Here at CC, we do like to go against the grain a bit. And when I saw this green X1/9 posted by Foden Alpha at the Cohort, it reminded me that the little Fiat buzz-bomb was the runner-up as Europe’s CCOTY for 1974 (behind the Mercedes 450SEL). I know old Fiats have a very mixed reputation, but not when it comes to being fun to drive–especially regarding the X1/9. One of my co-workers in LA had one that he was converting into a weekend racer in the parking lot behind the TV station. Every once in a while when things were slow, we’d take it out up to Mulholland Drive. Now that was guaranteed to get the adrenalin going. He’d stripped the bumpers, and the motor had been warmed-over, so it ran like a scalding-hot Fiat was supposed to run.
Well, Fiat’s rep in the U.S. for reliability issues wasn’t exactly a conspiracy; they earned it, although anyone dedicated enough knew how to keep them running, if not from rusting. But then Toyota saw the light, and the MR2 soon filled the void. There are still a couple of X1/9s on the streets here, and one of these days we’ll do the long version of the X1 /9 story.
Awesome concept a low priced mid engined sports car just Toyota did it better and their version kept going and didnt evaporate when wet. A girlfriend years ago had a X19 great fun when it was going.
The first versions of this car were unusual (to my small-town Pennsylvania eyes, anyway) and very handsome. But Fiat ruined the design with the heftier bumpers required by federal standards. Fiat’s bumper treatment wasn’t as ham-fisted as the one used by MG, but it was bad enough.
Loved the little X1/9! What I remember most was that it went through no fewer than three bumper designs during its short life here — the minimal bumperettes in 74, the ones on the feature car (not bad actually) and a bizarre, cage-like version in between.
I’m sticking with the Mustang II though. Not only one of the most successful downsized cars in history, it was the first to pull it off. The new domestic small cars immediately before and after the II (Pinto/Vega and Seville) were new nameplates. Think about that for a minute.
If the car had failed would GM have put all that it did into their downsized 77 B-bodies? And if they did would they have kept nameplates like Caprice, LeSabre and deVille? Maybe, maybe not, but eventually those names did all go away.
I would argue the combination of great execution and old names is what put the Bs over the top, and the Mustang II is what gave GM the confidence to do that. I would further argue that had the Mustang II failed (or never existed) there would have been no Fox Mustang.
It’s worth noting there were no significant styling changes for the Mustang II during its life. How unusual was that back then? They just kept refining the car in minor ways and adding new trims.
Most of us may not have cared to own one but there is no denying the car’s success and influence. The women who owned them loved them, at least the women I knew.
I’d have to agree on the MII as the most significant new car for 1974. Not only for the reasons you gave but also because it marked a return to the Mustang’s roots in concept and in styling cues. However I’m not so sure it had any real influence on the downsized B’s. Certainly if it had flopped or if the Mustang had been allowed to continue on the trajectory it was on the Fox Stangs likely would not have seen the light of day.
I agree with the Mustang II, I had one when it was approx. 1 year old. The Ghia interior was like a mini-Elite. Mine was Silver/silver/Silver with red pinstripes and interior accents, sunroof, V6 automatic. Easy to drive/park, quiet, comfortable, not fast but it was OK. Well put together, it was the “little jewel” as Iaccoca said.
While sales cooled after the 74 embargo, 75-78 and up were still better than 71-73.
I’ll vote for this as CCOTY if you’ll also list it as a Deadly Sin, although maybe all ’70s Fiats were Deadly Sins in terms of Fiat’s previous stint in the US.
I loved my 1972 Fiat 128 in a way that my 1978 Rabbit failed to approach. The Rabbit was a far better long distance cruiser, but it just didn’t have the “soul” that the128 did. I toyed with trading in my 128 for an X1/9, but didn’t want to loose the two back seats. Fiats did rust out, but not nearly as bad as contemporary Japanese cars such as my wife’s Datsun B-210, the biggest piece of crap ever to sully the roadways of America.
