By on June 21, 2013

15 - 1986 Bertone X1_9 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinNow here’s a car that represents a weird little corner of automotive history— one of Malcolm Bricklin’s many moneymaking schemes. A few years before Bricklin started importing Yugos, but after he started importing Subaru 360s, he took a shot at bringing Fiats into the United States after Fiat fled the market in 1982.
05 - 1986 Bertone X1_9 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinSo, for the 1983 through 1987 model years, you could buy X1/9s with Bertone badging (Bertone, after all, designed the X1/9 for Fiat in the first place). At the same time, 124 Sport Spiders were sold in the United States as Pininfarinas.
10 - 1986 Bertone X1_9 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinFew bought these things, of course, Fiat having established a vivid reputation for unreliability in the minds of American car buyers by that point. But look— this one racked up as many miles as most Hondas and Toyotas of the era!
12 - 1986 Bertone X1_9 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis car is pretty well used up, though the interior isn’t too bad.
18 - 1986 Bertone X1_9 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI found this car in California, where this sort of body rust indicates that the car spent time parking within a couple of blocks of the ocean.
09 - 1986 Bertone X1_9 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinLook, it’s Luccio Bertone’s signature on the dash!
07 - 1986 Bertone X1_9 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinPower windows on an X1/9. No comment.
02 - 1986 Bertone X1_9 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIn spite of being miserably underpowered, the X1/9 was actually a lot of fun to drive. Even though it was hard-pressed to beat an Iron Duke-powered Chevy Citation in a drag race, the X1/9 felt quick.

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36 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1986 Bertone X1/9...”

  • avatar

    The Fiat-Chrysler connection never bothers me until I see something like this car and then I get “reawakened” to all of the big fun of owning a Fiat (gotta admit however, 213,000 miles is pretty impressive for one of this ilk).

  • avatar

    Ahhh… the 124 Spider and the X1/9. So beautiful, but junk even when new. 213k miles is amazing. It must have been made on a Wednesday by a carefully selected non-Communist crew.

    By way of comparison, Wikipedia says that over 20% of Porsche 914’s (a less good looking contemporary) are still on the road. Cars are like women. Some of them age better than others.

    • 0 avatar

      The 1975-1980 carbed models meet that description, though with a little help (read: removal of emissions control components and electronic ignition) they’re as simple and reliable as anything from the era. My fuel injected 1980 Spider was bulletproof, and my very abused 1985 X1/9 was close.

      • 0 avatar

        Good luck convincing the “junk when new” crowd, it is utterly ridiculous that my very nice 85X is worth less that a clapped-out MG Midget and way less that a beat MBG. By fairly nice, I mean nice enough to take a few ribbons at European car shows btw.

        • 0 avatar

          Agreed. MGs (Thanks for the assist in the CRX article, Derek) aren’t anywhere near enough car for the money they fetch. You can still get a lot of Fiat for not much, though not as much as in the 90s and early 00s.

          I moved on because the X was too beaten to save, and I was too poor at the time to insure and pay taxes on the Spider as a second car.

          • 0 avatar

            Although I love British sports cars, I have to agree. Aside from its looks, MGBs aren’t that impressive. No wood on the dash, weird lever shocks, not much in the way of power or handling either. My GT6+ was surprisingly quick and, boy was it a torque monster. It also had a lovely sound from the straight six.

            Having said that, MGBs seem to have fared better out in the real world, they seem to be more durable than the Sptfires and GT6s.

  • avatar

    These were lots of fun to drive. All the handling of a Porsche 914 for lots less money. While you wouldn’t win a drag race with anything faster than an unmodified air-cooled VW, all you had to do was change the racing venue for a twisty mountain road.

  • avatar

    At times, I wish I still had my ’79 X1/9. In 8 years of ownership, I only replaced two things – an alternator and a CV joint. Completely reliable as long as you didn’t run the wipers, lights and heater at the same time. To me, all the car really needed was a large capacity alternator. Loads of fun on the twisties….

  • avatar

    I snatched that “Bertone” emblem off of a picked clean body shell in a self service yard in Cali around 2004 and I had no idea until this article what the hell it was for… the more you know *NBC chime*

  • avatar

    Too bad the tinworm got this one ~

    The entire point of ” Sports Cars ” isn’t Racing , it’s to have fun whilst driving ‘ Sportedly ‘ ~ a distinction lost on most these days .

    His one is clearly in good shape having none of the usual missing parts from DPO/DPM ham fisted repairs .

    The AFC F.I. here is easily tweaked to provide more power (not much) .

    It was always a niche car .


  • avatar

    My father bought X1/9 when I was in high school. He bought it as a rebuilt wreck & didn’t pay much for it. It sipped fuel like an economy car, but you could have fun driving it like a sports car. It wasn’t fast though. You had to be careful because the engine liked to rev, and I don’t think ours had a tach. This was the car that I learned to drive a stick shift on. My dad had fun with it for about a year until he blew the engine & sold it as a non-runner.

