The Fiat X1/9 has been all but forgotten in the 40 years since it was introduced to North American markets. Most collectors just ignore the little mid-engine, two-seater convertible. Many see the car as Fiat’s underpowered and somewhat half-hearted effort to hold onto the American market — and really, who wouldn’t rather have a Fiat 124 Spider of the same vintage, all things being equal?
On the other hand, autocrossers, track-day addicts and those who just wanted an agile sports car prized the X1/9 in its era. But Toyota’s MR2 came along in 1984, and Mazda’s ultra-popular MX-5 Miata arrived during the summer of 1989. Those models sealed the doom for the X1/9 as a competition car, and its popularity dwindled to cult status among Fiat enthusiasts.
The X1/9 story
Although European production began in 1972, the X1/9 was not introduced to American buyers until 1974. Production continued under the Fiat badge until the company abandoned the American market in 1983. The X1/9 was then sold until 1990 as a Bertone car. In all, about 160,000 X1/9s were produced over the lifetime of the model, with about 20,000 of those carrying Bertone badges.
The X1/9 began its run with a 1,290-cc version of Fiat’s standard single-overhead- cam engine, mated to a 4-speed manual transmission. For 1974, American export cars were rated at 66.5 net horsepower on the SAE scale. In 1975, that dropped to 61 horsepower, where it stayed through the 1978 model year.
In 1979, Fiat changed to a 5-speed gearbox and increased engine displacement to 1,498-cc, but this only bumped the horsepower back up to 67. In 1980, buyers could opt for Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection, which pushed engine output up to 75 horsepower. Bosch fuel injection became standard in 1981, and the drivetrain remained unchanged through the end of production.
In the years since it was introduced, the X1/9 has shown the same propensity to rust as other European cars of the era, and taller drivers may struggle to find comfort in the Lilliputian cockpit. Parts availability has dwindled over the years, but a strong network of enthusiasts has kept the model viable. If you’re considering a purchase, look only at 1980–90 models with the Bosch fuel injection and 5-speed gearbox. The prices will be just about the same as the lower-powered models.
Still affordable, despite a nutso outlier
Thanks to decades in the shadows of the collector car world, the X1/9 remains extremely affordable. The SCM Pocket Price Guide lists a range of $3,500 to $5,500 for all years. That valuation is borne out in actual auction results, which show only one car beating the high end of that range in the last 10 years, until a recent Silverstone Auctions sale in Britain blew the curve.
In 1983, someone across the pond purchased a new X1/9 and then drove just 751 miles over the car’s first decade. The second owner put just 1,619 additional miles on the Fiat before the car went up for auction this spring. With showroom-level condition and the odometer showing 2,370 miles since new, this little X1/9 sold for $30,016. That’s about three times more than the next-highest auction result ever, and about five to 10 times the going rate for a reasonable example.
It’s tempting to say that this sale is an anomaly — and doesn’t mean anything in the larger market. Mark your calendars, because this time we’re yielding to temptation. This purchase cannot possibly herald a big run-up in value for the X1/9 — even for those kept in as-new condition. However, the sale may bring some X1/9s out of storage and onto the auction block in hopes of a second lightning strike.
Just think about this: For the money this buyer paid, he could have had an award-winning Fiat 124 Spider, a very nice Alfa Kamm-tail Spider, a good Alfa Duetto, or a drivable Ferrari 400i — and any of those cars would leave you with some money in the bank today and a lot more upside potential tomorrow.
For the foreseeable future, the Fiat X1/9 will remain first and foremost an exceptionally fun and affordable car — and enough of a classic to be respectable. That’s right and proper because the design is sound, and the performance, while not breathtaking, is comparable to other cars launched in the same era, such as the MG Midget 1500 or early 1.7-liter Porsche 914. X1/9 enthusiasts may dream of riches in their garage, but that’s likely to remain a dream for the foreseeable future. ♦