These mid-engined Bertone-designed X1/9s are stunning. It’s a childhood dream realised, isn’t it?
It sure is; my passion for sportscars was actually ignited by an X1/9 back in the late Seventies. A boy much more senior to me at school in Lahore turned up one day behind the wheel of a lime green X1/9 1,300cc — an early 1973 or 1974 model with the small bumpers and ladder graphics all around.
It was love at first sight. To a pre-teen like me, who was already yearning to drive, it had to be the fastest car on the planet. What followed was an introduction to all the best automotive magazines and a whole new world suddenly opened before me.
There aren’t many of these around here, where did you find it?
I found this rust-free Fiat in the US for not much money. I then entrusted it to a company called Midwest Bayless in Columbus, Ohio for a full ground-up restoration.
Come on then, what’s been done to it?
Well, these 1980 models came with big steel bumpers and I decided to swap those with the smaller bumpers from the 1974 model. The rebuild includes the engine, which has been modified to 1,600cc (from the original 1,500cc) and has a fully ported and polished head, slightly larger valves, a hot cam and tuned headers. Mechanically, everything is totally new and uprated because I wanted the car to be reliable. Even the paint is a modern version of its original copper-orange.
It looks absolutely fabulous and better than new. Is there anything else pending?
The exhaust is too loud for my liking and I plan to swap it for one that’s slightly less noisy.
I am also planning to change the upholstery, upgrade the radiator fans to something more powerful and get the air conditioning sorted. After that, I hope the car will become my daily driver in Dubai.
We’d love to see this little beauty on the roads every day. What is it like it like to drive?
I haven’t covered too many kilometres in the car yet, but each time I get behind the wheel, I just can’t stop smiling. The car is so mechanical — I can’t describe it in any other way. It is very responsive to inputs but you have to work to drive it — having no power steering or servo-assisted brakes means that you ‘feel’ you are driving hard even if the speedo betrays the truth.
I measure performance in terms of the fun I have. Think driving a go-kart on the road — every sensation is magnified at legal speeds. What could be better?
I drove a stock 1,500cc car in the US last year. In comparison, my 1,600cc conversion is a revelation. It has good torque from as low as 2,500rpm and revs really sweetly.
What do you like best about it?
I guess it is outlandish in Dubai and yet somewhat understated at the same time. And the other thing is its tiny size. I love cars that just wrap around you.
Nothing else comes close to the X1/9 for you, right?
I am sure a lot of people think I have gone mad with the whole Fiat X1/9 project. That may be the case. But at least I am smiling through the madness.
I regret that I will not be able to take all three of my children for a drive in it at the same time. I guess I will just have to drive it that much more and bond with them individually.
And you’re more than happy to do that. What other cars have you owned in the past?
Over the years, I have tended to own cars that are responsive and communicative, without much regard for the marque’s prestige. So my first car in Pakistan was a turbocharged Daihatsu Charade — tiny, zippy and nimble like a go-kart.
When I moved to Dubai in 1997, I could not resist buying an Alfa Romeo 146 Ti — totally against all the advice I received from friends. It was an awesome car and completely trouble free throughout my three years of ownership, as was the Alfa Romeo 156 V6 that replaced it.
There was a Porsche in the mix too, wasn’t there?
Yes, I drove a beautiful 944 S2 Cabriolet for a couple of years and still regret selling it.
Then in 2005, Volkswagen released the Mk5 GTI and my love affair with the brand started and it continues to this day. I just love every moment I spend behind the wheel of my “breathed-over” Golf R.
Final question — what are your favourite three cars and why?
1. Fiat X1/9 — because that was my first love. 2. Alfa Romeo Giulia Spider — because to me it ties as the most beautiful car ever built. 3. Ferrari Dino 246 GT — because to me it ties as the most beautiful car ever built.
I am fortunate enough to own a fully rebuilt X1/9; I can’t afford the Ferrari just yet; and the Alfa — who knows. Name Rehan Samee’s 1980 Fiat X1/9