Fiat did pretty well selling cars in the United States during the 1970s, especially after the 1973 Oil Crisis made fuel economy a very persuasive selling point. While sales of the larger 131/Brava and weird-looking Strada never amounted to much here, 128s, 124 Sport Spiders and X1/9s were all over American roads during the Malaise Era. Today’s Junkyard Gem is one of those X1/9s, found in a boneyard near Pikes Peak in Colorado.
The design of the X1/9 was inspired by the 1969 Autobianchi A112 Bertone concept car, and it featured the engine/transaxle assembly and front suspension from the Fiat 128 mounted just behind the seats. A bit more than a decade later, GM copied that idea by using Chevrolet Citation running gear and front suspension in the back of the Pontiac Fiero.
The result was a lightweight, nimble mid-engined targa convertible that achieved excellent fuel economy and looked far quicker than it actually was.
The X1/9 was available in the United States from the 1973 through 1987 model years. Because Fiat fled the United States in 1982, the 1983-1987 X1/9s were imported by Malcolm Bricklin (yes, at the same time he was the Yugo King) and sold with Bertone badging. The Bricklin-imported 124 Sport Spider was available here during that period as the Pininfarina Azurra.
The MSRP for the ’78 X1/9 was $5,445, or about $26,804 in 2023 dollars. Meanwhile, the 124 Sport Spider listed at $6,495 ($31,973 after inflation), though it had quite a bit more horsepower (90 versus the X1/9’s 67). The next-cheapest mid-engined Italian two-seater Americans could buy that year was the Ferrari 308, which started at an eye-watering $28,580 ($140,692 today); the ’78 Maserati Bora cost $29,800 ($146,698 now). A year earlier, there would have been a bit of competition with the Lancia Scorpion, but the last model year here for that somewhat cheap machine was 1977.
The U.S.-market X1/9 was underpowered, no getting around that, but it managed to be fun to drive. Install a quad-cam Alfa Romeo V6 from a 164 in one, though, and you get a terrifyingly fast track machine.
I used X1/9 side scoops on the hood of my 1965 Impala sedan project, back in the 1990s.
The little access hatch to the distributor, located behind the passenger seat, is a thoughtful touch by Fiat.
Its final parking space has a good view of Pikes Peak (the snow-covered mountain behind the Xterra), at least. A low-mile original X1/9 of this era is worth decent money, but a battered hooptie like this just wasn’t likely to find a forever home.
The best mileage of any two-seater sports car sold in America! It’s a good thing for Fiat that the X1/9 never had to compete head-to-head with the Honda CRX.