  • avatar

    The boyfriend of a friend’s sister had one of these things back in the day. He was your stereotypical Joisey Guido. To this day, seeing one of these makes me cringe.

  • avatar

    Still got my 85 Bertone I bought new parked in the garage with about 50,000 miles on the clock. Purchase price was about 5000.00 under what was on the window sticker. Many road trips, many auto-X’s and no regrets. I bought it for a fun weekend car, it has never been my daily driver and that is what I think these cars where meant to do.

    • 0 avatar

      I recall that the prices on these fairly exploded towards the end of production. $5K off would be about $11K off in today’s dollars, but I think it really put the price just a bit below what it was when they wore FIAT badges instead of Bertone ones. There was a dealer in Virginia Beach that had a couple X1/9s in their showroom when production ended. They were about 30% covered in stripes along their rockers and around their bumpers, IIRC. They had black and grey contrasting trim, and maybe red stripes on the one that wasn’t red, if not on the one that was red too. I wanted one, but was concerned because of the work I saw being performed by FIAT X/9 owners I knew. Maybe the Bertones had an improvement in attention to detail to go with their increase in price, judging by this one going over 213,000 miles.

      Is yours running now? I agree that sports cars should be about fun and don’t need to cover the quarter mile in 12 seconds. My 124 Sport Spider always felt fast, which it probably wasn’t in spite of racing cams that moved its power peak up by about 2,500 RPM.

      • 0 avatar

        Yeah mine is still running and it was sold at a Buick Dealership, they had about 15 that did not move very fast at 13,000.000, then they priced them at 10,000.00, sold all but two and when they lowered the price to 7995.00 I traded my 124 Spider in, got a couple grand for that and off I went with GMAC financing.

        These cars go for stupid cheap money still and if you can find a running and driving example for sale for 3500.00 bucks or less, how can you go wrong? Check out Midwest/Bayless, parts are very reasonable and available.

        Another nice thing about the X is nobody is going to accuse me of some sort of crime when I take the stock F.I. off someday and stick a pair of Webers and more aggresive camshaft in it.

  • avatar

    This was my car as a kid (just the looks, I had no idea about the rest). Anyone know what headroom was like? If it was made for the Italian market it gives me little more confidence that cars made for the Japanese market. That and the 75hp motor have been reasons I’ve largely forgotten this car.

    A down the street had one. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that car was largely responsible for him losing a leg. Of course, he went on to a corvette so I doubt he blamed having a sports car.

  • avatar

    I wanted one of these ever since seeing Richard Pryor driving it at the end of the movie Silver Streak :-).

  • avatar

    I have seen a couple of these being driven around within the last 5 years. One while I was in Canada I believe. ALL I’ve seen have been the same brown-red rusty color. And all have lacked clearcoating.

  • avatar

    Jeff was a Fiat’s best friend.

    Milo barked happily as Jeff fumbled with the can of gourmet dog food displaying his likeness. “Smoked bacon and egg in meaty juices. I can’t think of a better way to start the day. Can you?” The little dog cocked his head to the side quizzically, and rapidly wagged his tail in response. The two ate their breakfast in unison as Jeff thumbed through the paper. “Looks like the surf’s up today”, he noted.

    “Want to go to the beach?” Little Milo responded in a way any dog would when asked such a stupid question. Jeff walked out to the extremely corroded vehicle. A very special vehicle for special people, brought to these shores, and blessed by Malcolm Bricklin’s magnificence. He opened the door, which had been crafted with the same precision as a storage shed. Milo bounded inside just before Jeff carefully eased himself into the tiny cockpit. The engine fired right up, but was followed by a disconcerting wind down of the starter drive. While warming the engine, he began the procedure for winding down the windows. The plastic creaked as he exerted intense pressure upon the down button. The window started to wind down. The engine purred from it’s good state of tune, nearly drowning out the sound of the sea. In many ways, it reminded him of being on the flight deck of the Mighty O in the early morning hours, watching the big Phantoms go through their pre-flight check. In the time it took him to reminisce about an entire cruise in the Gulf of Tonkin, he had managed to get his window down. Now for the passenger side…

    The Bertone X1/9 was wrought with compromises. This example took it a step farther. For all of Jeff’s effort in making it just drive down the street, he was rewarded with a problematic eyesore with pretentious sporting ability. But…cruising down the shoreline exposed it’s last shred of brilliance. It was such a tactile car. It always brought him back to the days of jean jackets, making this same drive in the, then, shiny red X1/9. The long gone blonde passenger that was looking out the window, now happily replaced by an excited lap dog. Jeff pulled into Lighthouse Beach Park and turned the car off.

    Jeff and Milo walked around, and watched the surfers off the point for awhile. The swells were big, and the surfers were getting worked. As they returned to the parking lot, marijuana smoke was thick in the air. There were a group of surfers nearby who were surely behind it. He ignored his displeasure at the drug use by these men in a public park, and thought of them as like-minded. He admired their carefree attitude, and ability to embrace the little joys of life. Because a great many these days, did not. He noticed a long haired surfer having some trouble with a Volkswagen, and offered his assistance. He was unable to help him with his terminally ill diesel, but the upbeat young man was most appreciative anyway, thanking him for his trouble.

