By on June 19, 2012

In 1980, Fiat shoppers had the choice of two affordable sports cars: the 124 Sport Spider (examples of which remain quite common in wrecking yards, and the X1/9. The mid-engined X1/9 featured 128 running gear and was a lot more fun to drive than its 66-horsepower (for US-market models in 1980) engine would suggest.

The message of this TV ad seems to suggest that Fiat learned everything it needed to know about building cars from its successful racing cars of the 1920s, and the claim that the X1/9 gets the best mileage of any two-seat sports car in America doesn’t sound so compelling when you consider the competition.
The X1/9 was once reasonably plentiful on American roads, but most examples disappeared before the turn of the century. You will see the occasional X1/9 in self-service junkyards these days, but not in anywhere near the numbers of the Sport Spider.
It looks like somebody started to work on the body of this car, then gave up.
Is this an air-conditioning compressor? I’m sure the owner’s manual advised drivers to use AC only on long downhill grades.

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32 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1980 Fiat X1/9...”

  • avatar

    I like Fiats but the X1/9 never really made it for me. It looks like it would be a treat to work on that engine. On a bench.

  • avatar

    A friend had one about 30 years ago. Mostly I remember it feeling like a go-cart compared to some of the behemoths I was used to getting around in. The counter clockwise tach drove me nuts for some reason.
    She was convinced the Italians, in an attempt to find something that rusted faster than a Vega, mixed iron and Alkaline Seltzer to make the steel for it’s body. Overall it was a fun car while it lasted.

    • 0 avatar

      The real reason was worse. Due to some international trade agreements, Fiat was getting its steel from the Soviet Union at that time. See the Top Gear episode about the Lancia Beta for further details.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    I know Denso makes compressors, but I never heard of them making air pumps. Compared to today’s compact compressors, that model has them all beat on size, and it makes the domestic compressors from the 50s-70s appear gargantuan. I’m certain the pulley and clutch assembly on some Cadillac A/C compressors was larger than that entire unit. I can’t imagine there being many BTUs to work with in that system, but there wasn’t much interior volume to cool down in any case.

  • avatar

    I bought a used 1978 model at a Toyota/Triumph/Fiat dealer in Lawton, OK in 1980 as a first sports car. It was a fun car to drive and very balanced, but yes, it was not very powerful. Even worse when you used the A/C. Oil pan gasket leaked first day I drove it to work. Local mechanic worked on it most of the time since the dealer was pretty pricey. Heat management was a challenge. Hard to use it to haul refrigerated groceries, since the front trunk was behind the radiator in the nose and the rear trunk was behind the engine. Could have used it to deliver pizza! Traded it in on a 1977 Corvette when we got tired of leaks. It had issues, but we didn’t have to keep an eye on the temp guage when we used the A/C.

  • avatar

    A friend of mine who was an aerospace engineer had one and it was great to drive for a while but seemed to need an aerospace engineer to look after it. He ended up taking it apart down to all the component pieces and I am quite certain it never went back together again.

  • avatar

    My cousin had one of these when we were teenagers probably around 1980. What a piece of crap, but it was fun to ride in and the girls loved it. I remember right after he bought it he was flying down the road and the targa flew off. Took a while to find it. :-) We were heading to the lake one day and the car seemed to be running fine. I was riding shotgun and looked in my side mirror and there was this huge smoke trail. Hell we put James Bond to shame! Pulled over and oil was pouring out of it. The car was done. He parked it behind his parents house for years. Do not know what happened to it, but for a summer we were pretty cool in the middle of Kansas with alittle bit of italy.

  • avatar
    Joe McKinney

    One of my sisters owned a 1979 X-1/9. She bought the car in 1985 and kept it until around 1995. Contrary to Fiat’s reputation, her car was very relible and never suffered any major breakdowns. It did rust badly in the humid Florida air. By the time she sold it there were huge rust blisters or holes in almost every body panel.

  • avatar

    I know someone with a clean example, he worked in a body shop. It reminds me of the Fiero in many ways.

  • avatar

    I had a ’74 128SL. It was small, but roomier than the X1/9. The 128SL was unreliable, and the X1/9 only appeared to be worse due to its tighter packaging.

    The cool looks of the X1/9 were betrayed by a weak engine – too bad. Maybe Fiat could produce a retro X1/9 using the 500 drivetrain.

