Featured: There’s Nothing Like An Epic Post-Restoration Road Trip

There’s Nothing Like An Epic Post-Restoration Road Trip

By Petrolicious Productions
November 16, 2015
17 comments

Story and Photography by Josh Epp

When I was a kid, you could often find me sitting at a little desk tucked underneath the basement stairs, hand-painting plastic model car kits, or drawing re-imagined versions of cars I saw on the road.

Before I could even drive, I had begun searching for a project that I could call my own. I would check the local ads hourly, hoping to find the right one. My criteria was simple: it had to be cheap, and it had to be different.

In the fall of 2011, I stumbled across a car I had never seen before. The ad had no details, just a picture, title, and price. “1978 Fiat X1/9”; in the picture it appeared to be brown, tucked tightly away in a back lane, completely engulfed by overgrown weeds and bushes. I begged my dad to take me to look at it.

After all, it fit the criteria perfectly, it was cheap, and it looked like no other car I had ever seen before. Not long after that, it was on a trailer off to its new home…my back yard.

I had hoped to have it finished while I was still in high school, but that dream quickly slipped away as we discovered the severity of rust and poor previous repairs.

I remember countless nights dreaming of the moment when I would turn the key, and hear the little mid-mounted engine right behind my ears rev ever-so-freely down the driveway, and through the streets. I could hardly wait to fill it up with gas for the first time, or participate in local summer car meets.

However, things took a bit of a turn, to say the least. In the last few months of the restoration, I had decided that I was going to pack up my things, and move from Winnipeg, Manitoba to the west coast of Canada to live with my brother.

Now, with the car only a few weeks away from being road worthy—and winter slowly creeping up on me—I was in a race against time if I was going to take the car with me across half of this vast country. There was no way I was going to let it sit in the garage all winter, not after four years of waiting.

Paint was finished in late August, and the car was put back together for the first time in 4 years. After nearly 20 years without making noise of its own, my 1978 Fiat X1/9 roared to life. Four years after I clicked on that ad, the car was finally “finished”. I put 500 km on the freshly-built 1500-cc engine, packed my bags in both the front and rear trunk compartments of the X1/9, and set sail westward…with the targa top off of course.

Things started off really smooth, for the most part. Other then a dodgy brake light switch that I eventually replaced halfway through my journey, and a windshield wiper that wouldn’t stay in its place, I was quite pleased with how the car was doing.

It wasn’t until I reached the east side of Canadian Rockies that I really started to have some issues. Canadian Autumns can be terribly unpredictable. One moment you’re shifting through the gears, kicking up golden crisp fallen leaves, and the next thing you know you’re holding on for dear life in the middle of a snowstorm.

With the drastic change of altitude in the mountains, I found myself more than once having to play with carb settings on the side of the road. It became a battle to get the car to co-operate consistently. It was a total learning experience, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. The smells, the sounds, the views—every sensation created a deeper understanding of the car and driver.

The X1/9 has always gotten a bad rep for being underpowered, I can’t argue that. But for what it’s worth, who needs the horsepower when you’ve got a smile you can barely contain each time you take a corner?

I arrived at my destination in Abbotsford, British Columbia ten days after I left home. I covered a total of 2,438 km, and reached a max altitude of 4,735 ft. My passion for vintage automobiles has grown immensely throughout this adventure, and I cannot thank Petrolicious enough for fuelling that desire to get back into the garage each time a rusty stud snapped off, or another oil leak was discovered, or when I couldn’t start my car for a day…only to realize my ignition coil was not hooked up.

Now, each drive gives me another opportunity to spread the enthusiasm we all share for these wonderful machines, and that’s what I intend to do.

Tags Fiat/ Italian
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Martijn
Martijn
3 years ago

This coukd have been my story. Sweet memorys. Still own the x1/9 after 25 years.

Malaka Herath
Malaka Herath
4 years ago

I have a ’77 X 1/9 1300 since 2009. It was almost a project car when I bought it. I have done many mechanical repairs at the local repair shop. Now it drives properly and I have taken part in couple of hill-climbs and track days. One repair I haven’t done is the left side windscreen pillar which is having a wrong rake, resulting a damaged windscreen.

