“Pleasant” is a bit mild of a word when I think of the X1/9. But then my exposure to it was not exactly with a run-of-the-mill X1/9. In a storage lot behind the little tv station in West LA where I worked between 1977 and 1985, in the latter years it became an open-air work/storage space for a number of eclectic and project cars the guys bought and worked on. There were my 404s, a pristine DS23, a moldering Aston Martin DB2 (bought for peanuts), an MGB-GT, a Datsun 510, a hot-rod Karmann-Ghia, and others. But perhaps the wildest project was an X1/9 that was being turned into a race car. It never got there properly, but that didn’t keep us from taking it out at night or up to nearby Mulholland Drive on a slow afternoon. Wild and crazy, yes, but not exactly pleasant, although we did experience a few surprises.
Here’s Road and Track’s “pleasant surprise” experience with it.
I recall the sensation these cars made when they came out, and rightly so. It was quite unique in layout.
Times sure change, as the X1/9’s 0-60 time would make youngsters howl about how slow it is.
“Times sure change, as the X1/9’s 0-60 time would make youngsters howl about how slow it is.”
True, but even the article notes that the straight line performance is not the main point of a car like this. Too many fall into the drag racing mantra that favors North American cars. Built (or overbuilt, some may say) with oversized cubic inches in a land of cheap gas, they favor getting up to speed over any semblance of handling. All well and good, and if that is your preference, so be it. But the Europeans tended to favor small displacement and nimble handling over straight line speed. Apple pie or Chocolate Cake. Both are good, but most have a favorite. That doesn’t mean the other is not good.
Also in a low, open topped car like that it always seems a lot faster; the sound of the engine, the wind and the proximity of the road surface. Even in 1974 quite a few Fiat saloons would have been faster.
This. Every modern car, sporty or luxurious, is an isolation chamber, chock full of driving distractions and standard A/C. All power and speed is is a way to break through it to the driver.
Another way to look at it – why do you think a go-cart is used a benchmark for a fun driving car? Here’ s a vehicle that can’t even reach 60, that’s eminently compared favorably to plain sedans in driving enjoyment. The answer isn’t statistics.
… and then, after half of century, technology gave us the best of both Worlds.
I’d rather drive a X 19 on the Ring than the Camaro. It’d be more fun
Have read of Fiat testing X1/9’s powered by 1.3-1.4 Turbocharged engines though unfortunately nothing came of it.
Would have been interesting seeing the X1/9 powered by 1.6-1.8 versions of the Fiat 128 engine had it remained in production a few more years prior to being replaced by the Fiat Barchetta.
There are a few X1/9s out there that are running transplanted Fiat 500 Abarth MultiAir motors. Reading their accounts of the work required, I think it would be easier to shoehorn an Alfa Busso V6 into one. I currently own an ‘81 X1/9 that I bought from an auto engineer about 11 years ago a guy who knew exactly what to do to extract the most out of these cars… has about the hottest engine it can have and still be thought streetable. Also own a 2012 Abarth, also a fun car.
Thread resurrection, but I’ve got an X1/9 with a 1.3l Uno Turbo engine. I’d wager it makes a little under 130hp at 1 bar.
Absolutely transforms the car. It’s by no means fast by any sort of modern standard, but it’s suddenly got just enough shove to get the chassis to come alive (and the 145lb-ft makes it feel faster than it is).
It would have made a very, very convincing evolution to the X1/9 as a runout model if it coincided with the Uno Turbo release in 1985 (and would have snuck under the 1400-1500cc tax brackets in a lot of countries).
Everyone I have known who spent any time in an X19 has loved the car. The design and horsepower are such that it’s impossible (barely possible?) to get into a situation where the driver exceeds to handling capability of the car. It thus inspires awesome confidence, making the pilot feel like an F1 driver, zinging the engine to 7,000 (!) rpm on every snicker-snack-quick shift…. as long as he pretends not to see the minivans passing him. And just as well to pretend not to see them because this thing is tiny by American standards. However if you live close to a good section of mountain road where you can get out and play, they’re amazing until the rust-monster eats them.
One thing I’ve always been curious about regarding the X1/9 is whatever link it has with the De Tomaso 1600 Spider shown at the 1971 Turin motor show. Styling of that one was done by Tom Tjaarda at Ghia, while the X1/9 that was shown at the end of 1972 was penned by Marcello Gandini at Bertone. There is no doubt, however, that these are extremely similar from a design standpoint. Even the black side trim around the cars are nearly identical. A case of friends copying each other’s homework?
