Stored 20 Years: 1979 Fiat X1/9

Jeff LaveryBy Jeff Lavery

It was 80 degrees in the northeast yesterday, which, being the first warm day we’ve had since last summer, meant I desperately wanted to be driving one of my projects. The only problem is, three of the four are under the knife in some fashion and the fourth has a dead battery. So, I simply have to use my imagination, which wanders to this super clean 1979 Fiat X1/9 here on craigslist for $8,500 in Topeka, Kansas. 

Topeka! I always expect these funky Italians to be in a coastal city or some other hub where eclectic tastes and winding driver’s roads converge. But given the Fiat’s pleasant road manners and ability to offer the best parts of Italian style, sound, and handling in an affordable package, it’s not surprising to find these two-seaters just about anywhere. Few remain, however, in as nice of condition as this one. This X1/9 is recently out of 20-year storage and has just had a full body repaint, courtesy of the selling dealer.

What’s curious about this Fiat is several not-insignificant cosmetic improvements were made, but there are still several not-insignificant mechanical issues that need sorting. I can’t imagine the paint was so bad that they could’ve lived with the ratty exterior and fixed the transmission that grinds in two gears and pops out of reverse, or the “tune-up” work it is said to need due to what sounds like a carburetor that needs replacing. They went so far as to replace the carpeting and refinish the seats, so some money has been thrown at it – but was it in the right places?

To the seller’s  credit, I don’t believe they are trying to hide anything. They certainly don’t try and pass the mileage reading off as accurate, which could either indicate they know it to be higher or they aren’t going to trust the accuracy of an old odometer. Still, this feels like it could be a solid, rust-free Midwest car underneath all that fresh paint, but the next owner will have to explore the seriousness of the mechanical issues and get a feel as to why the seller chose not to address those needs. What do you think – is this X1/9 the best bet for roof-off weather?

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Comments

  1. daniel wright

    My one experience with these was an example that had been abused to death…it was for sale cheap and we got it running before we decided to pass on it. Someone had welded a hitch to the front bumper and used it to lower boats into the water. The front shock towers being cracked were the least of its problems. Not to mention the early examples tended to dissolve on contact with moisture.

    1+
  2. Robbie

    Don’t walk away…run! I had a ’74. My brother had a ’75. Mine never ran right. His wiring harness caught fire and burned up. I can’t speak specifically for a ’79 model, but be very careful. Very cool looking and inexpensive ride back in the day, but don’t get one unless you are a certified auto technician.

    1+
  3. RoughDiamond

    I always loved the style of these X1/9s, but I think it was the electrical gremlins that caused them to lose favor. A fella I used to work with bought one new and he was grinning ear to ear on the first day he drove it to work. Then on several occasions he hopped in it to head off to work after having parked it the night before with it running fine and the darn thing would not hit a lick. Finally he was driving it in to work one morning and had to bail on the car as an electrical fire (later determined) had ensued. The next week he was driving a new model year 1978 Toyota Celica GT with a 5-speed and dared anyone to bring up his former fried X1/9.

    2+
  4. Rock On

    A fellow in my high school put a $2,000.00 hand rubbed laquer paint job on his X19( probably closer to $8,000.00 today). Within 6 months rust was showing through the paint. He never drove the car in rain or snow. To say these cars are rust prone is an understatement.

    5+
  5. dgrass

    Never found the appeal in these, but there is a seat for every rear…

    1+
  6. Fred W.

    In my experience, 70’s Fiats make a Yugo look like a quality ride. Saw a friend’s 124 Sport Coupe go from nice to giant rust holes in just two years. Still ran like a bandit though!

    1+
    • Francisco

      Russian steel.

      0
      • Tirefriar

        Correction: Soviet steel.

        3+
      • Francisco

        I wanted to say that Tirefriar, but Barn Finds doesn’t want us to get political.

        0
      • Fiete T.

        They are called Lada’s. Much better steel than any grade Italy has ever put out…

        0
    • Mike

      love my 1988 rust free 1988 Yugo GV

      1+
      • Tirefriar

        I heard there was an issue with cam shafts. Is that the case?

