The parking lot of my local Sprouts Market that houses a branch of the Post Office within and has a UPS Store down the row along with a Starbucks and a few other places that we tend to frequent has become something of a honey hole for me over the last couple of years, allowing me to stash away some finds for when the urge strikes to write about something neither new nor completely used up. So today it’s the turn of this happy little car that I found at the beginning of June. The car is obviously a Fiat X1/9, the diminutive little sportster sold here between 1974 and 1989, first as a Fiat, and then as a Bertone starting in 1983 until the end.
I can’t pin down the exact year beyond it being a 1975-1978 version due to the “ladder” style bumpers front and rear. All X1/9s were powered in those years by a carb’d 1290 cc 4-cylinder engine producing 61hp coupled with a 4-speed gearbox. Later models would receive a 1.5 liter and a 5-speed. Weighing only around 2000 pounds, performance was spritely for the day but thankfully the quick and good handling provided by the mid-engine design allowed one to not lose too much speed in the corners.
I’ll admit to not usually being much of a fan of the X1/9 but in this color which reminds me a lot of the early 1980’s VW/Audi Mars Red color that I repainted my first motorcycle in, it speaks to me. The little steel wheels (13″ with 145 section tires as stock), the black trim, very limited chrome or stainless trim and targa roof are all things that work together well here. Under those wheels are 8.9″ discs all the way around, and alloy wheels were an option. Pricing started at $4,608 in 1975, but by 1978 was up to $5,700. Not cheap but not exotic car material either.
Designed by Marcello Gandini at Bertone, there’s obvious pedigree there even if the car itself didn’t necessarily benefit from the greatest reputation during its lifespan. As I look at these pictures I’m seeing a lot of little details I never really looked at before, like this little grille here but also the way they designed the very subtle triple pinstripe to flow along the flank of the car up the pillar and then back down it again and off towards the front of the car. Nicely done. The black air inlets lower on the flanks look interesting as do the metal door handles. I guess I grew up with cars that employed a lot more black plastic details as compared to chrome ones of earlier eras so that all works for me at least.
The large lamps are attractive as well and conform to the lines of the car too. Perhaps they aren’t really that large but the small size of the car makes them so. Those bumpers really are quite large but could have been so much worse if they were solid and that size, the double girder design at least adds some character I suppose. The black engine cover nestled between the buttresses is oh-so-gloriously 70’s as well.
These really weren’t on my radar all that much when I started driving and the Toyota MR2 came out (as well as the Fiero), interestingly while both obviously draw on the general layout, both of those come across as much stubbier yet wider designs, the Fiat has a comparatively longer front end, at least visually. Of course by that time they had become Bertone-badged and volumes were down significantly, even in SoCal where they weren’t completely uncommon. Total production (worldwide between 1972 and 1989) was right at 160,000 with about 19,500 of those badged as Bertone.
The inside looks well worn here yet comfortable and hardly beyond rescuing, the dashboard looks mirror imaged from left to right but curiously right hand drive examples weren’t offered until 1976, well into the run. I love the removable stereo cage that looks right from the 80’s and the vents and levers for the HVAC as well as the chunky switches are quite Italian. Noticeable also are the embossed door panels, that angling of the patters looks very much like the angling of the future /F/I/A/T/ logotype, doesn’t it?
Actually that angling also seems to align very much with what’s going on with the logo here as well. This particular car isn’t flawless, but it’s far from ratty, with a little attention to the seats this may in fact be one of the better ones still around, it seems to get driven and looks cared for. I later spotted the owner leaving the lot, he had stowed the targa top and was enjoying the sun as he wheeled the car out of the driveway. It certainly brightened up the usual assemblage of greige-colored cars in the lot that day.
I came across this video, while of what looks like a 1980 or 1981 model it starts off with the then-current public TV commercial for the car and afterwards becomes a dealer advertisement discussing the car, all set to great footage of someone wheeling the car (in what looks like the same color as the earlier model I found above) around the Laguna Seca racetrack outside of Monterey. Having driven on that track a number of times myself, I found it fun to watch and think the X1/9 would be a car that you could pretty much stay flat out in around most areas of that track, i.e. lots of fun to work on cornering technique and learning how to keep the speed up.