    • 0 avatar

      “The Abarth’s turbo also raises the temperature under the hood, where the battery lives. On our test car the heat caused one of the battery leads to get so loose the computer threw a “check engine” fault code at us.” –

      Sounds like the 500 drivetrain would create a worthy successor.

  • avatar

    A buddy of mine had one of these in college. It was a 1975 model in 1980. He always told me the chicks just dug his car, I never believed him until I cruised with him one night. It was true!

    Later, I drove the thing, it was actually entertaining, considering I was used to piloting an American muscle cars at the time. But by the time he had the car for three years, everything was broken, leaking or rusted into non-existence.

    Ever the glutton for punishment, he sells the Fiat to buy a fuel injected 1977 VW Scirocco. With an aftermarket (i.e. leaky) sunroof. Whole ‘nother story there.

    • 0 avatar

      Interestingly, my brother wanted to get an X 1/9 around the time he was in college back in the early 80’s. Went to Alameda, CA to look at one but it was already sold. He got a 1978 VW Scirocco instead, which was a lot of fun to drive and it wasn’t too unreliable, actually (though it has the aftermarket A/C which didn’t work).

      He eventually replaced the Scirocco with a 1985 Toyota MR2, a mid-engined 2-seater like the X 1/9, except a heck of a lot more reliable. Also a fun car to drive though I remember you did have to wind it up a bit to get some acceleration.

  • avatar

    That’s a smog pump; an A/C compressor would have a electromagnetic clutch, and the hoses would have big crimped sleeves. At least it’s driven with a V-belt; in ’76 FIAT drove it from the cam sprocket with a small cogged belt. If your smog pump froze, it stopped (or skipped) your camshaft, probably destroying your engine.

    That said, the non-smog pieces of those engines were pretty well-designed, and they were reliable, durable, and fun if properly sorted. I even got mine to stop leaking oil. :-)

    I have to remark that FIAT seats of that era were pretty bad; stylish, but no lower back support, and in the low-slung cars (X1/9, 128 3p, etc) there was no thigh support either. They were pretty tiring on long drives.


    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      Thanks for the clarification; I could have sworn the air injection pumps were a US manufacturer phenomenon exclusively – and I was wondering just how compact a clutch mechanism would need to be to fit that pulley assembly.

  • avatar

    I owned one of the last models in the UK with a huge 85HP motor. Lots of fun on the twisty UK roads but not sure how relevant it will be on US straight ahead highways. if only Fiat would have developed it further instead of allowing Toyota to do it with the Mark1 MR2. i did once drive 1 with a Lancia 2.0ltr motor shoe-horned in…interesting experience!

  • avatar
    Jetstar 88

    That’s not the worst A/C matchup I’ve seen. The 1977 Lotus Eclat I saw in the junkyard had the same massive Frigidaire compressor that most 1960s GM cars (and later Jaguars, Mercedes, and Rolls Royces) use.

    Probably drained half the horsepower.

    • 0 avatar

      In the early to mid 1970s, Lotus started using AC/Delco alternators and, it seemed to me, they replaced a lot of other components with American made gear.

      • 0 avatar
        Robert Gordon

        Lotus in the 70’s frequently changed component suppliers. This was due in no small part to a company culture that did not place a priority on regular bill payments to said suppliers who on numerous occasions would respond by withholding supply.

        It was not unheard of for Lotus to use second-hand parts in production.

  • avatar

    While in the junkyard, I often sit in the more unusual and classic cars to try to get the “experience”. I recently tried on an X1/9. Don’t believe I’ve ever sat in a more cramped vehicle.

  • avatar

    In 1975 a buddy took his Fiat (128?) to the dealer for repairs. After about 2 weeks of the dealer missing his I’ll have it in 2 days, my buddy complained that he needed the car fixed because it was his only car. The dealer’s response talked me out of ever having a Fiat “You mean you drive a Fiat and don’t have another car?”

  • avatar

    Is this an air-conditioning compressor? I’m sure the owner’s manual advised drivers to use AC only on long downhill grades.

    Thats an air pump for injecting fresh air into the exhaust manifold.

    Found in many US cars from the late 70s era.
    Many Canadian owners yank them out as emission test were not inforce then, but later on when most Can used cars worth more in US, these air pumps were a hot item, as many export cars need that pump in place again.

