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