The X1/9 was a brilliant idea, executed by FIAT. That’s practically a pun. The British roadsters of the ’50s and ’60s were generally a combination of small sedan components and a sporty body. The X1/9 showed how FWD small sedan components could be turned into something even better. Too bad they were made out of rust and had all the electrical and assembly issues of the British roadsters that preceded them. The MR2 was finally the same idea interpreted with better components and less style, but eventually insurance rates killed their market.
Dad would grumble something about Fiat’s braking, and then suggest decapitation would ensue when you rear ended somebody in one of these.
That’s what I think of with this one. The Wedge going under a flatbed and me winding up like Jayne Mansfield. I’d rather go in an Electra.
I also think the 1974 Cadillac was newly styled, However in my eyes it Looked badly cheapened.
My Sicilian-American Uncle Mike had an X1/9 in the late ’70s, when his wife my Aunt Pat drove a ’74 Imperial coupe. Think they stood out, in Maine? I am unable to vote against this stellina as CCOTY.
A friend in college had his timing belt fail (and lock up the rear wheels) at 22,000 miles.
As I stated in the thread of the Fiat 850 my older brother traded his 850 Spider in a 74 X/19. He bought a ton of crap for it out of the Fiat Go-To at the time. Forza-Faza. Kind of the mail order equavalent of Summit or Jegs, but Fiat only. High comp pistons,cams,header and Weber carb were some of the parts installed by us in our parents double car garage. I dont recall any of the “issues” that people like to post when ever the topic of Fiat comes up on the interweb. What car, what Fiat didn’t rust back than? Just go over to TTAC and see how many Fiat 124 “Junkyard Finds” there are.
@kiwibruce “Awesome concept a low priced mid engined sports car just Toyota did it better and their version kept going and didnt evaporate when wet.”
I have to disagree with that statement. Especially on the Gen1 and now Gen2. I haven’t seen a decent example for sale or on the road for quite awhile now. I do see them but they usually look like some teen aged “RiceBoy” hacked the heck out of them. I could say the same about the Gen3 but than there was a reason Toyota canned that model. They just didn’t sell enough of them.
If you really want to compare apples to apples than might I suggest the Fiero.
If I won the lottery tomorrow I’d like to find myself a clean 83-87 Bertone version.
I’d vote for the X 1/9.
Speaking of the MR2, just yesterday I saw one that was either improbably well-maintained, or had been restored–it was immaculate, top-of-the-line (Supercharged, probably JDM import), and looked 100% factory. Made me realise these are starting to attain classic status.
They’re also brilliant to drive. I’ve never driven an X1/9, but I believe it was still being sold when the first MR2s came out, and given how much older the Fiat’s design was, I can’t imagine it compared well at the time.
I don’t know HOW I never drove one of these! I think they are cute/sexy/fun. One of the best looking Fiats ever……..even with the awful bumpers! Here’s a Euro version.
Does the feature car actually have a sunroof installed in the lift-off targa roof? What’s up with that?
Anyway, since Mazda aped the Lotus Elan for the Miata (with great success), it’s a shame Toyota didn’t do the same with the X1/9 for Mr.Two.
With these cars, Rust Never Sleeps! I think I’ll wait for the 74 Mustang II to appear for voting nominatons!
X1/9 was one of the most fun cars I ever drove (other was 356b). I can’t believe that the Mustang II (“Mustang II, boredom zero”) is even under consideration. I know we all have our particular tastes and view points, but come on, really, Mustang II?
If you want 1974 COTY, the list is actually rich in applicants
Volvo 200 series
LOL @ Mustang II, boredom zero. I remember those spots from when we got to stay up late and watch Love American Style. If ever a show and car were made for each other…
Rabbit and Scirocco should be 1975.
The Golf/Rabbit was introduced in Europe for 1974 and N.A. for 1975. If it’s deemed eligible for 1974, I’m voting for the Rabbit.
The X1/9 with 5mph bumpers? Nope. Nada. No way. No how.
