** Please note: This vehicle was subject to a Cat-C insurance write-off in November 2005 **
Guide Price: £7,000 - £10,000
﹒Only 75k miles from new with comprehensive history file
﹒Fully restored by chartered engineer
﹒Ready to be enjoyed
Here’s a question: following the Lamborghini Miura, what did designer Marcello Gandini do next? The answer is another transverse mid-engined car, which took inspiration from contemporary power boat design. At the time Gandini was Chief Designer at Italian design house Bertone and in 1969 he penned the Autobianchi A112 Runabout concept car. Although obviously destined only ever to be a concept car, it was the clear inspiration for the Fiat X1/9, sharing many of the design features and also the engine.
With a distinctive wedge shape, and a strengthened roll over hoop joining the C pillars, the car was conceived as a replacement for the ageing Fiat 850 Spider which could be sold in the USA, whose legislators were looking seriously at the safety of open top cars. The design was well thought out: the targa roof was able to be stowed in the front luggage compartment without impinging greatly on the luggage space, there was an additional boot at the rear and the spare wheel and fuel tank were neatly packaged between the engine and the passenger compartment. This located the bulk of the mass within the wheelbase, to the benefit of handling.
The engine and gearbox came from the Fiat 128 with the Single Overhead Cam 1300cc engine designed by Ferrari alumnus Aurelio Lampredi. The free-revving, rich-sounding engine, great handling and rakish design led to the X1/9 being christened a ‘baby Ferrari’. The car was sold in limited numbers in the UK up to 1977 by an importer who converted the cars to right hand drive, though there are no known surviving examples from this period. Fiat officially began importing the X1/9 in 1976 and a substantial facelift followed in 1979 which saw an upgrade to a 1500cc engine and 5 speed gearbox. This also saw the introduction of US-style bumpers to meet the 5mph crash regulations.
By 1982, Fiat decided that the model was too niche to continue mass production and the manufacturing process was moved to Bertone who continued to produce the model right through to 1989. These later models are badged as Bertone rather than Fiat and though a number of special editions were produced, the model remained essentially unchanged.
The current owner, a chartered engineer and electric race car builder, managed to buy his first X1/9 when he was just 25 years old. When the time came, it had to be sold to fund the purchase of his first house but when, in 2007, he was looking for a project car, he found the perfect opportunity to get back into an X1/9. This example was languishing at a dealer, sporting some minor damage to the front nose cone, a part which by then was long out of production and which resulted in the insurance company declaring it unrepairable. Fortunately his knowledge of the X1/9 network allowed him to track down a supplier who could fabricate a nose cone and a deal was struck.
He then set about a full restoration of the car including a full respray and interior re-trim with new carpets. During the intervening period it has been treated to stainless steel water pipe, fog lights on the front bumper, a new radiator, a reconditioned gearbox, new steering rack and rebuilds of the alternator and starter motor. A new fuel pump was fitted last year.
Since the restoration, it’s been very much a high days and holidays car covering only 6000 miles in the last 10 year. It has notably been on the London to Brighton Classic Car run (avoiding the breakdowns suffered by many) and a tour of Silverstone with the X1/9 owners’ club. Now, sadly, owing to ill health, the owner finds himself in need of an automatic car and is offering the car for sale.
When considering the purchase of a classic such as this, there’s no greater reassurance than a stack of paperwork, preferably neatly organised. Here a pair of lever arch files stuffed with invoices, memorabilia, MOT’s and the original owner’s manual accompany the car. Included are invoices for all the major work including the nose cone, interior re-trim and the assortment of parts which the owner has sourced and fitted. The organisation and presentation are a tribute to the attention to detail which has so obviously also been applied to the car itself.
With new carpets and re-trimmed seats, the interior presents extremely well. With a low-set driving position, the unusually-shaped gear lever falls nicely to hand. The speedo and reverse-sweep rev counter are clearly visible ahead and the glass rear window helps with usability. A modern face-off CD unit sits in the dashboard although remains largely unused as is right and proper in a sports car; the engine note provides sufficient entertainment. The buttons and switches all work as they should, though in truth they aren’t that great in number as this is a traditional sports car.
The bulkhead behind the seats retains its original trim and a fold out panel reveals the (original) spare wheel which is a clever piece of design as it ensures that the front compartment can be used for luggage unlike its spiritual successor the Toyota MR2. Behind the spare wheel is a removable panel that provides access to the distributor for ease of maintenance.
The targa roof mechanism works perfectly and stowage of the roof panel in the front compartment is a one-person job with practice.
Few would argue that the design of the X1/9 has aged exceptionally well and the car looks pretty and neatly proportioned, roof on or off. Red metallic suits the car perfectly and the respray has stood the test of time. The signature pop-up headlights operate smoothly and the targa roof panel has obviously been well cared for. The pristine original Cromodora wheels wear tyres that all carry a healthy level of tread, including the spare.
The passenger door has the adjustable mirror in the quarter light that was a feature of the run out ‘Grand Finale’ Bertone model but retains the (carefully sealed) mounting holes for the original mirror, should a future owner wish to put the car back to completely standard. If we’re being picky the only fly in the ointment is a ripple in the front bumper rubber but overall it’s in great condition and there’s certainly no outward sign of the nose cone replacement.
While it’s fair to say that the owner is not a fan of ‘dressing’ the engine bay, the new and reconditioned parts are all clearly identifiable and the car is obviously in rude health. It starts first time and the owner reports no issues as otherwise he would have attended to them. The exhaust note is a pleasant sports car rasp and although the current owner reports not being an enthusiastic driver, it certainly has the appearance of being ready to be enjoyed.
To address the elephant in the room, some will naturally be cautious about buying an insurance write-off but the care and attention to detail that has clearly been lavished on this car should provide more than enough reassurance. Over the course of the current ownership, the focus has been more on the restoration and less on the driving as the limited accrual of mileage will attest.
This means that this is a classic in fine fettle waiting to be enjoyed. Detailing fetishists could certainly gain some pleasure from the engine bay but the opportunity to buy and enjoy a well-sorted ‘baby Ferrari’ is surely the greatest motivation to bid. The targa roof means that you wouldn’t even have to wait for the warmer weather to enjoy the free-revving engine and sweet handling so go on, and give the bid button a tickle.
** Please note: This vehicle was subject to a Cat-C insurance write-off in November 2005 **
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