By on May 7, 2020

There was one prior case where a too hot to title European car appeared on these pages, and it was a boring Citroën hatchback. Today’s forbidden, ahem, “legal” fruit is a bit more zesty. Presenting an underage Fiat Barchetta from 1997.

Of course, this car at age 23 would be legal in the Northern Arctic Canadian States. But down in The America, the government says a foreign-market car must be 25 years or older before it can have a green card. And foreign this roadster is, as in 1997 Fiat had zero presence in the North American market (a state to which the brand will likely return soon).

On to Barchetta.

North America did receive the fabulous and well-made predecessor to the Barchetta, the Gandini-designed X1/9. The mid-engine, rear-drive roadster entered production in 1972, and was still made when Fiat declared it was finished selling cars in the US.

Entrepreneur Malcom Bricklin saw a continued future for the X1/9, securing the rights via his company, International Automobile Importers. The X1/9 remained in production (by Bertone) through 1989, and on sale domestically til the end.

Fiat started work on the X1/9’s successor in 1990. Related to the Punto generation that went on sale in 1993, Fiat was not ready with its new front-drive roadster until 1995. This time the design was handled in-house. Fiat’s engineers even prepared a new engine for the Barchetta: a 1.8-liter mill which used variable camshaft timing (a first for Fiat). The engine produced 129 horsepower, and all examples utilized a five-speed manual. Performance was reasonable for a Nineties roadster, as 60 miles per hour arrived in seven seconds.

The Barchetta was not built alongside its brother, the Punto. Instead, it was welded together at the ILCAS metal works in Sparone Cavanese, then shipped to Chivasso for completion at Maggiora’s coachworks. Though Fiat sold its convertible in two right-hand drive markets, all examples had left-hand drive.

Notably in the Barchetta’s timeline, a significant production issue occurred in 2002: Maggiora declared bankruptcy. Fiat needed a new production location, and chose its Mirafiori factory. But tooling up took a while. To take moderate advantage of a two-year production halt, the Barchetta was revised and refreshed, and went back on sale for the 2004 model year. Changes included revised front and rear bumpers, and some minor alterations to the interior.

By then, Fiat was about finished with the Barchetta. Its unique production requirements, age, and the waning roadster market made it a losing proposition. In June 2005 Barchetta production came to an end. In fact, Barchetta became the last Fiat roadster, unless you count today’s 124 Fiamazda MX-5pider. I don’t.

Today’s totally legal Barchetta is in Florida, where a seller has obtained it from an enterprising collector. In excellent shape, it asks $16,500.

[Images: seller]

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26 Comments on “Rare Rides: A ‘Clean Florida Title’ Fiat Barchetta From 1997...”

  • avatar

    Not exactly the same Red Barchetta that Rush sang about. R.I.P. Neil

  • avatar

    Bring cash to the nearby Miami Walmart, and promise that it won’t be driven during the day for the next two years, and it’s all yours! In a heartbeat – this would really stand out compared to so much of the boring blob-mobiles on the streets today. It helps that it has a bit of the Z8’s profile.

  • avatar

    Was this related to the Fiat Coupe whose name escapes me? That’s what one of my friends had in college in the late 90s (this is not the US), and it was very similar to this one.

  • avatar

    Wow, I haven’t seen one of those in a long time. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen any pre-2010 Fiat in a while. And I live in a country where Fiats have been popular for over 80 years now.

    Asking over 16000 dollars for that thing is lunacy. Those were designed as disposable mid-life crisis cars, and even rust-free examples are practically worthless nowadays. Sure, you get the rarity bonus in the US, but there isn’t enough car for that price.

  • avatar

    For their time they were reasonably sharp-looking and offered good performance. The interior is a bit of a letdown due to its bland design and rather cheap feel.

    From time to time you will spot one or two driving down the road with a smiling driver behind the wheel.

    Be aware that if you buy this car you will not be able to get some essential spare parts for it, basically the stuff that was not shared with the Punto. This information was leaked to me by an enthusiastic work colleague who drives one, a silver example. His Barchetta has a dented front left fender, and this part is next to impossible to procure. He has tried recycling centers and eBay, but to no avail. Fiat is not much of a help either. In his words, ‘Fiat ist eine Scheißfirma’ (Fiat is a s**t company).

  • avatar
    el scotto

    This NOT, repeat NOT a roadster. It’s a two-seat front-wheel-drive convertible. Park it next to the not missed at all Mercury Capri. Perhaps you could race Reattas, Allantes, and Solaras for the World Supreme Championship of front-wheel-drive cars advertised and sold as “sporty”. This is as much a roadster as the 50cc scooter you rented on vacation is a motorcycle. All roadsters have been, are, and will be rear-wheel-drive. Mazda,Jaguar,and Mercedes Benz still make roadsters.

  • avatar

    The claim about 0-60 mph in 7 seconds is false. The real figure is about 9 seconds for 0-100 km/h, a much more realistic time for a low-powered car like this.

  • avatar

    The Fiat X1/9 was introduced at the end of 1972, not 1982. At the time, I had a Fiat 128SL and I would have loved to have had an X1/9, but based on the fact that so few remain, I would not call it “well-made”.

    The Barchetta – Ugh! I saw several of them up close while travelling in Italy. Goatshadow wrote, “It’s an ugly tub that looks like a fiberglass kit car”. I agree.

    • 0 avatar

      I fixed that error yesterday right when this published; it apparently didn’t take.

      82 was when Fiat left the North American market and Bricklin took over.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I had a 74 128SL in 1982 while in college/trade school. I bought it for $300 with a blown head gasket and 4 broken pistons, rebuilt the engine and drove it for two years. It had great brakes, but during its PA safety inspection I learned that the rear wheel cylinders weren’t even functioning. Fixing them improved the brakes even more.

      Alas, the electrical system was a maze of relays and bad connections, and Pittsburgh’s salty roads destroyed the underside. It didn’t want to start below freezing, since Pittsburgh doesn’t exactly have a Mediterranean climate.

      I, too, liked the X1/9, but it was far too small for me to consider.

      “Well-made” wouldn’t describe Fiats of that era.

      This 97 would be a nightmare to keep. The only thing I like about it is the color on the body and the wheels.

  • avatar

    Barchetta became the last Fiat roadster, unless you count today’s 124 Fiamazda MX-5pider. I don’t…

    Why the hate?

    The Fiata (at least in Abarth form) I have a little bit of desire for. Extra torque (compared to a Miata) is always welcome. It is selling terribly but I don’t know what they were drinking in Europe when they thought that Fiat and Alfa might be successes in the states. Perhaps an Alfa Miata with the distinctive Alfa grille might have been more successful?

  • avatar

    I have an urge to get on of these but every time I think about it logic tells me to get the cheaper, newer and superior mid engined MG TF. In the UK the location of the steering wheel and the launch of the MG F killed this cars sales, a shame as it looked a million times better than the Mazda MX5 at the time.

  • avatar

    I think these are incredibly cool looking, even if they’re probably underwhelming to drive. that 1.8 twin cam looks positively enormous under that hood, though, doesn’t it?

  • avatar

    I have a 2005 Barchetta and i have to say it’s super fun to drive. a little stiffer than the NB miata and the engine has reasonable torque

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