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Posts filed under ‘Fiat’

Italian Wedge: The Fiat X1/9

November 12, 2012 by Matt

Fiat X1/9 X19 X1-9 Red Black Profile Side

The 1974-1982 Fiat X1/9 carries the distinction of being one of the few (only?) cars with a slash as part of its name. Not only that, it was the last Fiat sold in the US until the brand’s reintroduction to our shores last year, and to this day remains the only production mid-engined Fiat.

Think of it as a Porsche 914 without the pedigree angst. Or a Toyota MR2 without the bizarre interior. Interestingly, the X1/9 was conceived in the same way as the later MR2: By taking an economy car FWD engine, powertrain and front suspension (in this case the Fiat 128’s) and “flipping” it 180°, positioning it immediately behind the seats to create a mid-engined sports car.

Fiat X1/9 X19 X1-9 Black Back Rear Tail

Additional features include a lift-off targa roof panel that stowed in the front luggage compartment, bumpers designed to minimize the visual impact (pun intended) of stultifying 1970s crashworthiness regulations, and a fuel tank and spare tire mounted between the passenger compartment and the engine, as close to the car’s CG as possible. This detail, together with the engine’s location and the car’s featherlight ~2,000 lb curb weight made for go-cart-like handling rivaled only by certain Lotuses. Indeed, the X1/9 is still a force to be reckoned with in certain autocross classes, a testament to Fiat’s formula.

Fiat X1/9 X19 X1-9 Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard

The interior is sensibly laid out and quite stylish for the late ’70s, a well-resolved demonstration of the de rigeur angular themes of the day. The engine wasn’t much to write home about, but with only a ton of car to motivate its task wasn’t arduous. Initially a 1.2l SOHC 4-cylinder developing 63 hp in US trim, a 1.5l, fuel-injected 75 hp version of the engine was rolled out for 1979, marginally improving performance; 60 mph came up from a standstill in around 11 seconds.

On another note, it’s interesting to consider the difference between Fiat’s abandonment of the US market in the early ’80s and their return in the 2010s. The X1/9 was unmistakably a niche car, something of a halo vehicle designed to bolster the Italian automaker’s dashing, somewhat romantic (in an straight-edged ’70s kind of way) appeal in the US. Perhaps having decided that approach was a failure, Fiat decided to reintroduce themselves to an American clientele with a much more mass-market car, the far more conventional supermini 500. As good a car as the 500 is, and as much as I appreciate Fiat’s shift in market strategy, I do hope there remains a bolder voice in the organization, one that would encourage the powers-that-be to gamble a bit by releasing something as quirky as the X1/9 on our shores. Perhaps once the automaker establishes more of a financial beachhead over here they’ll consider it; who knows.

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FWD Champions: The Fiat Coupé

July 14, 2012 by Matt

Fiat Coupe Coupé Chris Bangle Pininfarina Yellow

I’m going to do something unheard-of in this post. I’m going to compliment a Chris Bangle design.

In contrast to the almost insurmountable damage he did to the BMW design image in the early ’00s (which is only just now beginning to be undone), before his sense of style “evolved” to encompass the truly hideous, in the ’90s his designs were considered merely avant-garde, and in some cases, actually attractive.

Fiat Coupe Coupé Chris Bangle Pininfarina Rear Taillights Blue

Take the ’93-’00 Fiat Coupe, for example. Yes, its front wheels do the work of propelling the car, as on so many sports coupes of its day, such as the Mitsubishi Eclipse, Ford Probe or Mercury Cougar. But in contrast to those cars’ derivative proportions and detailing, the Fiat Coupe is striking in its originality and coherence. Most elements, such as the bubbled headlight covers, the taillight design or the bodywork “slashes” above the wheels, are unique in the automotive world, and the car is a true head-turner, and not in a gaudy way, either–the Coupe’s design is provocative without looking superfluous or overwrought. It’s right on the money.

The 220-hp 20V turbo version of the car has a surprising turn of speed, also, its 6.5-second 0-60 dash making it the fastest FWD car of its day. Furthermore, as the Coupe’s chassis dynamics were developed in Europe, it’s far more buttoned-down and taut than most front-drivers offered here in the US.

Fiat Coupe Coupé Chris Bangle Pininfarina Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard Limited Edition LE Red

It’s a shame the car was never offered here, but I doubt it would have sold well in any case. Europeans in general are far more tolerant of daring styling decisions in their small cars (see: Renault Twingo, Ford Ka, Fiat Multipla, etc), although ever since the success of the radically box-like first-generation Scion xB on our shores, our attitude towards economy car design risks has softened a good deal. So the Fiat Coupe might have had a chance here…10 years after it was phased out. It wasn’t a world-beater, but for offering an arresting shape wrapped around a competent chassis and array of powerplants, it deserves to be recognized.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series highlighting FWD cars I think highly of, in spite of my overwhelming RWD bias. Read the other installments here:

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