||FIAT / Bertone
||Fiat 850 Spider
||Mid-engine sports car
||128.A (1290 cc)
138.B (1498 cc)
||4-speed / 5-speed manual
The FIAT X1/9 is a two-seater mid-engined sports car designed by Bertone and built by FIAT Production lasted from 1972 to 1989 with the first official right-hand drive variant arriving in 1976. Intended to be the first affordable mid-engined sports car, the X1/9 is notable for its sharp styling, impeccable handling and a propensity to rapidly rust under all but the most desiccated of conditions.
Autobianchi A112 Runabout (X1/9 prototype)
The X1/9 started life in 1969 as a show concept car called the Autobianchi A112 Runabout, with styling by Bertone under chief designer Marcello Gandini. It was designed around the all-new 128 SOHC engine and gearbox (transmission) from the front wheel drive Fiat 128, but used these parts in a radical way, moving the entire transverse drive train and suspension assembly from the front of the 128 to the rear of the Autobianchi Runabout, giving a mid-engined layout.
The prototype car featured a distinctive wedge shape and took many styling cues from contemporary power-boat design. Though the more extreme features of the Runabout such as the C pillar mounted headlights and the small wind-deflector windscreen were lost for the production car many aesthetic features of the Autobianchi Runabout are readily identifiable on the X1/9. The long flat bonnet (hood) with central indentation, the large front overhang, the wedge shape with prominent C pillar roll-over hoop and the car-length indented plimsoll-line all made the successful transition to the X1/9 giving it a highly distinctive appearance.
Once developed for production, the two-seater featured sharp-edged styling with a wedge shape, pop-up headlights and a removable hard top roof panel (targa top) which could be stowed in the front boot. Stylistically, the car looked somewhat like a miniature version of its later stablemate, the Lancia Monte Carlo, which was originally called the Fiat X1/8, then later the X1/20 at the design stage.
The X1/9 name stands out amongst the contemporary FIAT automobile names for not conforming to the standard (at the time) numerical designations. FIATs of the time were named using a basic numerical system (127, 128, 124, 131 etc) denoting their relative position in the current model line-up, the X1/9 being the lone exception to this rule.
The name stems from the codenames employed by FIAT for their new development projects during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The 'X' projects were subcategorised as X0 (for engines), X1 (for passenger vehicles) and X2 (for commercial vehicles). The first passenger-vehicle developed with this code (X1/1) was released as the FIAT 128 in 1969; other known vehicle-codes are shown in the table below. Though originally envisioned as the '128 Spider', the X1/9 uniquely retained its prototype code through to production.
||Redeveloped as X1/20
Early production X1/9 1300
After high level of interest was shown in the Runabout concept, the car was rapidly productionised for release in 1972 to replace the ageing 850 Spider by Bertone. Not the 124 Sport Spider124 Spider production of the 124 Spider and X1/9 continued in parallel for much of the X1/9's life. The car's monocoque body was produced at the Bertone factory in Torino (Turin) and then transported across town to the FIAT's famous Lingotto factory for the installation of the engine and final assembly. In 1982, shortly after the introduction of the 1500 model, complete production of the car was devolved to Bertone and all cars produced from that point were badged as the Bertone X1/9.
1978 1300 cc X19
The first models featured a free-revving 75 bhp (56 kW) 1300 cc single overhead cam engine with an aluminium head. In this form, the car had less than dramatic performance, hampered somewhat by the surprisingly heavy body shell. The weight largely stems from the immense strength of the bodyshell, built to give the car the same crash resistance in US crash tests as a sedan. Ironically while the X1/9 passed these tests, many standard US models of the day failed them, and eventually the test criteria were relaxed. However the design was complete by then and so the bodyshell stiffness is considerable for a car of its type, and it also allows power plants of much greater power to be added without the need to beef up the standard shell.
For the U.S. market, additional emission control equipment and large safety bumpers were added, which sapped performance even more — an increase of engine capacity to 1500 cc with 85 bhp (63 kW) partially dealt with this. While the engine itself was widely regarded as a fine design, the fact was that the car was rather heavy for its power (though light by modern standards at about 2250 lb.), despite its small size and sports car aspirations.
Fiat considered making the X1/9 the basis for their efforts in rallying, but instead opted for the Lancia Stratos, a similar design also designed by Bertone and Gandini.
The last production models were named the Gran Finale and sold over the 1989/1990 period. They were a dealer modification of the Special Edition (commonly abbreviated to SE) of 1988/1989, with the addition of a rear spoiler and Gran Finale badges.
