By on October 2, 2015

1981 Fiat X19

I like the unusual when it comes to cars — as must be quite clear from the pieces I’ve written over the last few months. However, my current fleet is quite mainstream, consisting of a Chrysler minivan, the wife’s Chevy Trailblazer, and a first-generation Miata. Perhaps that explains my wandering eye.

Over the last couple years, I’ve developed an appreciation for Fiats that is nearly inexplicable, and potentially unhealthy. I’ve even caught myself ogling Yugos in junkyards. I’ve said it before; I’m a sucker for a great exhaust note, and somehow even this single-cam four cylinder sounds amazing.

Rust, of course, is always an issue with anything built in the Seventies. This 1981 Fiat X1/9 isn’t immune, and it appears to have some of the typical surface rot in the sills. The seller claims that the paint is mostly original, so it shouldn’t be hiding anything.

He also says it’s unmolested. I hate that term.

I haven’t had the pleasure of driving one of these yet. I’m told that they aren’t as quick or as light as one would imagine as 2000 pounds is a healthy chunk of steel for 75 horses to push. I’d have to imagine that it would be quite similar to the MR2 I drove a few weeks back, though down on power. The charm of the Italian might win me over, however.

At $4,250, this car looks to be a bargain. Some relatively straightforward metalwork, a good respray, and a thorough mechanical going-over are due, but this could be quite a nice classic for under $10,000.

I wonder if I’d fit inside.

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60 Comments on “Crapwagon Outtake: 1981 Fiat X1/9...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I have an admiration for the overall design/styling of the X19 but I always imagine that it would be like buying a late 70s/early 80s Jaguar. Repair and upkeep will be more than the purchase price.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I’d rather have the Jag, because it has such lovely styling and displays the utmost in reserved taste.

      http://momentcar.com/images/jaguar-xjs-1981-7.jpg

      nomnom

      • 0 avatar
        GeneralMalaise

        Just make sure you buy a case of Lucas Electrics Smoke to service that Jag…

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Can I get aftermarket electric smoke for it?

          • 0 avatar
            Chris Tonn

            Genuine factory smoke is best:

            http://www3.telus.net/bc_triumph_registry/smoke.htm

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            “Q: I have a fourteen year old son named Lucas who I have caught several times in the back of the garage smoking. Can this item help him to respect a little firm parental intervention and aid him in smoking less…or even stopping altogether?
            A: Part of the problem may be the fact that you named your son after the Prince Of Darkness. Mayhap you should be happy that all you have caught him doing in the back of the garage is smoking! My suggestion is: since you already have spoiled him for life with his moniker, you search the ‘Bay for a proper Little British Car to restore as a father-and-son project. That way, he’ll have a way to fill the idle hours he’d have spent chasing girls had he been named Rocky or something more suitable. Plus, he’ll learn first-handed how disgusting smoke can be. Alas, though, not with this unit, because whilst trying to photograph it for a spread in “Popular Ether Technology”, it was unfortunately broken. Therefore, the auction must be terminated early. Thanks for the heartwarming interest!”

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          It would be more complex than this barn door X1/9, that’s for sure. But worth it because V12.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            …Aren’t you usually the one telling me I SHOULDN’T lust after a V12 XJ-S?

            And if you don’t mind gutting your car to solve its problems, all the Lucas sh*t can be thrown in a dumpster and replaced with high-quality aftermarket stuff.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Only because you’re always like “Oh, maybe a V12 XJ-S or like an SC400, I’m not sure!”

            When comparing V12 XJ-S to this X1/9 in malaise goodness, hyphen beats forward slash.

            :D

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            Well I’m not gonna go out and buy a XJ-S right now, I’ve just always kind of lusted after one and it would certainly be a lot more interesting than a Corvette…

            And honestly, I’ve seen more XJ-Ses than XK8s so maybe they aren’t so bad after all.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Keep thinking that about the XJS.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            I’m genuinely surprised at how little XK8s I’ve seen. They sold them for 10 years and I’ve seen less than five in the past two years, did they just not sell any?

