50 years Fiat X1/9: safer in the sun

50 years Fiat X1/9: safer in the sun

Molto bene thanks to the central engine and Bertone, said expert journalists at the premiere of the Fiat X1/9 in autumn 1972. In fact, this little Italian, launched by Marcello Gandini at Bertone in a tunnel of pop-up lights with wedge-shaped, it raised a wider smile on the faces of many sports car fans, more than it introduced the types of Mid-engine success à la Matra M 530 or VW-Porsche 914 could. Perhaps it was also the surprise effect of Fiat’s angular, fresh air and removable Targa roof. After all, it had never lost that prediction that the concept car Autobianchi Runabout, also created by the star designer Gandini, promised a wonderful world of a new car of solar pleasure as early as 1969.

The Fiat X1/9 fulfilled this promise by making the running vision shapes suitable for series production and responding to the new American safety concerns with a stable roll bar. “As fun as a convertible, as comfortable as a coupe,” explained Bertone’s ad. The sun could not be found in the X1/9 as freely and happily as in a full convertible, but the Formula 1 design with rear-wheel drive, mid-engine and almost perfect weight distribution ensured the driving pleasure that remained in demand for 16 years. . Production of the X1/9 ended only in 1988 after 166,000 cars. Before that, however, he still acted as a source of ideas for Japan’s best sellers Toyota MR2 and Mazda MX-5.

Desirable sports cars and spiders

From the studios of world-famous designers, they are as much a part of Italy as the southern sun and the knowledge of la dolce vita, that is, how to make life sweeter. For example with Alta Moda from Milano or Torino. Anyone who thinks only of the tricked-out versions of Vmax cars from Bertone and Pininfarina to Ferrari, Maserati or Lamborghini is forgetting the hugely successful mass-market models that have carried the Italian attitude to North America. This includes icons such as the Alfa Spider, which transported the Italianità to California in 1967 with Dustin Hoffman in the cult film “The Graduate”, and the small Fiat 850 Spider.

Drawn in emotional lines and built by Carrozzeria Bertone, the little sun king even closed in the country of road travelers. And it was this success story that Bertone – the coachbuilder also sold the 850 under its brand name – and Fiat wanted to continue in the 1970s, especially in the USA as the largest sports car market in the world. However, creativity was called now, because American leaders doubted the safety of the transfer of conventional transformers. Bertone countered 1969 with an impressive Barchetta, the Autobianchi Runabout. This two-seater concept car featured wedge-shaped lines, an integrated roll bar, a mid-rear engine and muscular rounded wheel arches. Features that were enthusiastically welcomed by the public and the media entered mass production three years later in the Fiat X1/9.

Bertone had done it again: a new customer order from Fiat with two safe seats for young Americans and Europeans who preferred futuristic shapes from bella Italia to time-honored British roadsters. What’s more: Marcello Gandini, the chief designer at Bertone, had incorporated an interesting touch of his masterpieces of the wedge-shaped Alfa Carabo, Lamborghini Countach or Lancia Stratos into the Fiat X1/9. The Fiat, which was previously 55 kW / 75 hp, did not need to be very fast. The most important were the cheap price (11,285 points and thus cheaper than the Matra, MGB or VW-Porsche), the solid mass-production technology (provided by the Fiat 128), the airiness, the safety thanks to the powerful B- and powerful. pillars and brackets, cool folding lights and a great curve dance engine. The characteristics that got the job sold immediately were a short 3.83 meters and, at 1.17 meters, a record-breaking flounder.

Even more: In 1982, the X1/9 Bertone finally established itself as an independent car brand, because from then on the fast Luftikus was also sold under the Carrozzeria signature. Unfortunately, the same also applied to the Fiat Ritmo convertible, which had provided its 63 kW / 86 hp engine for the X1/9 since 1978. At that time, Fiat decided to withdraw from the American business, which was more difficult. A strategy that Bertone immediately used to his own advantage. The design brand relied on Fiat’s proven sales network and continued to let the sun shine on convertible fans, while almost all other fresh air competitors disappeared. In fact, the Fiat X1/9 outlived its technology sponsor the Fiat 128 at this time, which even owed a strange type code.

In 1969

At that time, the front-wheel drive model Fiat 128 made its debut – the development number X1 marked a new platform in the Italian compact class. The Fiat 128 sedan presented for the first time received the project number X1/1, the X1/9 was realized as the ninth project and used drive units from the 128 Sport 1300 coupé, also introduced in 1972, which was clearly superior in terms of performance drive. . Central engine and lightweight construction, who doesn’t immediately think of legendary sports cars like the Lancia Stratos HF? As early as 1973 at the Geneva Motor Show, a Group 4 racer built by motorcycle enthusiasts raised hopes, which were fueled by the Fiat Abarth X1/9 Prototipo with 154 kW / 210 hp which was successfully used in national rallies in Italy and France there. 1974. In the end, Fiat still focused on the 131 Abarth Rally, in which Walter Röhrl became World Rally Champion.

Unfortunately, the X1/9’s driving dynamics were studied very closely in Japan. There, in 1976, the charismatic Fiat set the initial spark for the development of the Toyota MR2, which was the best-seller in the world from 1984 with a mid-engine and T-Bar-Roof and competed with the Bertone X1/9 in many markets. This was now past the best, which could not be hidden by a new series of special colors and the X1/9 S Kat launched in 1984 with a frugal 57 kW / 77 hp, but a future-oriented, regulated three-way catalytic converter. The contour created by the cutting edge artist Gandini of the construction of Fiat, respectfully called “Baby Ferrari” in the special press, seemed “forever young”, but the X1/9 now drove modern 16-valve engines made in Japan and up to 91 kW . / 124 hp after.

However, the X1/9 was also used at Mazda as a reference model for the development of the Mazda MX-5 roadster, for which the design studios even created a variant with a strong roll bar. When the Japanese roadster finally appeared in showrooms in 1989, Bertone’s two-seater host had already passed away. In the summer of 1988, the last wedge of life left the factory, but the small Italian sale lasted until 1990. In that year of German reunification, the last X1 / 9 made the sun rise in the hearts of Italo fans. Rhine and Oder.