The only car that can legitimately be considered for CCOTY for 1974 is the Matador coupe. This doesn’t even deserve debate. AMC sealed its fate with this all-time winner.
Lambo Countach. Exotic, yes. Out of reach, yes. But it’s basic design and layout has essentially been the formula of all future V12 Lamborghinis and imitators to this date.
The X1/9 in that picture has a pretty weird/interesting feature which I had previously only seen on a few IH Scouts and Jeep CJ’s – a removable hard top (“targa-top”, whatever) with a pop-up sunroof installed in it. Factory option? I doubt it, but kinda neat.
Here’s my big (only) X1/9 story…
Christmas Eve, 2002 – I was extremely mentally effed up this winter. Just dropped out of college (again), just got dumped by a girl I was sure I’d marry, my dad just had a massive stroke and was in horrible shape, stuck in the hospital, looking like he might not be able to walk or talk ever again. I had a horrible job delivering pizza, working for some absolute schmuck who won the lottery after already being a Wall Street hot-shot. Oh – and remember, this is 2002! There was that whole 9/11 thing, an anthrax thing, a still ongoing “War on Terror” thing – which was driving everyone into a state of hyper-paranoia in the NYC area, where I live. I know we’re not supposed to talk politics here so I’ll just not comment on all of that, but I’ll say that nothing about it or the reaction to it made me happy. As a 19-year old the future looked pretty fucking bleak!
All I could do was smoke a ton of weed, and I ran a lot – few miles every night. Those two things kept me from punching every single person I saw walking down the street in the face.
So it’s Christmas Eve and wahh wahh I’m feeling sorry for myself. So I hop in the car and start driving, East – no destination in mind. I just wanna light up a bowl, listen to Christmas songs and look at the lights. I love Christmas, even though I’m as godless as a person can be, always have and still do. A few miles out it started snowing, pretty hard – excellent! I love the snow too, a “white Christmas” was perfect. It’s about midnight and the roads are deserted, the snow is sticking. After I had driven probably 20 or so miles I come across this dive bar all lit up and it’s got an interesting wedge shaped vehicle with a “For Sale” sign on it out front. Gotta pull in and check it out…
Aha – it’s an X1/9! I had only seen a few of these before. This was a later one, a “Bertone X1/9” which I believe was one of the Malcolm Bricklin ventures along with the “Pininfarina Spider” (aka Fiat 124). It was red, and very shiny once I brushed a little snow off of it – obviously had been loved by somebody, but it had been slammed in the rear. Only cosmetic damage, and the car was still driveable – but I’m sure it was enough to total it out. The asking price was only $800 – wow!
Two guys stumbled out of the bar – which I must stress was the dive-iest of divebars and I was in the heart of Suffolk County, NY – which is as rednecky as it gets for the New York metro area.
“HAY MAN U LIKE THAT CAR?”
“Yeah, is it yours?”
“ITS A FIAT!”
They walked across the otherwise empty parking lot and introduced themselves. The car was not theirs, it belonged to “some asshole” who knew the bartender – who was the taller gentleman of the two. I don’t remember what their names were or even what they looked like, except they were white and probably mid-40’s – but they were extremely loaded, loud and thought the X1/9 was “real gay looking”.
“You wanna buy this thing?” I did wanna buy it, but even at $800 I couldn’t afford it at the time. Even at $100 I couldn’t afford it back then.
“Yeah!” I said, “but $800 is waaaaayy too much, he’s gotta come down on the price”
“Come inside, I’ll get you the number” – it was written on the window, but whatever. I thought maybe I’d get a free shot out of this or something too.
“Hey man you want a drink?” Why of course!
“Wanna do a line of blow?!?!” Nahhh…
“Oh hey – you wanna drive the car??” Hell fucking yes I do!