I’ve tried to get to the bottom of this. IIRC Tjaarda has said de Tomaso made him do it as a deliberate provocation to Bertone and the design world. I can’t confirm dates but I’m pretty sure the X1/9 came first if not show first, especially when you consider Gandini’s original form was the 1969 Autobianchi Runabout.
Needs an 1800 twin cam and Chromadoras
These appear at shows and are very appealing, I’ve often wondered if I’d fit because I’d sure like one. The whole design seems just right, like a Karmann-Ghia.
Without the need to have it work every day, and at this small scale, the legendary Fiat ailments might be tolerable. It would still look great even when it doesn’t work.
There’s a green X1/9 about town that has the 2 accessory soft bags fitted into the rear compartment. Nice idea, huh? What’s striking is the way the bags repeat the stripes from the cloth upholstery. Apparently the owner overpaid wildly to grab them from an auction site, but even his wife reckons they are worth every penny – to the point she doesn’t mind being called “The Bag Lady”
Had one. Plenty of surprises. None of them pleasant. Will never have another.
Doesn’t that apply to all Italian cars of a certain era? ?
I keep hearing stories like that. And still…
I never drove or got a ride in an X1/9, but liked them. I did, however, get to drive a related car; the Lancia Monte Carlo. It was a bit larger and more powerful, but I suspect the X1/9 would have been nearly as rewarding a drive.
I’ve driven neither but from most reports I’ve read the X19 was better sorted in the chassis department. I understand the Monte Carlo was originally going to be marketed as a Fiat x120 or similar.
I know a few guys who currently own both the X and a Scorpion… Scorpion has more interior room but doesn’t handle as well as the X.
My first new car purchase! I first saw one while walking thru the apartment parking lot where my girlfriend lived in Anaheim, Ca. and fell in love. My only relatively high priced impulse purchase. Owned it for 6 years and 99k trouble-free miles.
I had to laugh when I saw this in CC, as I was looking for a review of the ‘74 after reading one on the ‘74 124 Sport Coupe, to no avail just last night. Sweet!
I wanted one of these when I was a kid in the ’80’s. I also wanted a Renault LeCar, a VW Rabbit Convertible, a 1987 Buick Century Limited and a Fiero. I never got any of them, which was probably a Good Thing. (Except for the Century which I did own in 1996 Ciera guise).
Compared with wheezy, overweight, flaccid Mustang IIs and the other land barges and the decrepit, moldy British sports cars left over from the 60’s, the X 1/9 really was exciting then, and the styling held up nicely well into the ’80’s. I think Malcolm Bricklin managed to get his failure stained paws on the importation of these as Bertones after Fiat left the U.S. market in 1982.
Rode in one once and was amazed at the handling and responsiveness. Then I rode in a Lancia Scorpion and wanted one of those wanted one. Never did either but would imagine all the mods I would do to get some decent acceleration.
For those interested in the back story of this article there’s a huge amount of material in the R&T archives on the Stanford U digital archives, including notes, test data and photos for this article. Check it out:
I owned two of these, purchased used, in the ’80s. A green (and black) one and a brown one.
They were purchased to refurbish and resell. I never got to really drive them much. My girlfriend at the time thought I was crazy to not keep them (she was in love with the brown one). Maybe she was right, but I’ve never found it worthwhile to keep a special purpose car for that one special purpose. I also had a red 128 sedan during this time which I really did want to keep. Fiat had some great engineering then. But it was already beginning to suffer from early corrosion. The tiny nuts would snap off even if only slightly seized from rust. So the other side of the story was that in rust country these little gems simply made no sense.
People today have little context for a car with low curb weight. My 74 911 is 2300lbs with me in it and with 210hp keeps up with traffic easily.
The Fiat is good for those parking lot thingies with cones…
Just noticed the weight distribution. These things must’ve killed off a lot of drivers as it’s near the same as the 911 (cough, myth)! I bet less than 10% of these produced are still roadworthy.
Oh FIAT, why couldn’t you make cars as reliable as VW did the Ghia?
Some years ago in Seattle I saw an X1/9 with “2 LITER” vanity license plate and had to go over and brace the owner. The engine was the Fiat 2-liter twitcam. Actually, in this case, the donor car had been a Lancia Beta, Scorpion, or Monte Carlo–it said Lancia on the cam covers.