By the 1970s, wedge-shaped cars had become de rigueur for European car manufacturers. At the height of the disco craze, Lotus had the Esprit, Triumph had the TR7, and the Italian manufacturers had seemingly abandoned all hints of curves with their new designs (Maserati Khamsin, Lamborghini Countach, Ferrari 400). Fiat, for their part, had the X1/9.
Based on a 1969 concept car, the Fiat X1/9 debuted in 1974 with styling courtesy of Bertone’s Marcello Gandini. The two-seat car was an early adoptee of the wedge theme, and carried a Targa top. The Fiat 128 sedan’s single-overhead-cam 1290-cc four-cylinder engine generated 67 hp, was placed mid-ship, and was mounted transversely. Packaging was incredibly compact, with a trim curb weight of 1,940 lbs. and a 46.1-inch height. Four-wheel disc brakes and independent suspension, as well as a four-speed manual transmission rounded out the package. Prices remained competitive at $3,917 (about as much as a new MGB), and more than 20,000 were sold.
X1/9s received a makeover in 1979, with engine displacement growing to 1,498 cc, and the cars gaining an extra gear on the shifter. By 1980, fuel injection was equipped on all X1/9s instead of a Weber carburetor, and horsepower was a resultant 75.
Fiat exited the U.S. market in 1982, although Malcolm Bricklin continued to import the car directly until 1989 under the Bertone moniker. These cars had a few more creature comforts like air conditioning and power windows, but were largely unchanged from a mechanical standpoint. Badging switched from Fiat to Bertone. Sticker prices climbed steadily each year, eventually topping out at $13,990. Paired with competition from Toyota’s MR2 and Pontiac’s Fiero, fewer than 20,000 Bertone X1/9s found new homes, and production stopped altogether in 1989.
The knock on the X1/9 has usually focused on the car’s lack of power, but that nit tends to miss the point. Their light weight, stiff suspension, and mid-engine configuration makes smooth and twisty roads fun. Just steer clear of the drag strip. Detractors also cite lack of storage and cramped quarters, though those faults tend to be less of a concern now that the X1/9 is beyond used-car status. As is the case on most old cars, beware of rust. X1/9s suffer from iron oxide invasion as much as any car of the era, and finding a rust-free example can be time-consuming.
The Fiat X1/9 is one of the most affordable entry points into classic car ownership. While the cars weren’t widely embraced when new, they do offer a fun and interesting ride for the price. Maintenance and operation are also very affordable, which continues to make the X1/9 appealing.