The bartender didn’t like this idea. He was a little closer to sobriety, but still far away enough from it to not really care. The other guy, who had suggested this plan, was all about it. He seemed like a maniac and the kind of person that loves doing dangerous, irresponsible shit just for the sake of doing it. There was now a good 5-6 inches of snow on the ground and no plates on the car, this was a really stupid idea. I loved it too, so much that I didn’t even touch my freshly poured Budweiser.
We hop in the car and the keys are already in the ignition, doors unlocked. For a moment it seems like it isn’t gonna turn over but then it finally goes. Ahhh… it’s real loud, and has a cold idle around 2,000rpms. It’s either got a hole in the muffler or a really crappy aftermarket exhaust. The lights glow dimly on the dashboard, the brake pedal goes almost all the way to the floor, the clutch pedal is ridiculously hard, I hit the wipers to get the snow off the windshield – screeeeeeeeeeeech! There’s barely any rubber left on them. Oh well! I give it a minute or two to warm up and kick the idle down to it’s “normal” speed – about 1,500rpms on this one – and we’re off.
Oh wait… this clutch pedal doesn’t want to go down. Fuck… slave cylinder is probably frozen up. Dammit… press it as hard as possible and the shifter JUST slides into first with a little hollow grind from behind me. There’s only about two inches of travel on it and so much as taking all but full pressure off results in the car lurching forward. My co-pilot is yapping about “YEAH MAN SO MY OLD LADY IS A REAL BITCH” and blahablahblah such and such. I give it a ton of gas and let the clutch snap back out- ERRRRRRRRRRRRRR erererererererer.
“WHOA MAN, HAHAHA ROAST THAT BITCH YEAAAAAHHH!!”
And now we’re really off! I turn off of the main road onto some side streets and feel it out. Shifting by rev-matching is a nightmare with this vague, rubbery long-throw shifter but I get it down somewhat after a few trips around the block. At normal speeds the little Fiat is surprisingly planted in the fresh snow, but it’s very easy to kick the rear end out if you get on it just a little bit – and once it’s going sideways it wants to stay that way! First time I’ve ever driven a mid-engined car, of course. These are pretty narrow suburban streets so at low speeds the lack of power assist comes into play when trying to counter-steer very quickly. Only one solution – go much faster!
“HEY YOU KNOW JOE KLEINOWICZ WHO WORKS DOWN AT THE BAIT AND TACKLE SHOP MAN THAT GUY OWES ME TWELVE DOLLARS AND IF HE DONT HAVE IT NEXT TIME I SEE EM BLAHBLAHBLAHBLAH”
Oh my god this guy needs to SHUT THE HELL UP. At least he’s lost in his own world of drunken bullshit and reminiscences of antics from his senior year of highschool 25 years ago. He’s not noticing that the Fiat is now traveling progressively faster and sideways-er. Oh good – this car has some ghetto blaster Panasonic stereo – lemme turn that on.
“ZIGGY PLAAAAYS GUITAWW JIBBIN BLUE WIT JIM AN BUUJIEE BLARGH DA DADA”
VROOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMM THUNKJ THUNK VROOOOOOOOOOOOOOM
“SO WE JIBB ABOUT BLARGHBANT AND CRUMP HIS FEET HAAAAND”
After about 10 minutes I’m comfortable really, REALLY beating on this thing. The roads are deserted, we’re in a pretty good subdivision of curvy, wide streets and there’s no sidewalks (I think) in case I really get in trouble. All I had to do to keep my partner pacified was thrown in a “yeah” or “wow, really?” every time I was prompted for a response and I had free reign to be lost in winter wonderland Fiat bliss. The car was slow but so much fun, so easy to throw around all over the place. It might’ve been slow for an automobile, but it was super fast for a go-kart and that’s what it felt more like. A go-kart with a subwoofer and a drunken moron belching in my face.
Why not push it to it’s absolute limit? There’s nobody out here – no cops, no pedestrians, very few cars parked on the street. This guy is in la-la land, I don’t really care about my own personal well-being and this car belongs to “some asshole” who is practically giving it away. And what does it have anyway? 65 horsepower? Can’t really get in much trouble with that. I head back to the “best” of the streets we had driven through and put the pedal nearly to the floor around a long bend – hands flying back and forth to keep it pointed the right way.