Gareth de Maid
Gareth de Maid
5 years ago

Just arrived in Abbotsford from Australia visiting family and I’ve seen the car twice on the road already. Beautiful and a real credit to the owner!

Josh Williams
Josh Williams
5 years ago

I delivered pizzas for a few years in a fuel injected ’81 Bertone X/19 I picked up for $400. The transmission bellhousing had somehow been shattered so I just drove it with exposed gears until they froze. I wish I had invested in repairing it. One of the most fun cars I’ve ever owned.

Scott Yeager
Scott Yeager
5 years ago

Ive always wanted an X19, after reading this, I’m checking the ads again…

Josheppx19
Josheppx19
6 years ago

Thanks everybody for the comments! Its been a blast to share this with so many other enthusiasts.

Luca Garau
Luca Garau
6 years ago
Reply to  Josheppx19

what a magnificient work! awesome car and stunning restoration!!

Scott Lockhart
Scott Lockhart
6 years ago

I wasn’t old enough to legally drive yet, but my very first date was with a girl slightly older than I who had a gold Fiat X1/9. She picked me up in the car. We probably saw a movie, but I don’t remember that. What I do remember was a little bit of kissing, and that she let me drive her car. It was very low and the bottom scraped a little on some ruts in the dirt turnaround area next to the road. She scolded me for that and my desire to rev it to redline as I ran it through the gears that night on the country roads. I’ve wanted an X1/9 ever since.

RayBee27
RayBee27
6 years ago

Beautiful, absolutely gorgeous. I’m quite envious. The green is very Stratos-like. I love this color on this car. Sets off those clean lines, helped in great part by the absence of bumpers. YES! Tell us more about this beauty – what sort of exhaust is peeking under the rear? And the wheels, are they Campagnolos? The rears look to be a larger width than stock. Very nice choice of wheel regardless.

I believe it was Car and Driver who made the following comment regarding the lack of power; to paraphrase – the local authorities won’t be troubled, but little do they suspect that you’re ripping through corners like Jackie Stewart, at redline rowing through the gears, but well under the speed limit. No one needs to know.

Colin Chapman was said to be so impressed by the X1/9 that he bought one for his daughter. She had a collision with a lorry, and said the thing folded around her like a house of cards. I take it that’s a good thing; she did survive. Stout roll bar and huge crush zones front and back.

Jorge Piccoli
Jorge Piccoli
6 years ago

very nice stoty…..and that’s the way we feel alive!!

Stephan P
Stephan P
6 years ago

Nice story on an under appreciated classic. Great color choice.

Gavin Clark
Gavin Clark
6 years ago

A truly enjoyable story – I would much rather read something like this than yet another Porsche/Ferrari article….

Ray Houghton
Ray Houghton
6 years ago

A great story, a great little car, and great job on the restoration. I’ve owned these in the past and they are one of my favorites. It’s like a 1/3 scale Ferrari 308. What you lack in brute horsepower, you make up for by being able to carry all the speed you can gather through the turns. Not much is more fun than an X1/9 and a twisty mountain road.

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange
6 years ago

Cool car and great story. It makes a neat contrast to have a story of someone starting out on their car adventures coming straight after the Admiral’s Ferrari film telling the story of 60 years of continuous ownership.

john tolle
john tolle
6 years ago

Great story and road trip in a beautiful car. I’ll past this on to a friend of my who just finished having a ground up restoration of the first car he owed – a green X1-9. He’s due for a road trip himself 😉

Thistlebeeace
Thistlebeeace
6 years ago

Nicely done – props for ditching the original bumpers. Every X1/9 I look at on eBay has that treatment applied by my mind.

It’s great that you’ve got to do so much with it so soon!

Axel Larsson
Axel Larsson
6 years ago

Awesome story/photos, and congrats on finishing a cool, little car.