        0
  7. Tirefriar

    Nothing wrong with the X1/9 or most of the other Fiat products of that era. The only real problem these cars ever had were owners who failed to maintain them. It’s the same with Alfa Romeos. Rust is an issue not only with vintage Italian cars. Those that own Mercedes G-wagons in coastal areas or not so dry climates will agree.

    My father had a 124 Estate, two door station wagon. It was a cool little car but my dad sold it before I could get my little grubby hands on it. A pre 76 X1/9 would be a fun little project for me to tackle (smog exempt in Cali). This one is quite overpriced given the issues needing to be addressed.

    2+
  8. Howard A Member

    This was the only Fiat that made any sense to me. Couldn’t hold a candle to the Fiero or 914, but for a Fiat, it was a cool car. Seems there was a short lived fascination with mid-engine cars that didn’t pan out.( without going the exotic route) Sorry, Fiats were the worst cars out there, and this car did not do well either. Too bad, it really had everything. Great find, never thought I’d see one, especially like this, probably waiting 20 years for parts to arrive.

    1+
    • Doc

      >Couldn’t hold a candle to the Fiero or 914,

      Nonsense. The X1/9, especially the later Bertone badged ones, could smoke both the Fiero and 914 on a track. They were faster than the 914, and handle like nothing else.

      3+
      • Greg

        Totally agree Doc!

        0
  9. Chris

    I dated a girls that had one of these in 1987. Every time we went out something else broke on her car. I can’t believe anyone would build something of such horrible quality. It was amazing how terrible her cars was.

    1+
  10. DrewP

    That dash and steering wheel….I can hardly look at it now, let alone everyday if it was mine.
    Nice shape of the body, though.

    0
  11. Jeffro

    SBC! Can’t believe nobody else thought of that. Lmao

    4+
  12. Joe Nose

    Destined to remain driveway art.

    0
  13. John M.

    (F)ix
    (I)t
    (A)gain
    (T)ony

    3+
  14. rando

    A friend had one. Green with saddle interior. I could borrow it most anytime. Fun car. When it was right. It’s major issue was that the timing moved around. It would be running fine and then start to lose power as the distributor moved. So you stop, loose the distributor, set it til it sounded right (yes with the car running), jumped in and drove 10 – 20 more miles. Stop and repeat. Not sure why the distributor wouldn’t stay put. Can’t comment on other factors as they didn’t own the car too loong. I’m sure it was no better or worse than any other X1/9.

    I can’t imagine getting in and out of one now at my age and size, though.

    1+
  15. Rich G

    I just let go of one of these. A 1979 that was an excellent driver, body a 7 / 10; had rust but quite fixable. Mine had a total mechanical rebuild including engine, trans, brakes, clutch, hoses, etc. Interior was 8 / 10. Mine sold for $4500.

    Yes, they have no acceleration and the ergo of a 40 year old car, but they are great fun. Parts are readily available.

    On this one, I’d be curious to look at the usual rust places: underneath the battery box in front, the floors, the rockers, and the rear trunk recess behind the rear wheels. My concern would be that it is filled with bondo.

    1+
  16. John

    I want so much to like these. But I can’t. I owned one for a short period. The guy that I sold it to tried to sue me. During the car’s stay with me, there was never a day that it did not have a problem. The list is simply too long to get into in this little box. The car had 83 miles on it when I bought it and 1700 when I sold it. It never took me anywhere without my being worried about how I was getting home.

    The concept of this little car is so neat. The execution borders on criminal.

    3+
  17. JBusy

    Bought one New in 86 under the Bertone badge. Factory two tone paint….but sprayed on so thin, hitting hitting moving flies would cause paint chipping. Horrible sealed coolant system. Adding a radio head unit interfered with A/C control cabling, starter silinoid always came loose…and the window trim had a tendency to fall in your lap; but all these events happened after the 1 year/12,0000 mile warranty. Otherwise it ran great on warm days and handled like a go cart on rails.

    3+
    • Jeffro

      The moving flies bit had me laughing! Sad thing is that I actually pictured it in my head!

