with Simon Coulson
Welcome back to Motorvation, where the unloved, overlooked or just plain boring cars get to feel a bit special. This month we’re pretending rust isn’t an issue and pointing our virtual pens at some old Fiats.
Awkwardly named, but with a crispness to the design that only an Italian could manage, the X1/9 is still surprisingly cheap for something so pretty. Sure, it could do with a bit more power – but that’s what we’re here for. Initial thoughts of a V8 (it has been done, I checked!) were thrown out, as it would mess with the legendary balanced handling, but a touch of research (yes, I Googled it) led to a company in the ‘States that supplies a fitting kit to slot in a Honda VTEC motor… that’ll do nicely. Looks-wise, things are pretty much as Bertone intended; slightly wider arches, shaved handles and a general less-is-more tidy-up is all that’s needed. Wheels are the factory three-spoke centres grafted into the barrels of a more modern, larger rim. It’s neat, it’s fun and – bearing in mind this is a fine-handling Italian sportscar – it shouldn’t break the bank either.
What makes the Panda the ideal basis for a modern hot rod? There’s a sentence you never thought you’d read… but the answer isn’t as unlikely as you’d think. The first generation Panda – still in production until 2003, would you believe – has flat glass all round. Yep, it’s a prime candidate for a roof chop – especially in this case, as our chosen victim has the double sunroof, saving a load of welding as a result. It’s still not the easiest job, but it’s a great deal simpler than any of its contemporaries would be.
The next reason a Panda makes for a good rod? Those wheels. They might look traditional, but they are actually from the current Fiat 500 Anniversario edition, including those chrome rings and caps. You’ll no doubt need some modern super-low profile tyres to squeeze those 16s under the arches, but they might just fit. With all that going on, some traditional flames are the icing on the cake. Pre-49? Not even close!