The X1/9 started life in 1972 as a show concept car, with styling by Bertone. It was designed around the mechanicals and engine from the Fiat 128, but used these parts in a radical way, moving the entire transverse front engine, drive train and suspension assembly from the front of the 128 to the rear of the X1/9, giving a mid-engined layout. The two-seater features sharp-edged styling with a wedge shape, pop-up headlights and a removable hard top roof panel which could be stowed in the front of the car under the hood. Stylistically, the car looks somewhat like a miniature version of the Lancia Monte Carlo.
After huge interest was shown in the model as a concept, it was rushed into production, built on a line at Bertone's own factory. Initially badged as a Fiat, later models from the mid to late 80s were badged as Bertone X1/9. The first models featured a very free-revving 1300cc overhead cam engine with aluminium head, but in this form the car had less than dramatic performance, hampered somewhat by the surprisingly heavy body shell. For the U.S market, additional emission control equipment and large safety bumpers were added, which sapped performance even more - an increase of engine capacity to 1500cc partially dealt with this. While the engine itself was widely regarded as a fine design, the fact was that the car was rather heavy, despite its small size and sports car aspirations.
The lack of proper productionisation dogged the model throughout its remarkably long life. The confined space of the mid-engine compartment meant that routine maintenance was often skipped, and it also led to problems with overheating. A cooling fan was added to cool the carburettor, which otherwise would get so hot fuel would vapourise in the float chamber, leading to fuel starvation. The exhaust system was placed below a vestigial boot (trunk) compartment, which would get so hot that it was hazardous to place things here. Early models were also prone to premature rusting, and there were problems with rapid wear of the gearboxes.
In contrast to these mundane problems, and the fact that it was often dismissed as a "hairdresser's car" by some, the car was respected by those in the know for its tremendously good handling and dynamic qualities which made it a joy to drive and a real driver's car. Enthusiasts of the marque also took the standard lack of power into their own hands, and a popular do-it-yourself conversion was to transplant a 2 litre Lancia twin-cam engine in, boosting performance tremendously.
The last production models were produced as VS variants in 1987, featuring fuel injection, a luxurious leather interior, electrically operated windows, etc. This last run largely solved many of the long standing problems, and these cars are nowadays quite sought after as cheap classics.