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FIat X1/9

Published: 21st Apr 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

FIat X1/9
Interiors are fragile so inspect with care Interiors are fragile so inspect with care
Engines are usually robust but hot starting and overheating are worries Engines are usually robust but hot starting and overheating are worries
Pop up headlamps should work okay - if not suspect duff motor or a shunt Pop up headlamps should work okay - if not suspect duff motor or a shunt
Rear boot is pretty practical but a known rust point; check the wheel wells and the boot floor thoroughly. Rear boot is pretty practical but a known rust point; check the wheel wells and the boot floor thoroughly.
X1/9s rot everywhere, especially the doors and rear arches. X1/9s rot everywhere, especially the doors and rear arches.
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What is a Fiat X1/9?

It’s a baby Ferrari in all but name – and at prices you can’t buy a decent MG Midget for! Fiat’s X1/9 is arguably the most overlooked compact sport car around and bristles with super car design thinking even though it’s loosely based upon a humble Fiat 128 (an Italian Escort to you). They rot like mad, but a good one offers Prancing Horse frills for Ford money.


The X1/9 was conceived not by Fiat but by famous Italian stylist Bertone at the start of the 1970s. Based upon the excellent Fiat 128 saloon the engine was fitted midships in a razor sharp body featuring a lift off targa top that was state-of-the-art back then and even now doesn’t seem that dated. Certainly the chassis isn’t: all independent McPherson struts with disc brakes all round and rack and pinion steering: some moderns can’t match this spec. By the time the car was introduced in 1972 it wore the perky 73bhp 1.3-litre engine first seen in the 128 Rallye. The car wasn’t officially launched in the UK until 1977 and by this time alloys, front driving lamps tinted glass and even some snazzy soft luggage bags for that overnight stop were part of the (c£3000) deal.

A (highly coveted) special edition Lido, featuring chrome bumpers, came out a year later while for 1979 the X1/9 was updated to appease the US market where it was going down a storm. Larger, uglier impact absorbing bumpers were now fitted along with a bigger engine cover. The good news however was the adoption of a 1.5-litre engine (with fivespeed gearbox) taken from the Strada. Kicking out 85bhp it gave the X1/9 the sort of pep those looks had always cried out for, althoughit still wasn’t quick enough for the money asked.

Even though the X1/9 was a surprising sales success and loved by all who drove one, Fiat always distanced itself from the car, doing as little as it could get away with when it came to updating. Indeed in 1981 it handed over production to Bertone, leading to the car now being so badged as well as a VS model for the UK market boasting leather trim and electric windows. Further titivation included revises in 1984 and ’86 with the Gran Finale version introduced in 1989, identified by its special wheels and trim (and an ungainly rear spoiler). A properly updated X1/9 has been in production since 1985 and it’s been an even bigger success – it’s called the Toyota MR2…


When the X1/9 was first shown, it was a sensation and way ahead of the competition in terms of design and dynamics. Compared to the likes of a Midget, MGB and Spitfire it was in another league. Fast forward three decades and the Fiat is one of the few classics that, unmodified, can still cut it on modern roads. Weighing over 2400kg it’s not quick but the pleasure is derived from exploiting that sensitive mid-engined handling.

True, on skinny 165/70s, grip levels aren’t superglue class but the Fiat’s precision and agility more than compensates. The brakes are discs all round and good although watch for front-end lock up in the wet. The 1500 model is the best all rounder and that extra cog certainly helps touring even though 70mph still has the engine spinning at a frantic 4000rpm. The ride is quite supple and the cockpit is roomier and more civilised than a Midget while luggage space is more than adequate thanks to those two square compartments. The targa top is simplicity itself to use.


The X1/9 is a cheap as chips. Banger ones (and there are plenty around) go for pennies while even top show cars rarely break the four grand barrier. Most decent well documented examples that aren’t full of rust are worth around £2- 3000 and considering you are getting a baby Ferrari for that money it is spanking value.

What To Look For

  • Before you even think about an X1/9 consider the spares situation. New body parts dried up years ago meaning that you may have to make do with used panels or have them made up. The X1/9 Files (01406 330460) has a good stock of things while leading fan, Alternative Autos of Huddersfield (01484 865086), even has a selected stock of new stuff. That said spares will always be a problem. It’s a classic that can become extinct if we’re not careful reckons X1/9 Files.
  • X1/9s are real rot boxes and you need to take great care when vetting one. They rust virtually everywhere and very few of the cars that remain have never seen a welder’s torch. Because the car’s values are so low watch for nasty cheapskate bodges and weigh up the cost of the car against potential repair costs.
  • Chief areas of concern are the floor pan, inner sills, suspension strut top mounts (front and rear), front inner wing bottoms, front under tray, rear compartment wells, windscreen surround, rear wheel arches, door bottoms and the rear bulkhead (remove spare wheel behind driver’s seat to check here).
  • Remove the targa top to inspect the roof aperture for rust and broken securing lugs/latches. Inspect the seals too; they can deteriorate and replacements aren’t readily available now.
  • Do the headlamps pop up okay? Wonky arrangement can be due to poor accident repair (check soundness of inner skin in the front boot) although the electric motors are known to pack up over time.
  • Mechanically you have less to fret over. The engines are rev happy but pretty strong if they have been serviced on time. Overheating is the biggest fear. The radiator is front mounted and can become clogged plus if the car does boil over it can cause the head gasket to fail, often taking the cylinder head with it. On a test drive, keep an eye on the temp gauge…
  • Cambelts need periodic replacements and it’s not an easy job on this design. Any underbonnet work requires small hands and extreme dexterity (such as the ignition points) so don’t be surprised to find work badly carried out where owner has lost patience.
  • Worn engines will display knocking and smoking, but don’t worry if the oil pressure hits zero at idling. It’s a gauge fault usually – just make sure the reading is a healthy four bar when on the move.
  • Hot starting can be a bitch, caused by faulty or worn carbs with duff autochokes. That said the fault is usually fuel evaporation. The carb actually employs a small electric fan to cool it – check it is working okay – otherwise fit an electric petrol pump to force unleaded through advises Steve Brooke of Alternative Autos.
  • Lack of use can cause the clutch actuating arm to seize up, which can mean the gearbox needs to come out to free it up. The clutch is hydraulic and is a real pig to bleed properly.
  • The gearboxes are robust although failing synchros (listen for crunching on fast downshifts) is a characteristic, especially on second and third gears. The good new is that it can carry on in this state for years. Learn how to double-declutch…
  • The suspension is fairly orthodox these days. Just watch for the usual bush wear along with tired dampers and springs. That said, shox are pricey, especially at the rear where stock items are no longer available. Ditto the rear ball joints where specialist X1/9 Files says you can either buy good used ones or have the existing suspension bits professionally overhauled – but at a big cost.
  • It’s Italian, so expect dodgy electrics such as a lazy horn push, failing pop up headlamps and electric windows that don’t anymore…
  • The interior was built to a price so look for split and failing trim, especially the seat lumber bolsters, threadbare carpets, damage due to water leaks and general aging.
  • Improvements? For more speed go for a better carb/exhaust set up. Some folk have even fitted Uno Turbo engines or a unit from the Tempra but Steve Brooke is wary of doing this as he says it makes the mid-engine handling far too tricky for the road. Brakes are worth modifying with grooved discs and a meatier pad combination.


If you’re tired of the usual cheap classic sports cars and want something that’s not so antiquated, then have a look at the Fiat X1/9 – you’ll be smitten! These cars are seriously underrated and under priced and can only increase in value. Just be sure you spend as much as you can on the best example you can find.

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