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I’m really not sure. The first batch is gone due to the Nikasil thing but MY01-08? should be fine at least in the catastrophic failure sense.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I think the XKs are still in the hands of their original old man owners, so you don’t see them driving around – they’re “saving them” or only drive about in select weather. Normally they just drive their pristine forest green Tacoma with cap.

            The XJ-S is old enough that it’s drivers are the hobbyist type who drive around with more frequency. They don’t need to save the car, because they already spent their money fixing it all to make it semi-reliable.

            I don’t see many of either, but when I do it’s a newer XK with the revised body style that’s going out of production this year.

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      I own a mildly modded ’81 X1/9 and once they are sorted out, they are reliable and fairly easy to work on. I have a little over 200k miles on mine and she still runs and drives well. Great fun on the road.

      • 0 avatar
        Rod Panhard

        I know what you say is, in fact, true. A rust-free X1/9 will run and be enjoyable. The funny looking little thermostat reminds me of the Tin Woodsman’s hat. But putting the radiator where they did was genius, and it’s a relatively large radiator for an engine of that size.

      • 0 avatar
        Rod Panhard

        ATTENTION EVERYBODY! If you are ever presented the opportunity to drive a Fiat X1/9 you should take it. I’m old enough to have driven a couple of later model ones when they were close enough to “new.” You will find that nearly any corner can be taken at speeds that seem ridiculous. You will find that although your acceleration is not fast by today’s standards, you won’t have to spend much time decelerating unless there’s a red light or stop sign.

        It’s a totally different feel than the front-mid engine set up of the Miata. The X1/9 was great. If I had a place to keep one, I’d find one.

      • 0 avatar
        lon888

        +1 I had a ’79 X1/9 many moons ago with zero rust. Like you said if you sort them out they’re great little driving cars. For this ’81 I’d ditch the fuel injection and add a dual Weber 42 DNCF carb setup. Add a high capacity alternator and it’ll be extremely reliable.

  • avatar
    mikedt

    I lusted after this car pre-driving license (mid-70s), so for my 16th birthday my father bought me one. Ok, it was the Matchbox version, but still. It was a damn good looking car before the bumpers got bigger than the rest of the vehicle. Sure it didn’t have much power, but it was probably the best handling car available at the time that was priced for the average Joe.

  • avatar
    Yankee

    I owned one of these when I was in my early 20s and I still regard it 20 years later as one of the best cars I have ever driven. I used to race it in SCCA solo events on stock 165/70R13 and blow away 944s for time because of how quick it could make all those tight turns. I had the body sandblasted and painted dark metallic green. Other than that I kept it stock and it was incredibly reliable and like a tank in snow – as long as I put a sandbag or two in the front trunk so I could steer!

  • avatar
    joeaverage

    Cool, solid little car. To call it a crapwagon screams car snob to me. Drive it and enjoy it. If you don’t appreciate them then move on to something worthy of your admiration.

    If I had the spare inside parking I’d buy it right now. For a car that old its solid. Around here there are no 80s imports of any brand left aside from an occasional VW – and I own those. I’m not even inside the salt belt. I think the southern humidity takes it toll on cars too just not as quickly as salt.

    All these little Fiats have their quirks. Learn them and how to deal with them and you’ll be golden. You’d also need to sniff out some online parts sources b/c the local auto parts store won’t have much for them. Worry not – Fiat was sold all over the world and it’s not brain surgery to find parts with the internet.

    For the guys who never learned how to work on a car – well, keep on looking. Classic cars are not for you. You’ll go broke dealing with a simple broken wire or fan motor that went “rovinato”.

  • avatar
    ArBee

    I think you’ll find that 75 bhp is plenty of power for this little gem. The cars small size and immediate reflexes more than compensate for the lack of sheer twist. The only problem I had with these – and Spridgets and Spitfires – was that I didn’t fit, at 6’4″.

