By on July 31, 2013

07 - 1978 Fiat X1_9 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinFor decades now, the Fiat 124 Sport Spider has been a regular sight in American self-service wrecking yards. The mid-engined Fiat X1/9, based on a healthy serving of Fiat 128 components, has been a bit less commonplace in such yards, but I still see them every now and then. We’ve seen this ’80 and this ’86 so far in this series, and today we’re adding a brightly colored ’78 to the collection.
01 - 1978 Fiat X1_9 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe X1/9 is one of those cars that manages to rust anywhere. These cars will rust in Los Angeles, they’ll rust in Phoenix, and they rust very nicely in Denver (which is where I found this one). Every time I see one of these side scoops, I’m reminded of the X1/9 scoops I installed in the hood of my ’65 Impala.
02 - 1978 Fiat X1_9 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis car is a beyond-sane-hope-of-repair basket case, but it still has quite a few useful parts. Some of you may recognize this car as the neighbor of the ’93 Honda del Sol we saw last week.
14 - 1978 Fiat X1_9 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI’ve driven a fair number of miles in X1/9s, and they’re much more fun than the 65-horsepower engine rating would suggest.

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33 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1978 Fiat X1/9...”

  • avatar

    Was this one a Bertone design? I had always assumed it was.

  • avatar

    I recall these making appearances on my family’s auto salvage yard as a kid. It was always exciting to get European exotica such as Fiats and Opels. Sometimes these Fiants would run, and despite being slow, they were fun to flog around the yard.

  • avatar

    I always wanted one of these since I saw one in some mag when I was 11–1974. My roommate in college had borrowed a friend’s for several months in ’81. He never let me drive, and my grandmother drove her ’63 Falcon more spiritedly than he drove the Fiat.

  • avatar

    We had a brown ’79. It kept breaking CV joints and clutch slave cylinders leaving it flailing uselessly in parking lots. I would apply bumper pressure from one of our other eighties GM boats and shove it home. My brother told me that was the quickest acceleration it ever had.

    I did read that Fiat, terrified of pending possible 80-mph rollover safety standards in the U.S., designed it to meet this regulation if it ever applied (it didn’t). So, the porcine weight was due to the extra structure.

    I remember asking my brother why he wanted the thing. He answered by taking us out cruising and having lots of giggling girls leaning into it and crawling on it and screaming about how cute it was. Fair enough.

  • avatar

    Having owned a number of new Fiats, the X1/9 being two of them, I have a soft spot for the little go carts.

    My first was the 74′ iteration, the last, the Yellow 86′ beauty. With the first, I now had two modern sports cars in my garage, the second being a 73′ Lotus Europa ‘JPS’. Never drove the Europa much, but the 74′ X1/9 saw severe duty, as I’m a bit of a hooner. Never happy unless my rear end is hung out there, way out there.

    The second one, the 76′, saw much lighter duty as my daily business run around car when not needing a truck. I actually prized it a lot more then the first and it was driven much more civilly.

    Previous to those X1/9’s I had a new 850 Spider. Great little car, though, I had really wanted the coupe version.

    I recently had the opportunity to drive a well preserved X1/9 and it didn’t disappoint like a lot of the old cars I have driven recently, like the Datsun 240Z. It still was extremely agile and rode like a go cart, just like I remember. Light in the front end with a lot of small vertical moment cycles independent of the rear suspension, just like I remembered.

    • 0 avatar

      Edit; “The second one, the 76′, saw much lighter duty” Should read … ’86’

    • 0 avatar

      How many other 1978 makes do you see on the road? Not many. If the X’s have been well-cared for, they are on the road.

      I remember my very first new car purchase – a 1974 Fiat X1/9 – and to this day, think of it as my favorite car… and I’ve owned a lot of cars, foreign and domestic. Just had to treat her like a loved one, with respect… oh, and change the timing belt every 15K. The X1/9 made the 10 Best car list of several magazines for many years, back in the day.

      My ’81 X19 has 199,084 miles on it, uses no oil and is my part-time commuter car (103 miles RT driveway to office). No rust, this car has been a Santa Cruz/Springfield, Oregon/NorCal car for all of its life.

      My son has a ’76 X parked in our driveway with a little under 160K miles and it has just a little bit of surface rust on the right front fender. It was a Santa Cruz car until we bought it in 2001 and has remained in NorCal since. These cars rusted no worse than most cars of that era.

  • avatar

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen one on the road, but this car makes me think of a Driver’s Ed movie – about the “human crash test dummy” who demonstrates seat belts and air bags. In one of the demonstrations, he drives a Volvo 940 into the back of one of these Fiats. (It was probably rust that led the Fiat to this unfortunate fate.)

    (I took Driver’s Ed in 2007 – the film was probably from the early-mid-2000s.)

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    I had the pleasure of spending some time behind the wheel of several of these. They were a LOT of fun, and some had better rust prevention than others.

  • avatar

    In Denver a few years back, I saw a X1/9 body perched atop a high-rise 4×4 chassis. Weird-looking, but potentially more reliable?

  • avatar

    I feel like every teenager in SoCal swapped out their driver’s side mirrors for those bendable mirrors, and then twisted them up, down, any crazy way other than straight across. What was up with that? They were everywhere, except on my car. Does anyone know what the fad going on there was all about?

