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Cheap Bertone Project: 1979 Fiat X1/9

These days, there aren’t many bargains left. The sportscar world is straight-up crazy, with seemingly every enthusiast car either already priced through the roof or on the verge of becoming so. The Fiat X1/9 is a rare exception to the rule for the moment, as you can still get one of these mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive two-seaters for very short money indeed, especially if you buy it as a non-runner like this car is. The Bertone styling still looks quite fresh, and of course, it has the iconic “pop up” headlight design that many of us irrationally love. The seller notes it has been parked for over ten years, so you’ll have your work cut out for you. Find it here on craigslist for just $1,300.

Thank you to Barn Finds reader Pat L. for the find. The X1/9 always struck me as a car that was likely far better than its reputation indicated, especially as it relates to the smiles-per-dollar formula. When it runs right, how can you go wrong with a mid-ship design and the handling benefits it provides? Of course, that’s the issue: when it runs right. Thes were not bad cars from an engineering perspective, but like so many specialty models that end up on the used car marketplace,  you have to figure there’s an owner somewhere in the chain that decided to cheap out on a major repair because they couldn’t find the parts or didn’t feel like spending the money in the first place.

Thankfully, despite its years in the sun, the cabin upholstery is not baked off and also looks surprisingly good for a car that has been neglected for so long. The X1/9 was, by all accounts, a fun car in both its styling and driving dynamics. It was youthful in appearance and in purpose, considering there was no backseat for kids or groceries. Despite its charms, the X1/9 never seemingly achieved “cult-like” status in the States, at least not like its competitors at Honda and Acura. This is unfortunate, as there’s still a good number of these models out there languishing in driveways and carports, and it’d be great to see more of them find new homes. The X1/9 would make a tidy autocross car as well.

The must-have decals are still present and accounted for,  along with the Bertone badge. One of the big missteps for this model in the U.S. is the lack of a high-performance edition. This always seems to be part of the recipe for successful launches of enthusiast models, and if you don’t have a higher horsepower offering in the pipeline by the time the standard model has been introduced, it can be difficult to break through a crowded vehicle segment. Still, with the X1/9, you got a targa roof, mid-engine design, and Bertone styling, all for very reasonable money – can’t go wrong with that. Is it worth rescuing one that’s been sitting for a decade?

Comments

  1. Mr Exotherm

    My mother bought an X1/9 new in 1975, IIRC the price was $5075. It was the best of cars, it was the worst of cars. It rusted thru within 3 years requiring a repaint. Broke a timing belt at 40k bending the valves. But the handling, it was incredible! Fittipaldi said the X1/9 handled just like an F1 car. Wish I had the time and room for a nice example myself.

    Like 3
    • karel van der bijl

      Timing belt should have been replaced at 37,500 mls .

      Like 4
  2. Fitz

    Had one in the late 70’s. Car was a blast to drive the one weekend a month it ran.

    Like 1
  3. Scott W

    I had a 74 in 1976. I learned as an 18 year old why Fix It Again Tony is accurate. It was a BLAST to drive….When it wasn’t parked waiting for parts. I was at the dealer for something when a guy traded in a 76 El Camino SS that was six months old because it didn’t have AC. I drove the El home and they kept the Fiat.

    Like 1
  4. Quidditas

    Get a Fiat Uno 1.4 turbocharged powerplant from Italy. Quite plentiful there. They slot right in and will give 308 performance on a tight budget.

    Fit a roll cage and you will have a giant killer. Common conversion in South Africa.

    Like 11
  5. Howard A Member

    Being a fan of the Fiero, although never had the guts to actually own one, came close once,,I always liked the X1/9. Probably the only Fiat I did like. I never saw that “X1.9” decal on one, it makes it seem like it was powered by a “1.9” motor. I believe it was a 1300. Maybe they were tired of the “one ninth of a car” jokes. The “X 1/9” meant, Fiat used X1 for passenger cars( X2 for trucks) and this was the ninth passenger car offered by Fiat. Like all these European cars, they weren’t designed for Americas harsh extremes, the kiss of death for these cars. Parts car for couple hundred, maybe, if any other ones still exist, that is.

    Like 3
  6. bobhess bobhess Member

    Rust and engine quirks not withstanding these were good looking fun to drive cars. There are still examples at autocrosses and on race tracks here in Florida.

    Like 1
  7. Ike Onick

    I will bet the undercarrige rust and other hidden corrosion will make this worth $25.00

  8. Brent

    FIAT = Fix it again Tony.

  9. RBCJr

    My best friend’s wife (then fiancé) had one, her timing belt also broke and caused a lot of expensive damage.

  10. Acton Tommy

    I’ve had 2 X1/9s so far. Terrific cars, great handling, good looking, and reliable! Like most cars, there is a learning curve, and once you understand how to maintain it and don’t employ CHEAP fixes you will be rewarded with a VERY happy car.

    I still have the ’79 X1/9 and I love driving it anywhere. It is a hit with young people at most car shows, most people have never seen one, timeless design and a it is trophy winner. Here’s a link: https://www.rockauto.com/Newsletter/archives/4-1-21.html

    Like 5
  11. Cobra Steve

    In 1977, I bought a beautiful green 1975 X1/9 while in college. Car had 24,000 mi on it and I drove it every chance I got could. After a few months while pampering it at 60 MPH, it was like somebody turned off the ignition as all idiot lights illuminated. Sure enough I broke the timing belt!

    I tried to get the dealer to honor a warranty but they told me the belt should have been changed at 25,000 miles. I argued with them as the owner’s manual said to change it at 30,000 miles. Since I was not the original owner, I did not receive the notification from FIAT of their updated recommendation to change the belt at 25,000 miles.

    After crying in my beer for a weekend, my buddies all told me to quit feeling sorry for myself and fix the car! First I removed the camshaft box and then the cylinder head and was pleased to learn I had only barely scratched the top of the pistons but did manage to bend every valve. After replacing the valves and having a valve guides checked, I put everything back together and she ran like a Swiss watch. Correction, a slow Swiss watch as it only had 1.3 L!

    Perhaps I will have another one someday, but until then, when I see FIAT, I think of Feeble Italian Attempt at Transportation.

    Like 2
    • Cobra Steve

      I neglected to mention the timing belt broke at 27,000 mi.

      Like 2
  12. SirRaoulDuke

    Honda swap candidate.

  13. chrlsful

    fine example in the Karman Ghia, MR2, miaita, fiat 850, ferrio heritage. No problems here. Safety, reliability, maintenance then drive. I like the SCCA use comment. My plan 4 da ’92 MR2 I just bought (can I put the turbo to it?).

  14. RMac

    My sister had an 81 she bought new loved it it was like driving a go cart on the road so I bought a 74 spider not the same driving experience but still a fun car only problem I had was calipers locking up and once it died in a snowstorm because a fuse fell out of the fuse box those stupid little ceramic fuses wit pointed ends fell out frequently

  15. RMac

    I really wish this was closer to me in SC so I could look at it if not too much rust I would snap it up in a second at that price

  16. Stephen Coe

    A 2 owner one of these just left my friends metat shop the 2 owner bought the car at 3 years old as his High School driver, so he’s noe 43 has a son 14 who wants to fix up dads car,😂😂😂😂 dad just spent 4,800 for parts and rusty metal repairs on this car or ove 4x what dad paid as a teenager
    ,. Just leave it no sauce thing as a bargain fiat X19. Sad but true. I’m old so dates may not line up exactly,but you get the drift.I had a 69 850 I know, I still have a 1958 MGA Coupe but I just can’t help it.😎😎😎

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