      0
  18. Tommy

    This one is WAY overpriced considering the issues you would have to take care of. I owned an ’81 and would still be driving it, if it hadn’t been rear ended and totaled….. it was a great car and I only paid $3,000. I would buy another X 1/9 but not this one at $8,500, it is about $4,000 too high.

    1+
  19. Greg

    I had a 87 Bertone X1/9 (same thing) which was a bit more refined by then. Lots of fun zooming around San Diego in college and sold it off before having any problems. So I have fond memories.

    1+
  20. Doc

    I’ve owned a 1983 X1/9 for the last 18 years. It’s a great little car if you understand them.

    When I got mine it had been sitting outside for a couple of years. There was rust in the rear wheel wells from winter road salt. I fixed that, and have otherwise had no rust problems at all.

    Mechanically, the only thing I’ve had to do in those 18 years (aside from brakes, tires, and other wear items) was to replace the air flow meter– and given that the car is 34 years old, I think that’s a pretty small price to pay.

    Electrically, it’s been fine once I got it sorted out. The real problem with the electrical system in these is the ground– there are little sheet metal tabs connected to the body that act as the grounds– a little corrosion between the tab and the spade connector, and the part “fails”. I go through mine every couple of years with a piece of emory cloth to remove any corrosion from those tabs.

    I’ve got a couple little things to fix when I pull it out of storage this year… I’m going to swap out the ignition cylinder, as it’s intermittently acting up, and I need to change the sensor that controls the opening and closing of the thermostat.

    Someone else mentioned that the real problem with these is lack of maintenance, and that’s absolutely true– these are “exotics” on a beer budget. You need to take time and spend a little money from time to time to keep it running right.

    If you happen to be in the market for one, I would suggest sticking with the Bertone badged 1983-87 models. Fuel injection, more horsepower, better reliability, and better build quality than the 74-80 Fiat badged cars, and better reliable than the 1981-82 fuel injected models.

    1+
    • Greg

      I totally agree. It’s all about keeping up with regular maintenance and having a mechanic that knows these cars. With that, I put just over 100,000 miles on mine and never had to put big money into it. It truly is like driving a fuel injected go-cart on rails!

      1+
  21. Mark

    My second car was a 1978 X 1/9. Drove it 2,500 miles across the country to school in Utah. For some reason, I could not engage reverse, so had to be careful where I parked. As I pulled into my apartment complex, the entire drivetrain fell onto the ground. Come to find out the previous owner had not re-torqued the mounting bolts after a clutch change. I jacked it back into place, and with some hardware store replacements, bolted it back it. Voila! Reverse was restored. I had driven all that distance with the engine hanging by a thread. Later I would own a 1987 Bertone and many other Fiats. The MR-2 was the perfection of the mid-engine pocket rockets.

    1+
  22. TechnoHippie

    As someone who’s had a fleet of these things (I’ve had 14 of them – all 1979 or newer) I can say I know quite a bit about these cars. This is a 79 so it’s carb version not fuel injected. It won’t have electric windows and this one has no A/C system either. No leather interior either and those wheels are off an 81 (although they’re nicer than the ones that came on the 79’s). The carbs are always issues in these cars and I see this one is having trouble – and if that transmission problem is not an issue with the shift linkage then you’re going to need a new transmission. The paint and body really look nice though – but even so I don’t see this thing worth $8500 – I would say closer to 1/2 that IF the transmission was working properly and it was all tuned up with valves properly adjusted and such – as it sits I wouldn’t pay more than $3,000 for it. If you want to get an X1/9 – get one of the 83 or newer Bertone badged ones. The 83 and 84 ones had very nice leather interior – and the 86’s and the few 87’s ones had more headbolts and that helped with blowing head gaskets. There are also engine swap options you can put a Honda K20A motor in it and end up with like 250hp in the thing – for that you want an old of one as you can get – like a 74 model because they weigh less.

    0
  23. Greg

    Mine was an 87, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Really interesting idea swapping out the engine for a Honda K20A. Have you done that? What transmission did you use? Is it a difficult swap?

    0

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