  • avatar

    A friends mother used to truck us down to the beach in one of these. Imagine 2 pre teens, 2 boogie boards, an ice chest, beach blanket and of course the mother crammed in there. Good times.

  • avatar

    Had one years ago…would still enjoy having one as a weekend toy. From a stylistic standpoint, the little wedge just somehow looks right to me.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree. I think maybe Toyota had this in mind with the original “wedge” MR2, just as Mazda had the MG in mind with the Miata? Improve the good concept/bad mechanicals with Japanese engineering?

      Crap. Now I have to go search for MR2’s that aren’t already Autocross-modified.

      • 0 avatar

        Mazda and Bob Hall had the Lotus Elan in mind.

        Plenty of Mr2’s available in the NW and few are modified, some are junk yard ready.

  • avatar

    Ok that’s *actually* my car. We bought it for a 24 Hours of LeMons race but ended up with a more reliable option. I can honestly say they’re getting more out of it at a salvage yard than I ever did…

  • avatar

    As a child in the ’70s, it was always a toss-up as to whether I’d own an X1/9 or a Triumph TR7. Ultimately I ended up owning a TR7 about 10 years later. It was a true garage queen- I think I drove it three times in the just over two years that I owned it. It was constantly bedeviled by failures of components with the name of “Lucas” stamped prominently on them– headlight motors, clutch, brake cylinders, etc. I finally traded it to the junkyard for a transaxle for my mom’s ’68 VW baja. I wonder if an X1/9 would have been more reliable.

    • 0 avatar

      My X1/9’s proved to be quite reliable.

      I only replaced the inner _Axle/Boot/Seals_ and _outer axle boots_ on the 74′, and, I did have a little trouble with the drivers door window, but a half hours time had it going up and down again.

      The 86′ was trouble free for the 80,000 or so miles, and about two years I had it.

      • 0 avatar

        +5… Put about 99K miles on my first new car purchase – a ’74 X – and other than scheduled maintenance, one brake job, three sets of tires and 2 passenger side window regulators, I had absolutely no issues. I loved that car… probably my personal favorite until I bought my ’12 Abarth.

  • avatar

    These cars get a bad rap, but that is mostly because most folks who had them bought them as clapped out used cars. Same with all the cheap British iron back in the day.

    Even looking at the comments here, the folks who owned them from new, and took care of them properly, have not much in the way of complaints. As usual, the first owners took care of them, the second and subsequent drove them into the ground. They are world champion rusters though. But still, get one working properly, and maintain it, and it will not disappoint.

  • avatar

    i was looking at the HVAC controls, and just thought… WTF? the AIR slider makes sense. and THEN…

    the defrost setting points to the floor, and the floor setting points up.and then the heat, youd think would be like air- off is up, max is down, like a plane throttle… but noooo.

    stupid little details, and probably parts bin guts made to work, but how hard is it to re-route cables?

  • avatar

    When I was a kid back in the early 90’s a good friend of mine had a neighbor who kept one of these, partly covered, behind their garage. Running around his back yard, separated by a chain link fence some 30-40ft away, we always wondered what that strange looking little car was.

    We thought it was neat, and it was years after I finally found out what it was. Of course, the car never moved well into the 2000’s.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Through the mists of warm memories of my MGs, my friends Fiats, and the sundry Vee-Dubs; someone bought a Honda. Or a Toyota, they’re interchangeable for this story’s point. A warm breeze blew away the fog of unreliability and some zero visibility spots of total failure and the bright sunlight of automotive reliability shone on the Toyonda. You could have bought this or a Prelude.

  • avatar

    Europa, 914, X1/9 and MR2. Each certainly should admit to being inspired, at a minimum, by its predecessors. All handle well, none are powerful by modern standards. Which one you prefer is really down to personal preference.

    Disclaimer: A past owner of a ’74 914 2.0, one of the best models to choose if you go for the 914 series. A whopping 90 hp stock, but it did feel fast …

  • avatar

    Were I younger I think I’d buy one of these , L.A. is still full of very nice ones that need deferred maintenance in a big way but everyone I’ve ever met who actually drove one , loved it .


  • avatar

    If you live in SoCal, visit the Best of France and Italy car show held the first Sunday in November at Woodley Park in Van Nuys. A lot of great Italian and French cars and always a large contingent of beautifully maintained X1/9’s. One fellow always brings his new condition (I do mean NEW), green 1974 X that still has the sales window sticker on it.

  • avatar

    I still miss my ’79 X1/9. The only thing that went out on the car was one inner CV joint. The alternator was a weak 35 amp model but JC Whitney sold a 60 amp retrofit fit and thus made it possible to run the wipers, lights, turn signals and heater all at the same time!

    • 0 avatar

      Reg; “one inner CV joint.”

      That is why the outer boots and inner Axle/Boot/Seals had to be watched and maintained.

      Yoo drove yours at night in the rain? Col!

      Never had any issues with alternator in the 74′ until I hung a Pioneer ‘Super Tuner’ under the dash, so I put a Marelli 45 amp alternator in, the optional replacement at the time.

      The 86′ never had a problem with enough juice.

      The 86′ had FI and a 5-speed, but little increase in real performance. Bertone did make a lot of little detail changes by 86′.

      Correction> My 74′ was Yellow, the 86′ Red. The 74′ X1/9 and the Europa, were the only non-Red sportscars I have ever owned, forgot that in another post. They would have been red if any had been available.

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