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50 Years Ago, Fiat’s Affordable X1/9 Brought Mid-Engine, Open-Top Motoring to the Masses

Posted August 10, 2022 5:00 AM by dstrohl
Pathfinder Tags: Fiat X1/9

A half-century after its debut, the Fiat X1/9 (later known as the Bertone X1/9) remains a benchmark for sophisticated sports car design in an affordable package. At launch, the Italian two-seater instantly made everything else in its price range look a decade out of date. The popularity of this mid-engine wedge helped it remain in production even after its parent company moved on, outlasting 1970s competitors like the Porsche 914 and inspiring 1980s rivals like the Pontiac Fiero and Toyota MR2.

Prior to our feature model’s introduction, Fiat’s sports cars used either the conventional front engine/rear-drive layout or rear engine/rear drive; the 1964 introduction of the transverse-mounted front engine/front drive Autobianchi Primula, designed by engineer Dante Giacosa, set the stage for the later X1/9. Giacosa’s 1968 Autobianchi G 31 show car was proof of concept: that rakish looking fastback mounted its four-cylinder driveline sideways behind the seats, achieving the mid-engine/rear-drive layout used in racecars and brought to the street by Lamborghini’s groundbreaking Miura.

With inexpensive Fiat mechanicals proven to work in this fashion, all that was left was to clothe a production sports car. Carrozzeria Bertone, which had designed and built bodies for Fiat’s 850 Spider and Ferrari V-6-powered Dino coupe, had the perfect starting point in the wedge-shaped 1969 Autobianchi A112 Runabout concept, styled by future Lamborghini Countach designer Marcello Gandini. In consideration of potential forthcoming U.S. safety regulations, the mid-engine two-seater wouldn’t be a true convertible, instead featuring a removable roof panel that bridged the windshield frame and the sturdy fixed rear buttress.

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Re: 50 Years Ago, Fiat’s Affordable X1/9 Brought Mid-Engine, Open-Top Motoring to the Masses

08/10/2022 2:41 PM

Popular car on the autocross circuits.

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Re: 50 Years Ago, Fiat’s Affordable X1/9 Brought Mid-Engine, Open-Top Motoring to the Masses

08/11/2022 12:20 PM

My buddy had one and we put a lot of work into it. It could get up to 120mph.

Big fun to drive and actually very reliable. He eventually traded up to a Ferrari 2+2 (used and in need of work).

We put a ski rack on the rear hatch and would drive up to Tahoe every Friday during ski season. Got to do donuts on a frozen parking lot one morning and that was a real kick!

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Re: 50 Years Ago, Fiat’s Affordable X1/9 Brought Mid-Engine, Open-Top Motoring to the Masses

08/11/2022 11:13 PM

If it was between 1985 and 1988, I might have seen you at Heavenly, Kirkwood, Sierra Ski Ranch, or Squaw Valley.

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Re: 50 Years Ago, Fiat’s Affordable X1/9 Brought Mid-Engine, Open-Top Motoring to the Masses

08/12/2022 10:39 AM

You may have seen my buddy by then. He did ski patrol by that time.

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Re: 50 Years Ago, Fiat’s Affordable X1/9 Brought Mid-Engine, Open-Top Motoring to the Masses

08/12/2022 12:55 PM

Fortunately or unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to know the ski patrol well.

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