When Bertone designed the two-seat X1/9 for Fiat back in 1969, he used the shapes of motor boats of the time for inspiration, and this gave the car its distinctive wedge-shaped body. The X1/9 was to be Fiat’s mid-sized sports car and incorporated some novel styling from its conception. A few of these concepts made it through to the final production model.
Fiat produced the X1/9 between 1972 and 1982, after which Bertone took over manufacture, made some enhanced design changes, and continued selling the car until 1989.
Bertone gave the X1/9 a hard, linear appearance, an elongated flat bonnet, a bold, triangular C-pillar roll bar, and a deeply indented plimsoll-line along the length of the car. The pinched-front car featured pop-up headlights, a deep inset grille, and a Targa roof that could be taken off and safely stored in the front cargo space. It was also possible to fit the car with a clear smoke-finished polycarbonate Targa that was made post-production.
During the X1/9’s history, there were very few design changes to its appearance, and it retained its marine-like quality until production ceased. It had a major facelift, which included a redesign of the bumpers to comply with legislation in the U.S. This was not as poorly thought out as a lot of bumper designs of the era, as Fiat fitted more complimentary square, aluminium-style bumpers with elephant ears that wrapped around the sides. The exterior changes also included a new horizontal louver grille, while the interior received some attention with a new dashboard and better quality seating.
After the production was handed over to Bertone and renamed the Bertone X1/9, there were other style changes during which deeper foot wells were installed. There was also a return to the original black bumpers and minor alterations made to the panel trim and windscreen.
The front-wheel driven Fiat X1/9 was fitted with a transverse mounted 128 1.3L SOHC straight-4 engine that was hooked up to a Fiat 128 4-speed or 5-speed manual gearbox. The engine, transmission, fuel tank, and spare tyre were all located in the rear of the car, which put the majority of the weight between the wheelbase and improved the car’s handling qualities.
In 1976, Fiat increased the engine power by installing a 1.5L engine and the 5-speed gearbox as standard. Further increase in power was achieved in 1981 when they swapped the carburettor system for fuel injection. The 1.3L engine was a 56Kw unit, and the changeover to the 1.5L pushed the power levels up to 63Kw and produced a torque range up to 78.77Nm.
The X1/9 was quick off the mark. While it rarely managed sub 10 seconds, the average 1.5L could go from 0-100km/h in 10.4 seconds and had a top speed of 180Km/h. Despite disparaging remarks about its size, the X1/9 was a fabulously responsive car to drive. With great dynamics and sure handling, it earned the name the “Baby Ferrari” from enthusiasts.
The powerboat feel continues on the inside, with a nautical looking steering wheel, sharply angled instrument hub, and a central console that looks very seaworthy. Deep bucket seats and smart leather trim throughout make the interior look chic but somewhat empty by modern comparisons.
The X1/9 was not extensively kitted out, and even optional extras were rare. Back then, you bought the car and customised it to suit yourself. The Bertone models of 1982 onwards did come fitted with an AM/FM cassette radio and digital clock as standard. Picking up second-hand cars today, you'll find them equipped with a wider range of kit than would have originally been found in the vehicle.
There were lots of stylish two seaters built around the mid-seventies until the end of the eighties, although the sharp powerboat looks of the X1/9 initially gave it an individualistic look. The car was compared to the speed of the Porsche 914, another two-seat Targa; the Mantra Bagheera, a mid-sized three-seat; Pontiac’s Fiero; and the Triumph TR7. Probably the most competitive rival at the time was the Toyota MR2 two-seater, which took a lot of inspiration from the angular styling used in the X1/9.
The allure of the exotic Fiat X1/9 still exists, and although prices initially took a nosedive after their production ended, the increasing market for reliable, interesting cars has seen values rise once again. Cars like the X1/9 saw the sports car class put within reach of most pockets, and its innovative look and Italian interior still attracts buyers today.