Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 4
The Fiat X1/9 was one of the most significant new designs of the 1970s - rivaling the Datsun 240Z
, a car that had set new standards in performance and elegance for medium-priced 2-seat GT's. It was the earliest lightweight mid-engined sports car made - the biggest challenge at the time being how to locate all the mechanicals without compromising useable space. The X1/9 succeeded because of its clever packaging. Adopting a transverse engine and transmission
unit from the front-engined/front-wheel drive Fiat 128 Coupe.
The 128 was already compact, but with additional modifications Fiat were able to make the car even shorter and employ the most space-efficient suspension
, MacPherson struts, in all corners. Behind the engine (and also the front of the car), there was enough space forreasonably sized luggage. Clever use was made in positioning the spare tyre
and fuel tank - the former was located behind the right seat and the latter was behind the left seat, just in front of the engine compartment. The space saving ideas were from Bertone
, as was the exterior styling.
Originally designed as a convertible, due to the strict safety regulations in America Bertone
switched to targa arrangement, utilizing a removable roof panel which could be stored in the front boot. The Targa design also enhanced the car's beauty, without sacrificing the airy feel. As a whole, the exterior design was among the very best. Between 1972
, the X1/9 was powered by a 75 hp 1300cc engine however this was replace in 1978 by a 85 hp 1500cc unit.
Designed for Europe and America
Fiat had traditionally offered highly tuned Spider versions of its standard sedans; the X1/9's predecessor, the 850 Spider, was an offshoot of the 850 sedan. But the X1/9 was the first Fiat designed specifically for American requirements as well as European. It's wedge shape was not only one of the handsomest designs ever seen on a small car but one of the most functional. Within its 86.7-in. wheelbase and 153.5-in. overall length Fiat and Bertone
managed to squeeze a generous 7.0 cu ft of luggage space (3.9 cu ft at the front and 3.1 cu ft at the rear) and considerable room and comfort for two passengers.
Efficient use of space was exemplified by the transverse engine placement; the spare tyre
and fuel tank were located side-by-side behind the two passengers, further conserving space. In moving the entire powertrain back to its position just ahead of the rear wheels Fiat designers were able to use most of the existing 128 components, though a larger-capacity aluminium sump, a cooling-system expansion tank and a hydraulically operated clutch were required. Unlike the 914, the Fiat had a water-cooled engine; the radiator was mounted up front. It had a thermostatically controlled fan and its plumbing ran between the seats down the stress-bearing central tunnel.
Inside the X!/9
Inside the X1/9 was good-looking as it was on the outside, with a comfortable interior trimmed in black vinyl throughout, modernistic instrumentation with all the right gauges and no less than nine warning lights in full view of the driver, and a handsome 4-spoke padded steering wheel. Interior as well as exterior appointments were refreshingly free of chrome. Steering wheel and column, inside rearview and outside mirrors, wiper arms, louvered engine access panel - just about every item that could have caused glare was finished in a matte-black finish.
Despite its low height (it was only 46.1 in. high) getting in and out of the X1/9 was easy, the doors being wide enough without being heavy. There was ample leg room even for a 6-footer. The seats offered a fair amount of lateral and back support, but the high wraparound backrests with integral head restraints narrowed toward the top and were uncomfortable for larger poeple. There were people who had shied away from Italian cars because of the often extreme arms-out, legs-scrunched driving position. but the X1/9 was a pleasant departure: the driving position was completely "normal" and for once in a mid-engine design there's plenty of back-angle adjustment.
Flow-through ventilation was via four vents - two at either end of the dash and two central, which also functioned with the heater. Each was adjustable side-to-side, but not up-and-down; and the flow without help from the fan was only marginally acceptable at low speeds or in warm weather. The heater, however, was capable of toasting occupants when required and, more importantly, possible to make comfortable runs on chilly nights with the top off. As was typical of Fiats of the era, the windshield washer and wipers, directional’s and high-beam flasher were actuated by stalks on the steering column. The high-beam stalk was directly behind the turn-signal indicator and easy for the unfamiliar to hit the wrong one. Separate switches for the lights, instrument lights and heater-control lights were typically Italian, which means illogical, as was the air-direction lever with "up" directing air at the feet and "down" sending it to the windshield.
The X1/9 was fitted with only lap belts and not a lap-shoulder belt system. But there were some more advanced featuers, such as putting the boot release inside the lockable glovebox. And borrowing from another Italian thoroughbred, the Dino Ferrari, the X1/9 had lockable levers for the engine bonet and boot on the driver's door jamb. The X1/9's removable fibreglass roof panel was similar in basic concept to the Porsche 914's but stores in the front compartment rather than the rear as in the 914. Removing the top was an easy one-person operation: release two simple windshield header catches, lift off and store. Unfortunately there was considerable wind noise around the side windows when the top was in place, but occupants were subjected to little buffeting with the top off and there was excellent outward vision in all directions, a highly desirable feature in so small a car.
