Fiat’s baby X1/9 is a real sports car success story. The quirky and diminutive mid-engined two-seater was built by Fiat from 1972-82, with its designer – Bertone – then taking over production and continuing to build them until 1989. Around 140,500 Fiat-built cars were sold, followed by somewhere in the region of 19,500 Bertone-built models, and the allure of the formula was undeniable: the compact and lightweight form, with its transversely-mounted four-pot directly behind the seats, was lauded for its supremely balanced handling. The pop-up headlights and removable hard-top panel offered a frisson of concept-car chic, and the styling called to mind a cross between a baby Ferrari and a Lancia Stratos. With fully independent suspension, disc brakes all round on a split-circuit system, and rack-and-pinion steering, the chassis was well equipped to exploit the fizzy power from the rev-happy little motor, and with nifty slimline seats inside it felt just as eager and perky as, indeed, it was.
The X1/9’s popularity meant that these cars used to be a relatively common sight on the UK’s roads. Nowadays, however, they’re pretty obscure – as numbers dwindle, so desirability increases. And there’s not a lot which can offer quite these levels of tactility and sheer, raw entertainment at this price point.
There can’t be many running and driving X1/9s in Britain showing such low mileage, and it does appear to be genuine. The car was bought by its current owners back in May 2019; they describe it as a ‘barn find’, although presumably it was a very dry and weather-proof barn, as the little Fiat is incredibly solid. The car had been off the road since around 1996 or ’97 before it was exhumed from its slumbers. It was the rust-free nature of the body and underside which really appealed, and they then set about overhauling the mechanicals to get it all back up and running again. So this very much isn’t being sold as a project, but as a functional and usable X1/9, MOT’ed and ready to enjoy.
Since recommissioning, the car has had light recreational use and proven itself to be reliable. The reason for sale now is that, quite simply, 2020 has changed a lot of people’s plans, and for these owners it’s no different – they now need the space, so a few cars in the collection have to go.
The V5 is in the owners’ name, and states that the car was manufactured in 1987 and UK-registered on 07/09/1988, having previously been registered overseas. The paper trail with barn finds is often sparse, but everything that has been done to the car by the current owners is documented with receipts and invoices and, having carried out the work themselves to their own standards, they’ll be more than happy to talk it all through with the buyer. Invoices are included for various parts, as well as for labour for jobs such as re-facing the cylinder head. The car is HPI clear.
Given the teeny dimensions of the X1/9, there’s not a lot of interior to talk about! One of the car’s key boasts is its ingenious packaging – newcomers to the model may be surprised to find that the spare wheel (which, incidentally, is a correct matching alloy) lives behind the driver’s seat, and wowed by the cleverness with which the roof panel unclips, lifts out, and can be stored under the bonnet without compromising the storage space for your shopping/luggage/what-have-you.
The seat fabric is in generally good condition, with just a couple of very small holes on the driver’s seat, which should be a simple topical repair. The car is equipped with red harnesses, and the aftermarket steering wheel, gearknob and gear gaiter are finished in a matching red trim. There is some age-related wear and cracking to the small rear shelf and the speaker mountings are loose. The door cards are complete, the mirror adjusters and electric windows work, and all of the switchgear appears to be present and functional. With the benefit of a good clean, it should all be thoroughly pleasant inside.
If the cliches are to be believed, it’s rust that’s the primary killer of Italian classics – so it’s reassuring to note that this X1/9 appears to be incredibly rust-free. A purist may be tempted to tidy things up a little; while the car has clearly had a respray in its original colour at some point before being laid up (as evidenced by some overspray on the bumpers and so on), the paintwork has done what most red paint does and faded at different rates, so we’re looking at a variety of shades of red here. Some tidying to the detail trim could be a to-do-list item; for example, the lower mesh under the front bumper is a little rough-and-ready, and there’s a bumper end-cap missing at the rear. The bonnet mechanism would also benefit from a little adjustment (it closes securely, but doesn’t quite sit true), and there’s some blistering and chipping beneath and around the badge on the nosecone. But these minor cosmetics aren’t the main story: what’s obvious about this car, having raised it on the ramp to view underneath, is that it’s all very straight and solid. This isn’t a car that’s immediately going to turn into an epic weld-a-thon; it’s one which could be immediately pressed into use and cosmetically tidied as and when the buyer desires. And the bits you can’t see appear to be as good as the bits you can: the engine bay is all tidy and in good order, as are the hidden corners of the rear boot. And yes, those iconic pop-up headlights are working perfectly!
Along with the rust-free nature of it, the oily bits are this car’s other key selling point. The 1500 motor is a good runner and the transmission works happily too. Hundreds of pounds have been spent on parts by the current owners to get it ship-shape, including (but not limited to) this lengthy list: cylinder head skim and rebuild, fanbelt and cambelt, top end gaskets, water pump, thermostat, brake fluid reservoir, brake fluid, clutch fluid, radiator cap, upgraded 4-pin headlight switch, light diodes, speedo cable, coil pack, spark plugs and leads, fuel filter, indicator relay, battery, driveshaft gaiter… the running gear works great, and the owners report no issues with the brakes, steering or suspension either. The car has a current MOT, and can be given a fresh MOT before the buyer collects.
There are few classics which offer such a perfect sports car package. The compact interior has a real cocooning effect on the driver, shrink-wrapping you in pleasingly minimalist Italian design, and helping you to feel very much a part of the performance as you thread the nimble X1/9 balletically down your favourite B-roads. The format is sublime; zingy mid-mounted motor, perfectly poised chassis, endless tactility and feedback – and it’s all wrapped up in a magnificently stylish package. Almost half a century after it was launched, the baby Fiat still looks like a spaceship from the future.
It’s also pretty rare to find an X1/9 so free from corrosion, and all but unheard of to find a running and driving one with such low mileage. And while an enthusiast may find a few jobs to do to tidy it up, this is an MOT’d runner in fine mechanical fettle, ready to be enjoyed right away.
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