Every now and again Fiat had to test a new concept, a new design, a new material. The problem was that if these failed it would reflect badly upon the brand. So what you do? You form a new company and let that take the blame!
In conjunction with tyre makers Pirelli and cycle and motorcycle manufacturers Bianchi Fiat set up a company called Autobianchi which it took over completely in 1968. This company only produced comparatively few cars during its lifetime; when these were basically Fiat cars with certain modifications there were usually priced quite higher than the equivalent Fiat model which was to been a great disincentive for motorists to buy their products. However in 1969 they brought out a small hatchback called the A112. This was the first car that Fiat created with the front wheel drive configuration that has served them so well since then.
This supermini proved very popular for both road use and racing and eventually more than 1.2 million of them were sold.
A concept car called the Runabout was created, based on the A112, by stylists Bertoni and it looked more like a speedboat than a car; but when this was shown at the 1969 Turin Motor Show it attracted so much attention that Fiat decided to base a sports car on it. The result in 1972 was the X1/9.
It created a huge impact. This was a small sports car with an engine in the middle driving the rear wheels which put it in near perfect weight balance and made it very easy to handle. It had a detachable hardtop, retractable headlights and perhaps most important of all it was designed to comply with the regulations in an important export market, the United States of America.
Performance initially was not fantastic; the 1300 cc straight four-cylinder engine, driving a four-speed gearbox, produced 73 brake horsepower which could make the car reach a hundred mph with acceleration of nought to 60 in 4.2 seconds. Six years later however a 1500 cc engine and five-speed gearbox made it a lot nippier.
Sales figures were good for a sports car. More than 140,000 were sold by 1982 when it was rebadged as the Bertoni, and it stayed in production until 1989, by which time about 20,000 more were sold.
If you are thinking of buying a second-hand one you may be well advised to think again; the reason why there are so few on the road now is because it rusted. Badly, and everywhere. Still, no car is perfect.