Behind the Wheel
A 20.1-sec quarter mile time was proof that the acceleration wasn't startling, but if the full 7000-rpm rev range was used brisk performance was available. The engine's lack of vibration made it pleasant to use the revs, too, and allowed cruising with only a mild hum and some high-pitched whining from the transfer drive up to 80 mph. For highway overtaking, 3rd gear gave 75 mph at 7000 rpm and took you from 50 to 70 in a fairly brisk 10 seconds. Drivability was also above average, marred only by the engine's slight reluctance to fire up when cold even with the manual choke full-on and some surging after a hot start for a minute or two.
The less-than-satisfactory shift linkage was a problem common to most mid-engine cars, but not the X1/9. The Fiat's gear change was excellent - precise and quick, with none of the vagueness associated with the usual midship design. Other driving controls were equally impressive. The steering, without the drive passing through it as on the FWD
128s, was feather-light, pleasingly direct and responsive to driver inputs. The X1/9 had disc brakes
all around, unlike the 128s but like the larger Fiat 124 series
; there was no vacuum assistance but it was not too much of a problem as it required little pedal effort, and when pushed fade was minimal. There was little front-end dive to upset balance and the brakes
showed only a slight tendency to front-wheel locking near the end of a stop.
The ride, handling
and roadholding were all great, with the usual Fiat expertise applied to the always potentially outstanding mid-engine layout. There was an almost perfect blending of springing, damping and wheel travel, so the ride, though firm, was not harsh. Neither did the front end bob over gentle undulations. The X1/9's body was solid and rattlefree, and rough pavement that would send many other sports cars skittering one way or the other had little effect on the Fiat. Though the X1/9's steady-state cornering capability was impressive (at 0.772g nearly as high as that of the Pantera and Porsche 911
), its transient characteristics - the way it responded when you first steered it into a turn or change the throttle opening in the middle of a turn - were really what make the Fiat such an excellent road car. Initial response to a steering input was without any delay; and body roll, even without anti-roll bars
, was so slight as to go unnoticed.
Liftoff in a tight turn produced little change in attitude: the front tucked in a bit but there was no abrupt change to oversteer. Tight turns that were dramatic even in a good front-engine sports car were a piece of cake for the Fiat because of its handling and small size,. The Michelin XAS radials are also worthy of mention - these must have contributed to the cars excellent road manners; road testers always commented that their grip was phenomenal relative to their size. Wind the clock back to 1972
and the X1/9 made a compelling argument to should have been on anyones short list when looking for a sports car. Its acceleration may not have been all that outstanding, but it offered great fuel economy; and most important, the car was fun to drive at any speed. Some thought it a little too expensive, but it did offer plenty of value.
The Racing X1/9
The paint had hardly dried on the first production versions of the Fiat X1/9 when a hunky racing version appeared. The car was prepared under the direction of Mike Parkes
, former Ferrari Formula 1 driver, who headed up the Scuderia Filipinetti operation at Formigine, near Modena, Italy. Filipinetti had extensive experience in race preparation of the Fiat 128 sedan and coupe – and in 1972 Filipinetti and private owners campaigned them, and there were even street versions of the racers sold through Filipinetti in Geneva.
One of the most interesting features of the prepared X1/9 was its Dallara-designed 4-valve-per-cylinder twin-cam head. Dallara, the former Lamborghini engineer, maintained a shop not far from the Filipinetti factory where he built sports prototypes in 1000cc and 1280cc versions using Fiat components, and he and Parkes
collaborated on the engine
and drivetrain designs for the 128. Bore and stroke of the race bred X1/9 engine were stock - 86.0 x 55.5 mm - and like Dallara's 1-litre, 2-valve, SOHC unit this engine had rerouted intake ports with stainless steel sleeves. The new ports reduced the angle of gas flow to the valves
from 45° to 32° for improved breathing and volumetric efficiency. As with his 1000 engine Dallara used a Kugelfischer fuel-injection system. The racing X1/9 employed a wet sump, although we believe some later versions were fitted with a dry sump. The gearbox-differential unit was a Colotti Tipo 141 5-speed, the same transaxle Dallara fitted to his sports prototypes.
A rear anti-roll bar
was installed ahead of the axles; other chassis modifications included Bilstein adjustable shock absorbers front and rear. A full roll cage, rather than a simple rollbar, was fitted to give more substantial protection in an accident as well as increase chassis rigidity. The cockpit was all business with the standard instrumentation being replaced by just tachometer, oil pressure, fuel level and coolant-temperature gauges. Reclining racing buckets were used in place of the stock seats. The racing X1/9 was raced during the 1973 Group 4 European Championship events by Filipinetti.