    As Jeff and Milo reversed out of the parking spot, the Bertone’s gearbox emitted a terrible clatter. Jeff was startled a bit, and attempted to engage 1st gear, which did not happen. Likewise with 2nd gear. As the sun set on the beleaguered sports car limping home, Jeff knew it was the end. He had fixed this problem already once. Nobody would go through that again. He just smiled, pet his terrier, and enjoyed the slow drive home in 3rd gear.

    “She put in a good effort, didn’t she?”

    • 0 avatar

      I echo the comments made in the last article, bind these gems with a few of Murliee’s pics and publish them, CS. I can see it now, right side of each page 1-3 pics, left side your prose. You’ll be famous!

      • 0 avatar

        Honestly, I think it’s rubbish, and only appeals to a very small segment of hobbyists. Since you guys seem to enjoy them, I’ll keep making them when I have time.

        • 0 avatar

          Probably true and I’m sure it doesn’t work at most car sites. This is probably THE perfect venue for it to be quite honest.

          I thinkb it’s the combination of a “every car has a story” and as they’re nearing their date with the crusher making sure that a plausible vignette ensures that their story gets told before they’re gone.

          Having grown up with family in the used car business and spending many days at junkyards it certainly fits.

          Plus these are a helluva lot nicer stories to think about than the biohazard interiors and obvious fatality cars I’ve seen.

        • 0 avatar

          I wouldn’t talk it down, you’ve got a talent. What does everyone else think?

          • 0 avatar

            I’m sure we have all read published and paid material which is far worse.

            I’d love to see what Crab would do with an obvious fatal wreck.

        • 0 avatar

          Keep up the good work!

    • 0 avatar

      Great stuff crabspirits, im always happily surprised when scrolling through the comments (not looking at the authors name) and find myself drawn into your stories.
      Well done sir!

  • avatar

    All of these old sports cars are far easier to keep running now than they were 20-odd years ago. The Internet is a wonderful thing – no matter what the issue you can find all the information you would ever want, and the world of parts is at your fingertips. And technology that mystified mechanics in the 70s (FUEL INJECTION??!!) is now ubiquitous. And just the accumulated knowledge of decades of folks dealing with the cars.

  • avatar

    First new car I owned was a ’74 X and I put 99K trouble-free miles on it before selling it in Spring of 1980.

    Got the bug again after buying my firstborn son a ’92 Miata for his HS graduation in 2000 and bought an ’86 Bertone in pretty decent mechanical and cosmetic shape… it had 128K when I bought it. I put another 58K miles on her, using her as my daily driver, gave her to my other son and he blew a head gasket about 16K miles later.

    I now own a ’76 that stays in the garage and an ’81 that I bought from a knowledgeable Fiat friend that now has 198,500 miles and still runs strong. I love Fiat sports cars.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Back in the 80’s I had a co-worker who had one of these in gold with black trim, roof and engine lid. It was clean, fun to drive and ran decently but a couple of the syncros started to slip to the point where you would have to hold the gear shift in place as you drove. Apparently this is a common malady with the X/19 as well as the 128 which uses the same mechanicals. IMHO A Fiero in decent shape is more reliable even with base Iron Duke power can be just as fun to drive with little worry about rust.

    • 0 avatar

      @ MRF:

      I own a Fiero. While the exterior appears in great shape, the underlying steel frame shows the corrosion of many Wisconsin winters. I’m waiting for it to buckle like a folding chair…

  • avatar

    The X1/9 was a reliable and fun little car. I’ve had two of them in my lifetime, and never regretted it for a moment. The later cars with the 5-speed transmission are preferred if you plan to spend long times at highway speeds.

    Nothing else handles like one of those little gems, and there are still many of them on the roads here in Northern California. I have a neighbor a few houses down who still uses them as daily drivers.

  • avatar

    The green Fiat X1/9 in this pic was one of the earliest toy cars I remember owning:

    Though it actually looked more like this by the time I was done with it:

    It competed in a lot of races, both masking-tape-on-carpet track and Hot Wheels drag strip.

  • avatar

    I’ve got one nice X1/9… (1980…) and 2 spares that will make another running car later… It’s not fast… but they are cool in a dinky car way you just can’t get today.

    I also had a dad who fell for the Citation ‘Car of the Year’ scam when that beast hit the US… we had a Iron Duke 4 banger… with the miserable 4speed stick! When flogged, that manual tranny Citation would actually run pretty good! It frustrated more than a few old V8 Musclecars at stop lights, especially if they peeled out. My grandfather bought one too, always respectful of my dads car savy… his Iron Duke/Automatic combo was simple miserable… I understand the slam.

    (Citation brakes were freaking hilarious… everyone in the family spun that car a time or two! It was like they had a hidden ‘stunt mode’ circuit that randomly activated!)

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