    And 2 more yrs we can be out of emission test aka Air care, those nazis will be rendered redundant not soon enuf!

  • avatar

    Yes, that is definitely an air injection pump. My dad bought a new LTD wagon in 75, and like all fords of the time that pump was loud and sounded weird. The noise annoyed my dad to the point that he took out his pocket knife and cut the belt off within a week or two after buying the car.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Yup, that is the air pump. The few of these that had A/C used a Denso compressor. Back in the mid-late 80’s I worked with a guy who had one of these in gold w/ black trim and roof. Fun ride with go-cart like handling but awful reliability. Bad enough to make you wish for a Fiero which for all it’s faults was a better car. The syncros on a couple of gears went bad and you had to hold the shifter when you drove it or it popped out of gear.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Despite the gorgeous sheet metal on these, and the Spyders, and the Super Brava’s, all three of these models are the basis for the “Fix It Again, Tony.” reputation of FIAT….

  • avatar

    My friend Tony (yes, he was Italian) had one of these when we were in high school. It barely and rarely ran, but it looked cool…until one Saturday after our bowling league was done we walked outside to see it on fire.

    He then went out and picked up a used Celica GT coupe and never looked back.

  • avatar

    The first new car I ever bought was a 1974 X1/9, purchased in June of that year and driven until sold with a little over 98K in Spring of 1980. Only issue I ever had with the car were the window regulators on the passenger side. All I had to do was follow the recommended maintenance schedule… in other words, not treat the car like a Pinto or Corolla, i.e., an appliance.

    I own an ’81 X1/9 that has 195K on the odometer. I’m the 3rd owner, the second was a well-respected Fiat guy who bumped the motor up to about 100HP at around 125K. I bought the car with 134K back in the Fall of 2006 and this car has been reliable and put more smiles per mile on my face than any other car I’ve owned… until the new 500 Abarth I purchased a little over one month ago.

    I’m lovin’ this li’l Abarth and have found it to be much more entertaining than the ’07 350Z it replaced.

  • avatar

    In mid-1980 Fiat introduced Bosch fuel injection and other electronic components. This increased horsepower and driveability. Electrical issues were also reduced. After Fiat stopped selling cars in the US in 1982 Bertone sold the xi/9. Not many Bertones were sold- these were the best versions with improved interiors and rust prevention measures like inner fender protection, etc. I think Bertones were sold thru 1985.

  • avatar

    I had a 73 model in the mid to late 80s. Sure there was a little rust, and the clutch master cylinder dripped on my shoes, but it was a great ride. You can’t have more fun with less than 100hp. Wish I still had it. Apart from the clutch leak it was perfectly reliable, despite it’s age.

  • avatar

    “Five-speed transmission for performance.” Uhhh, all the gears in the world won’t transmit more power than the engine is putting out! Gotta love advertising.

  • avatar

    I helped a friend shop for one in Vancouver in 1985. Found a red ’74 with no rust advertised for $1700. Went to look at it, test drove it and my friend settled with the seller at $1600.

    He paid a $100 deposit and then hustled off to the bank to withdraw the remaining $1500 (we really weren’t expecting to actually BUY the car, but changed our minds after driving it) while I stayed at the curb with the seller and another buddy with us who was along for the ride (in my car, not the Fiat).

    As we waited, a middle aged guy who smelled like a used car dealer drove up, only to find the car was in the process of disappearing right under his nose. He asked the seller what price he had let the car go for, as if that mattered by now, and the seller told him.

    With not even the slightest degree of class or sense of fairness the salesman swore and then blurted out “I’ll give ya $1800 right here, right now!” The seller declined, saying he’d already made a deal. Salesman stomps back to his car, slams the door and, as he’s buckling in his rather impressive girth my other buddy sauntered up to his window and said “Hey, when Kevin gets back I’ll ask him if you’ll go to $2000 after he buys it.”

    Even the seller laughed. Salesman didn’t though. He practically screamed “F*** you!” and screeched out of there. Not sure if he heard my buddy reply “I’ll take a rain check – when you’re lucky and I’m desperate!” but I’d like to think he did.

    The car only had one issue before Kevin sold it a year later (classic case of getting married, needed money), but it was not an insignificant snag. Timing belt let go, taking a couple valves with it. $650 was a lot more money in 1985 than it is now.

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