VRRRRRRRRR RRR RRRRRR RRRRRR RRRRRR
The wino braces himself with one hand on the dashboard and the other clasping his Bud bottle close to his chest…
“EASY MAN!!! BRING US BACK IN ONE PIECE!!”
“Don’t worry about it, I race those midget cars out in Riverhead – this ain’t shit!”
“WOW REALLY DO YOU KNOW TOMMY SHERIDAN MAN HE WENT TO WEST BABYLON CLASS OF BLAHLBALHLBLAHLAH”
Faster and faster the X1/9 spun – it’s engine screaming, wipers screeching, snow flying, gearbox grinding accompanied by godawful staples-of-FM-Classic-Rock karaoke from the passenger seat belted out drunkenly off-key. Sadly enough this was the most fun I’d had in months, maybe even more than that. Christmas Eve with some wasted vagrant in a rattling Italian deathtrap that was essentially stolen. Plus, I was just killing it – for a solid ten minutes or so I swear I could have ran circles around Tommi god damn Makkinen in that creaky Fiat. We came up to that first corner I had nailed flawlessly a few times now – this was it, I would ice this move right here and bring us back home safe and sound.
“HOLD ME CLOSER TOOOOOOONY DAAAAAAAANZAAA”
VRRROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMM THUNKKKKKKK CRKK VROOOOOOOOMM
“COUNT THE HEADLIGHTS ON THE HIIIIIIIIIIIIIGHBALHGWAHG WAY”
Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck OH FUCK!!
I lost it – right at the “apex” of this sidestreet the ass end came around and it was going, going GONE! Brakes? Nada, nuthin. Steering? Pffffft. We spun around and rocketed towards doom, backwards-ish. Nothing left to do but brace for impact and hope it’s something soft. The back tires caught the lip of someone’s finely manicured lawn and the car popped up, then continued spinning with the driver’s side coming back around to the direction of travel. All of a sudden a wire-mesh light up reindeer was right in front of us and with a THUNK it flew up in the air – I looked back towards the way we were sliding – OH FUCK OF ALL FUCKS! We’re on a collision course for a Dodge Caravan parked right in some poor bastards driveway! One last shot – wheel, brakes — NOTHING! It’s hopeless!!
I didn’t even shut my eyes or yell or anything – but somehow the edge of the front bumper missed the back of that van. I wouldn’t be surprised if it actually slid under it, or even if a vortex opened up in the fabric of time-space and somehow sucked us through to safety. Somehow, someway the little Fiat dodged it, no thanks to me, and landed safely on the van owner’s neighbor’s lawn.
“Yeah, you ok?”
“YEAH! FUCK MAN FUCKKKKK!!
I smelled the beer that had spilled all over the passenger footwell and heard the turn signal clicking – my hand must’ve hit it. The engine had died. I jumped out quick to inspect the scene. OK – no noticeable damage on the body (that wasn’t there already) – whew. Lemme check the wheels that jumped that ledge – looks straight, OK! My partner stepped out, “DID YOU SEE THAT FUCKIN’ DEER!” Somebody’s poor Christmas decoration was laying about 30 feet away, I walked over and picked it up – it was still in one piece! The leg was a little bent, but I quickly bent it back as best I could and left it approximately where I thought it had been. Kicked some snow over the treadmarks that had been left on the lawns (sorry whoevers lawn that was), and told my “buddy” to get back in the car.
I hopped in and turned the key. Oh pleaaaaaase for Christmassake start pleaseplease please.
CHHHH CH CH CH CH CH
CHHHHHCH CH CH CH CH
This is the last thing I need, pleaaaaase start. I was sure the entire local police department was already on their way over to toss me in the slammer and throw away the key. How in the hell would I possibly explain this one? And my poor, long-suffering mother ohhh jeeez it would just kill her. Not here, not now – please Fiat please PLEAAAAASE GET ME BACK TO THAT BAR!!!
