Yet another car with pop-up headlamps.
This one neatly predates the last car with pop-up headlamps on which I recently reported. Bertone took up the reins, making this car after Fiat handed it over in 1982. Production continued until 1989, which is the very same year Nissan decided to
launch the fourth-generation 200SX. Two more different approaches to the sports car would be hard to find. They looked different and cost very contrasting sums. You could get a Bertone X1/9 for just under nine thousand pounds and, for nearly twice that, the Nissan 200SX. I mention them to underline the remarkable span of time covered by the X1/9. If the Peugeot 107 was still on sale, it would now be 17 years old too. (I had hard time finding a car exactly 17 years from launch…)
But does age matter for all classes of car? The X1/9 could be seen as another example of a coelacanth car, so no. It landed in our vale of woes in 1972, only fifty years ago, and it remained available to purchase new until 1989. Somewhere along the line, product development stalled. Car Magazine considered it a decent little rocket but lamented lack of sustained nurturing from its makers, meaning that by the time 1989 had come along, it would be hard to say it could have competed with another little two-perch sports car with pop-up lamps arriving that same year.
Fiat had potentially a fine and entertaining two-seater on its books but, instead of nurturing the audience, they let Mazda woo them to their own version of pocket-sized performance fun, the lovely MX-5.
Ah, digression: on page 177 of the December 1988 edition of Car, where I found the MSRP for the X1/9, there is a small article headed “Fiat tops the European market, though Audi Volkswagen is closing in. Rover too is booming.” The Italian conglomerate had almost 15% of the market, selling the most cars for the third year in a successive, straight and uninterrupted continuous row non-stop. VW trailed by 0.2 percentage points. A few lines down, the article says “Ford, GM and Renault are looking less and less convincing as contenders for the top slot in Europe….” The third fastest growing major make in Europe had the name Rover, with sales up to 9.9% to win it a 3.7% market share. Um, yes, ‘fastest growing’ is a tricky term when taken out of context. Well, Rover is dead and GM has abandoned Europe in preparation for its disintegration in the coming decade. End of digression.
Back to the car: it is not hard to imagine Fiat updating the X1/9 over the years with perhaps a new engine or two, much more advanced rust protection, a cup-holder, and a revised headliner. That would have got it through to the mid ’80s in a much more convincing shape. As far as I can see, the car here had the same interior as the launch car from some ten years earlier. I accept that the wedge-styling was getting badly out of touch by the time 1989 rolled around. However, it was still common to see hard-edged designs around then. And 1990 could very well have been the time to remodel the entire car to give it another decade’s innings: integrated bumpers, crash protection, more resistance to rust etc.
As we have read here before, product development has not really been Fiat’s forte. Had it been otherwise, we might be on the fourth version of the X1/9 instead of gazing in mild bewilderment at a 50 year-old design that still seems relevant and saleable today.