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      I’m 6’2″ and 250 lbs and fit well, but that may be the limit.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      Same story here. I worked in an office where cars were parked in front of cars. There was a woman who had an X1/9. One time she parked in front of me, and I found I could not fit inside at all. As instructed, she had left the keys in the car. So, I unlocked the steering column, shifted it into neutral (than god for manuals!) and pushed it out of the way myself. Then I moved my car, and pushed it back in. It felt about the same weight as my Karmann Ghia, which I also could push very easily. ONce I jump started it on a flat battery by pushing the car and hopping in. Not for tall folks, however.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I don’t see much special about these. They’re not as charming as something equivalent and British, and they’re common enough to ensure no increase in value. Oh, and they’re styled to resemble a doorstop.

    In this particular example the rust is pretty extensive. Just from along the jack points, I can tell you this thing is a mess underneath. The trunk also looks to have had a water issue previously, with the rust in the water-gathering areas.

    “Great color combo & patina.”

    LOL, it’s not a vintage mid-century sideboard, it’s a car. Ugh. But at least you can see it’s been owned by someone with money who uses the word patina.

  • avatar
    65corvair

    Chris, Go take it for a test drive. The worst that could happen it you would buy it!

  • avatar
    Scallootch

    I can’t help but wonder what a neat race car this could be with Dallara bodywork and a modern 1.4 turbo MultiAir. They’re still big in Italian hillclimbing (of course).

    Anyway, MotorWeek gushed over this thing back in the days of malaise:

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    I love those wheels.

    Four spoke wheels definitely stand out.

  • avatar
    threeer

    I have a huge soft spot for these cars and wouldn’t mind having one as a “drive to work on Friday/cruise on a nice Sunday” car. I owned one (briefly) while in college, though I only got to drive it once (long story). My best buddy and I often talk of getting a relatively clean one and dropping something like an ultra-reliable Toyota Mk1 MR2 engine/drivetrain into it.

  • avatar
    06V66speed

    Handsome little car.

    ‘Cept hunting down electrical gremlins isn’t really my thing.

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      Well lucky for you, there are not many places for the gremlins to hide in that car – I certainly wouldn’t let that be a deal-breaker.

      Electrical gremlins can hide much easier in a 10-15 year old VW/Audi or Volvo, based upon my own personal experience.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I don’t get the whole fear of “electrical gremlins” in old cars. They are so simple! You need power, a switch, and a ground. Nothing to it. The closest thing to an electrical problem in the 19 years I have owned my Triumph Spitfire is I had to replace the starter solenoid. Which was original. And I did upgrade the flasher relay to a solid state one when I first got the car.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    A buddy of mine had one of these in college. His was a 75 with the carburetor setup, though. When it ran, it was a blast. He used to troll the young ladies on campus letting them believe it was a Ferrari.

    It worked for him…

    I would love to have one now, but after reading about some of the posts about swapping in a 1.4 MultiAir Turbo into older Fiats, I’m thinking I would like to see the return of the turbo Yugo!

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    My 74 128SL had the same drivetrain as this car. It was a very handsome sport coupe, really fun to drive, but unreliable and rusty.

    I always admired the X1/9 package, but figured it would be a nightmare to work on. And at 6’6″, I’d never fit in it.

  • avatar
    MRx19

    You will fit if you are under 6’3″. Owned one for 25 years and wish I still had it. Basically a street legal go cart. If driving this on a twisty road doesn’t bring a smile on your face nothing will. Buy it if the body is good. Very few left, as these were built from cheap eastern Europe steel and lasted about 3 years if driven in mid-western salty winters.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Everyone I know who has/had one of these loved it .

    This one looks possible , I’d want it up in the air first .

    Isn’t the price a bit high ? .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    GeneralMalaise

    I’ve seen nicer cars for less, but they have seen some appreciation lately.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      They have to appreciate more as buyers appreciate them more. When they appreciate the sad truth they’re not building anything like these anymore. Especially mid-engine Go-karts. I really like these but then MR2. And newer (plus mid ’80s) sporty cars are complicated with various control modules that are already scarce. You almost have to stick with the Mustangs and such, for the newer but aging sporty cars.

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