CHHHH CH CHHHH CHHHVROOOOOOOM
THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!!!!
I grinded the shifter into reverse and high-tailed it outta there, very slowly. My oblivionated co-pilot had been shaken up and came back to sobriety slightly, growing a little bit of a conscious worried about the guy this car belonged to. I assured him nothing was wrong with it, which I’m nearly positive was true. It looked/felt much worse than it really was, we just slid along flat ground. Plus – I was gonna buy it anyway! That worked. I pulled back into the bar parking lot, politely declining an invitation to grab another drink and saying I’d be back tomorrow. I hopped in my nice, safe, warm Saturn and made sure I got the hell outta there before the other guy came out of the bar and never looked back.
Down the road a little bit I roasted up another tannenbaum plant and realized that what had just happened that night was fucking awesome. It was dangerous and stupid and I shouldn’t have done it – and maybe I even messed up some dude’s lawn and Christmas lights, which I feel bad about – but facing near-certain doom and coming away unscathed can be a pretty god damn cathartic experience. I slept well that night, with visions of sugarplums dancing in my head, and woke up Christmas morning feeling pretty good.
A few months later, when things were a little more normal, I drove out to that bar again to see if the X1/9 was still there. I did actually want to buy it, and maybe I could swing $500 – but it was gone, and the bar looked closed. I happened to go out that way again a few months after that and the building was torn down. There’s a Chase Bank there now… how lame.
Sorry this story was so ridiculously long – and I also apologize for the beginning of it that sounded like a tween’s Livejournal. If you got through the whole thing, I owe you a few laps in my Fiat when I eventually buy one!
Sean, you are a piece of work! 🙂 Good read as the snow falls for about the fifteenth straight hour up here.
A story worthy of Car and Driver.
Well, back in the day when Car and Driver was worth reading, anyway…
A fabulous 7 minute escape from reality as I sit at my office desk on Saturday morning.
That was a hoot to read on a Saturday morning.
And more applause.
Within the first few paragraphs, I was already thinking ‘early Car & Driver’ and that’s before I scrolled down to Rudiger’s comment.
I had a friend with one of these. It was, of course, rusty after living in Northern Indiana. He was much more sportscar oriented than I was, and went from a hand-me-down 72 Pinto to a V6 Mustang II to an X-19. I went off to college about that time, and didn’t get to spend much time around it.
But CCOTY? Don’t think I can go there. I would have to chime in on the Mustang II. Dr. Lemming made an interesting nomination for the Matador coupe. I would add, at least for an honorable mention, the 74 Imperial. it was perhaps the last beautiful big car ever made, and certainly the end of the line for the traditional Chrysler flagship.
If we’re comparing Coronas, Mustang IIs, Matadors nd X1/9s maybe the reality is there was no CCOTY for 1974. It did seem like a pretty grim year. Wasn’t the Mazda RX4 intro’d in ’74? For 1975 I suggest not a car, but the Catalytic Converter, as the CCOTY. Seriously, I think that was the most significant breakthrough in decades. Sure, it took O2 sensors and fuel injection to realize the full potential, but without the much-maligned cat we’d be driving lean-burn air-injected 50 HP cars and breathing a lot dirtier air in many cities.
And how about these bumpers?
Are they better looking than the 5mph ones?
I think it would look better with no bumpers at all.
The first new car I bought was a 1974 X1/9. It was a great car, all I had to do was follow the recommended maintenance schedule and it served me well for 6 years, until I sold it with around 99K miles on it. Two trips to the Provo, Utah area from SoCal in the heat of summer… no AC… but I loved that car. The only big dollar impulse buy I’ve ever made. I saw one in the parking lot of my girlfriend’s apt complex and I knew I had to own one.
I now own a ’76 (stays in the garage) and a hotted up ’81 that is driven less and less since I bought a 2012 500 Abarth.