner detailed,more economical easier to get parts for, first gen Toyota MR2s are still available.

    1. theskitter Avatar


    2. Alff Avatar

      I can

      1. stigshift Avatar

        Oh yeah… Because this.

    3. stigshift Avatar

      You have obviously never driven one, you blasphemous heathen. I owned one years ago. I bought it with 167k on it, and oddly enough, it was dead reliable for the year or so I drove it. And as much as I love my current NA Miata, I will always want another X1/9. It has soul. My DD Honda Accord is as flawless as a typical ten year old Honda, but it has no soul. Would you rather have a meatball sub from an Italian deli, or from Subway?…

      1. Rover 1 Avatar
        Rover 1

        Actually, I’ve driven a few. An early 1300 and some later 1500s, and as the owner of a Lancia Gamma Coupe I’m aware of the hold that can come from older Italian cars from back when European cars really did have superior engineering, especially chassis engineering.
        And compared to an MGB or Midget or 124 Spider the X1/9 is superior in it’s dynamics, as one would expect, being a newer design. But compared to a Fiat 128, ( from which it’s re-arranged mechanicals come), the X1/9 is heavy and underpowered. And the MR2 comes from just after Toyota, (and Japanese makers, generally), discovered chassis dynamics with their transverse engined cars. Yes an FXGT or Corolla hot hatch is a better car than an Alfasud or 33 to drive.
        Japanese engines are like European engines with American reliability. And IMHO, though it has it’s charms the X1/9 is not as good a car as the much later designed, superior engined MR2 in the same way that the X1/9 is superior to a Fiat 850.

    4. Van_Sarockin Avatar

      It’s a matter of personality and passion. The X1/9 always interested me since I was a kid. A girlfriend’s dad once offered to sell me his lightly used, low miles 1st gen MR2, probably at a good price. I didn’t give that more than about ten seconds thought. Later he returned the favor by not buying an Autin Healey 3000, when nice ones could be found for about ten grand, among my recommendations for fun, moderately priced old sports cars.

  6. karonetwentyc Avatar

    When I was in school, my geography teacher – a man who could only be described as a cross between Hyacinth Bucket and Napoleon – at one time had a metallic-green Fiat X1/9 that was virtually identical to the one pictured below.
    Its rear deck had a rather serious rust problem, one that was aided by the fact that several of us who didn’t particularly care for the man would walk by and periodically demonstrate our displeasure with him by picking little bits of rust off of it as we went. We really had nothing against the car, but this was a delightful way of causing him no end of personal embarrassment over the fact that he was driving an increasingly obviously Swiss-cheesed car with a propensity for not starting whenever anyone was within line of sight of him behind the wheel.
    Over time, our combined efforts turned what remained of the decklid into something of a latticework of poorly-applied-at-home filler, rust, and some remaining metal. I discovered this one day while attempting to just add some additional minor lightness to the car and unexpectedly removed a chunk roughly four inches by six inches in size from the panel in question. Coincidentally, it was at this exact moment that I became the world record holder of history’s fastest 100-metre nonchalant invisible sprint.
    He drove the car with its newly-acquired ventilation for a few weeks before tracking down a replacement decklid, which, if I remember correctly, was in a fetching shade of sun-faded maroon that made for quite a contrast with the remaining lurid green bodywork.
    That car ended up being replaced by a turd-brown (with matching interior) Opel Kadett D which he sometimes made the mistake of forgetting to lock.

  7. Van_Sarockin Avatar

    I still stick by my theory, dating back to the X1/9’s introduction, that an RX3 rotary stuffed back in there would be pretty slick. I recall calculating a power/weight ratio of something like 6 lbs/hp. Should have been enough, and light enough that lack of torque wouldn’t be so critical. Someday…

    1. stigshift Avatar

      I’d shoehorn the 3-litre Alfa V6 in there, if I really wanted to disturb the law of physics.

      1. Van_Sarockin Avatar

        And lose all that trunk room?! I think the polar limit of inertia is the devil in this detail. Great handling, but once it lets loose, there’s no bringing it back.