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by Jay Traugott
Not all Italian sports cars have to be expensive as this Gandini-designed Bertone Fiat X1/9 so perfectly demonstrates.
Fiat has a long history of building genuine sports cars, but not necessarily those of the highest quality. Most owners can regale at least one incident of outright mechanical failure, but it's hard to deny these Italian-built cars exuded charm. They often represent the essence of driving enjoyment, even, to some extent, when stranded on the side of the road. As when standing totally motionless, Italian-made cars have that wonderful knack of making owners forgive them simply because they look so damn good.
Their designs are beautiful and passionate, attributes that are sometimes lost on other global automakers. Sports cars are a specialty for Italy and whether they're cheap or super expensive, they're all fun to drive. One of those was the Fiat X1/9. This mid-engined two-seater was first launched in 1972 as a replacement for the 850 Spider by Bertone. It was immediately lauded for its solid handling, lightweight-removable top and relatively decent storage space. What's interesting is that, unlike most other European cars at the time, it was designed from the onset to comply with US safety regulations of the late Sixties.
Power first came from a 1.3-liter straight-four with just 75 horsepower and mated to a four-speed manual. It was fun to drive and it embodied the essential rear-wheel-drive element that made it a true sports car. In addition to its sports car engineering purity, the X1/9 also looked great, thanks to an exterior design by none other than Marcello Gandini, who worked for Bertone at the time. As any enthusiast knows, this is the man responsible for the designs of many classics, including the Lamborghini Miura and Countach, Lancia Stratos and the first generation BMW 5 Series, to name just a few.
His signature wedge styling is clearly present in the X1/9 and it still looks fantastic today. The car first appeared in the US in 1974 and it didn't look that much different than its European counterpart. This changed somewhat in 1975 when US-bound models were given what's described as "latter-style" impact absorbing front and rear bumpers. Beginning in 1979 US cars saw a raise in displacement to 1.5 liters as well as a new five-speed manual gearbox. However, these cars did suffer from decreased output due to them being adjusted to meet the US emissions standards of the time.
The car continued to be updated right up until Fiat ended its presence in the US market in 1982. At that time, a company called International Automobile Importers, Inc., run by Malcolm Bricklin, took over building and importing the car. Production of the X1/9 was then turned over to Bertone. Updates such as rust protection, improved seating and a better electrical system were done but by 1987, sales fell too low to make the car profitable and production ended. One of the final model year X1/9s is currently up for sale on eBay and despite a bit of wear and tear, the car is in remarkably good shape belying its 25 years on the road.
As a Southern California car it has been spared rust and other weather-related issues. It has a total of 53,000 miles on the clock. The two-tone red paint is also in good condition along with its interior, making the car ripe for a proper restoration. As of writing, the highest bid is a mere $3,100, not bad at all for a true Italian sports car.