Fiat tested the waters for their subsequent two-seater offering in 1993 with the Maggiore Scia – a concept car which genuinely deserved the term, ‘little boat’.
With the 1989 demise of the long-running X1/9 model, Fiat, for the first time in decades, lacked a two-seater roadster in its lineup; a state of affairs which wouldn’t have elicited much concern apart from the fact that such vehicles were making something of a popular comeback by then.
This was largely a result of Mazda’s highly successful MX5, but with a viable market once again opening up, Fiat Auto under the leadership of Paolo Cantarella authorised development of a series of more overtly sporting Fiat models; a move that would culminate in the 1995 Coupé Fiat and the eventual subject of today’s conceptual revisit.
As part of a design competition, a compact two seater was first floated by centro stile Fiat designer, John Kinsey, working closely with carrozzeria Maggiora and was shown in concept form at the 1993 Turin Auto Show. Called Scia, which is believed to have translated from Italian as the ‘wake’ of a boat, the pretty little two-seater looked more ready for open water than open road.
It’s difficult to be certain whether the Scia as displayed was the initial inspiration for the production car which followed or if it was subsequently modified before going on show to act as a teaser for the production car which was then a mere two years away. Theme-wise, it appeared to follow that of Ghia’s Focus roadster concept of 1992, and if the form language was somewhat less polarising, it was certainly no less arresting.
The connection to the production Barchetta is obvious. Believed to have been the work of Andreas Zapatinas, the Greek designer who enjoyed two stints at Centro Stile – the first with Fiat from 1988 to 1994, where he was chief exterior designer for the Barchetta, also contributing to both Coupé Fiat, and Bravo designs. Working alongside, amongst others, a certain Chris Bangle, Zapatinas subsequently followed the charismatic American to BMW. He returned to Turin in 1998, becoming chief designer at Alfa Romeo, overseeing the styling for the 145, 156 Sports wagon, 159 and Brera models.
Based on a modified version of the first series Punto platform and suspensions, (no bespoke mid-engined layout this time), the low-volume Barchetta was built at carrozzeria Maggiora in Chivasso from 1995 until 1992, when the carrozzeria went bust. Fiat continued production at Mirafiori after a two year hiatus which then ceased entirely in 2005.
A further strand to the Barchetta storyline is a one-off coupé proposed by Maggiora. Apparently, Zapatinas had originally schemed a similar model but was vetoed by Cantarella as he felt it might cannibalise sales of other models. A neatly executed, pretty, if not particularly far-seeing design, it’s likely Cantarella was correct in his assessment.
It’s somewhat ironic that the car which most likely prompted Fiat to sanction the Barchetta in the first place now forms the technical basis for Fiat’s current somewhat underwhelming 124 Spider offering. But with the market for affordable two-seaters now in rapid decline, it’s rather unlikely to be replaced. But while the 124 will most likely be viewed as something of a low water mark, rest assured, once it’s gone we’re all likely to miss the boat.