Trusty but rusty; cheap thrills; superb handling; anemic power.
Rust. Living in the Pacific Northwest of North America doesn't help. Caused driver's window to be inoperative.
The engine burned a little blue when I bought it. Changed the oil every 5,000 Km. The powerplant never had a problem. I had it rebuilt (see below).
Transmission needed some work after 120,000 Km (couldn't get into reverse). Otherwise, it had no problems.
Interior: Seat vinyl and cloth on driver's seat had a lot of wear. Interior was leaky when it rained hard.
Went through 2 clutches, 2 sets of disk brakes, 1 starter, 1 alternator,...etc. But that's just normal wear and tear from lots of mileage.
Only had one electrical problem. It turned out to be a pinched wire going into the engine compartment. The shop I used was very familiar with this so I assume it was a "factory defect". Heard a lot about headlights not popping up, but mine always worked (The servos are over-designed and bulletproof).
Did I mention RUST?
Handling of this car was incredible, but standard torque and power was wholly inadequate. Because of the Mid-engined design, brake performance was in the super-car range (at least before they get too hot).
Installed swaybars (no swaybars on stock version - really!), KONI shocks. Kept original 13" wheels. There wasn't much left on the road that could out-handle the little FIAT.
Installed a high-lift cam and bigger carburetor. This made low-end torque even worse than stock (if that was possible), but when the secondary throat kicked in you could really feel the benefits of the cam. Winding out the engine to the 7500 rpm redline was a whole lot of fun.
Test drove a low mileage 1988 Supercharged MR2 in 1997 as a comparison. Power-wise, the X1/9 was several leagues below the MR2. The MR2 felt like the FIAT off the line when you started in 3rd gear - this is no joke, I really did this. The Toyota's power-to-weight ratio is what FIAT should have been aiming for.
In terms of handling, the Mk I MR2 was a surprising step down from the FIAT. It always felt like it was on the verge of tipping over. You couldn't toss the MR2 around as easily as the FIAT. The Toyota just didn't have the road feel that the FIAT did.
I drive a 1999 BMW M3 Coupe now. My modified FIAT handled better around the city. At higher speeds, it's about even, but then again, I still have the factory settings on the M3 (too much under-steer).
I've had three X1/9's (1975,1974,and 1979). All three were eventually totaled by careless drivers (two were when my car was parked - one was due to some pickup running a red light). I can atest to the strength of the design since I am still here, and that the 1979 was still drivable after being rear-ended hard enough to roll it up onto the curb.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 28th May, 2004