Bertone X1/9: Fit for a King
Editor’s note: The following interview was conducted in April 2012.
Scott King and Sandy Edelstein are not like the typical classic car collectors who are incurably obsessed with a single marque and whose missions in life are to hoard every variant produced by the beloved brand (and I’m including myself in this OCD group). On the contrary, Scott and Sandy have a refreshingly eclectic collection of vintage steel.
The peculiar thing about Scott and Sandy, however, is that in their beautiful collection of 20-plus fine cars, there is only one Italian specimen. And this singular Italian example is a Bertone X1/9 to boot. You would not be alone in thinking that from all the affordable classics, such as the Alfa Romeo GTV or Fiat 850 Spider or Lancia Fulvia and many others, the X1/9 is a rather silly choice if you were going to have just one Italian classic. Or is it?
To find out, I went to visit Scott and Sandy at their home in Palm Springs, California. Two things immediately become clear upon entering their beautiful quintessential desert house. First, they have impeccable style. And second, they are die-hard car nuts.
The rare David Holls GM prototype sketches hanging on the walls and the vast collection of auto memorabilia sitting on shelves blend nicely with the mid-century modern furnishings to create a car-lover’s shrine to ’50s and ’60s modernism. It’s no wonder that a big part of Scott and Sandy’s collection comprises pristine American land boats such as their ’58 Cadillac Series 62 Coupe and ’66 Lincoln Continental convertible.
“We’re all imprinted with the cars we grew up with,” says Sandy.
Scott adds, “I’ve a picture of me when I was two or three years old in a Mustang pedal car, so I was imprinted by Ford back then and destined to own a Mustang.”
After perusing the various vintage scale models, glorious hood ornaments, and vast library of automotive books, we walk over to the three-car garage where I am given the privilege of seeing their latest project which I’m not allowed to reveal. Why, you ask? You see, Scott and Sandy take their fun very seriously. They are two-time Concours d’LeMons winners, and they are intent on winning again. This new project, they believe, is their ticket to yet another victory.
“We have the fancy cars that are original and significant and collectible, and then we have these fun, quirky cars,” explains Scott.
Given that their new secret weapon is even tackier than the Cimarron with which they won the last Concours d’LeMons, I think their chances are quite good.
It is finally time for us to see the little wedge that is the Bertone X1/9. We drive a short distance to a clandestine location: a non-descript, desolate strip mall curiously filled with plain roll-up gates where one would expect storefronts. Inside one of these stores-turned-warehouse resides their collection.
Sandy explains: “Here, there used to be coffee distributors, printers, and one of those businesses that makes displays for trade shows, and over the years all of those businesses have moved out, and each time we were able to get one of our friends with car collections to move in. So the whole building is cars now. There are about 80 cars in total here.”
As we enter this clubhouse of cars, I discover that when it comes to size, Scott and Sandy are into extremes. Though varied in their marques, the cars fall into two categories: magnificent oversized American land yachts, or cute tiny Hondas that you could pick up and put in your pocket. Being partial to small cars myself, I gravitate towards the white S600—the grandfather of the modern S2000—as well as the green Honda N600, which Scott purchased as a teenager before he even had a license.
Finally, in the midst of these little jelly-bean-like Hondas and the ’48 Packard, the ’60 De Soto and other yachts, I find the gold and brown Bertone X1/9 which had first caught my eye during the Targa California this April. I was drawn to the X1/9 at the Targa because amongst the plethora of Porsches and dozens of Alfa Romeos and BMWs, this was the only one of its kind, and it was in unusually clean and original condition for an X1/9.
“There are certain cars, and the X1/9 is one of them, that are really hard to find a really nice stock, unmolested, untouched, well-maintained original version,” says Sandy. “They’ve either been completely tricked-out or they’ve just been beat to hell and disintegrated. Very few people just left them alone.”
Many know the X1/9 as a Fiat, and this example is indeed a Fiat through and through, but you’d be hard-pressed finding the word Fiat anywhere on this car. This peculiarity is explained by the fact that Fiat pulled out of the US market in 1982 (after too many “Repair it anew, Antonio!” jokes), but Bertone decided to continue to sell the X1/9 in the States all the way through 1988. The trouble was, Bertone had no dealership network so they sold these little two-seaters through GM dealers. You can imagine the success.
In fact, Scott’s X1/9 was initially sold by a Buick dealer in Oregon. It did not exactly sell fast. Reading the records, Scott tells me, “The pre-delivery inspection was done on August 16, 1985, and the car was sold new June 15, 1989.”
“The dealer had it for four years before they sold it new, because people weren’t exactly going to Buick dealers looking for Fiats,” adds Sandy.
Clearly then, marketing was not Bertone’s forte in the ’80s. Design, however, was.
“I’ve always been intrigued by the design of this car,” says Scott. “Even though it’s beautiful it’s very functional. The roof comes off and stores in the front. There’s storage in the front and back. The release latch for the engine and hood is neatly integrated into the door jamb. It was all so very clever to have a closed car turn into an open car.”
I remember liking these cars from the first minute I saw one back in Iran in the mid ‘70s. It was in that obnoxious green color, and I wanted one just like it. Having now spent some time with this pristine example with the brown and gold two-tone that is so archetypical of the era, I’m reminded of how much the sharp angular design and the purposeful compact package still communicate, “Drive me, I’m fun!” This was, after all, the work of Marcello Gandini, who was also responsible for some of the most significant designs in automotive history, such as the Lamborghini Miura and Countach, the BMW E28 5-Series, and of course the Lancia Stratos, which shares many styling cues with the X1/9.
This lone Italian in Scott and Sandy’s collection, then, is a Bertone penned by one of Italy’s greatest designers, is an unusually well-preserved time capsule, and is a fun companion for a three-day classic car rally such as the Targa California. Not such a silly choice after all.
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