X1/9 Interior, roof off.
The X1/9 was not properly developed for production, and a reputation for problems dogged the model throughout its remarkably long life. The confined space of the engine compartment meant that routine maintenance was often skipped, and it also led to problems with overheating. A cooling fan was added for the carburetor, which otherwise would get so hot fuel would vaporize in the float chamber, leading to fuel starvation. The exhaust system was placed below a vestigial trunk, which would get so hot that it was hazardous to place things here. Early models were also prone to premature rusting to an extent that it endangered the security of the steering rack. There were problems with rapid wear of the transmission and in particular, failure of the reverse gear, even if the driver was careful not to use reverse on even a modest driveway upgrade, rather backing downhill into the driveway to avoid strain. The fuel system would produce extremely fine rust that would pass through the fuel filter and settle in the carburetor bowl, eventually blocking a critical passage that required carburetor removal and flushing - well within the capabilities of the home mechanic, but a nuisance nonetheless.
Despite its mid-engined configuration, weight distribution was not perfect, the normally excellent handling soon worsened with wet or slippery conditions as the front wheels could struggle to gain grip under the relatively light front end of the car. By removing the spare tire from behind the passenger seat and securing it in the front compartment the directional stability for straight driving was greatly enhanced and the ride somewhat improved, at the expense of its quick handling at low speed. The low mounted catalytic converter required care in selecting an off-pavement parking location, lest a grass fire be started.
X1/9 1500 engine bay.
In contrast to these mundane problems, and the fact that it was often dismissed as a "hairdresser's car" by some, the car was respected by those in the know for its tremendously good handling and dynamic qualities which made it a joy to drive and a real driver's car. One motoring review of the car after a 12,000 mile (19,000 km) test consisted simply of three words: "A baby Ferrari". Enthusiasts of the marque also took the standard lack of power into their own hands, and a popular do-it-yourself conversion was to transplant a 2.0 L Lancia DOHC engine in, boosting performance tremendously. Replacing the solid front brake rotors with vented Lancia parts was another common modification. A more modern alternative is the Uno Turbo engine (MK1 is easier), which is a straight forward engine swap. Also the vented Uno turbo brakes make an easy upgrade.
The removable hardtop, although not heavy, could be awkward for some people to remove and replace until the proper technique was worked out. Conveniently it could be stored in the front luggage compartment which had fittings designed to secure it. There was an aftermarket top made by Saratoga which was made of lightweight polycarbonate, and had the additional advantage of being transparent.
- ^ . X1/9 is correctly pronounced in Italian as Icsunonove: 'x' (ics) 'one' (uno) 'nine' (nove). Phonetically iks-oo-no-nov-eh. Engish speaking countries pronounce the name as 'x-one-nine', and occasionally (incorrectly) as 'x-nineteen'.
- ^ Before official right-hand drive X1/9s were manufactured by FIAT in 1976, Radbourne Racing were converting left-hand drive X1/9s to a right-hand drive configuration for sale in the UK marked. None of these early conversions are believed to remain in existence.
- ^ At the time of the X1/9's debut the mid-engined layout was synonymous with the glamorous, and expensive, Italian supercars of the 1960s.
- ^ The Porsche 914 of 1969 had a similar design-brief but was considerably more expensive than the X1/9.
- ^ FIAT and Lancia models of the 1970s were particularly infamous for rapidly succumbing to severe structural rust. This is commonly attributed to a well-documented deal made by FIAT with the Russian government for a supply of surplus Russian steel. The Russian government supplied FIAT with large quantities of steel in exchange for the rights and tooling necessary to manufacture a clone of the recently discontinued FIAT 124 (sold under the Lada and Zhiguli names). Though superficially a good deal for FIAT, who off-loaded their old design and tooling at a hefty profit, the steel they received was of an extremely poor quality. There is also anecdotal evidence that poor planning frequently left early X1/9 body-shells un-painted outside the Bertone factory before transportation to FIAT where the rusting body-shells were simply painted over.
- ^ a b The X1/9 was one of two new FIAT sports cars being designed at the time, the other being the X1/8 which was to be a closed-top 3.0 L sports car styled by Bertone's competitor Pininfarina. The project was redeveloped the X1/20 with a more fuel efficient 2.0 L 4-cylinder engine in response to increasing fuel-prices. The X1/20 was released in 1974 as the Lancia Montecarlo
- ^ The Fiat Ritmo was sold in the UK and US markets as the Strada.