Street-Spotted: Fiat Barchetta

The descendant to the 124 Spider is a rare sight in the States.

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What if Fiat had not left the US market in 1983?

We would have seen the Fiat Barchetta arrive just as the Alfa Romeo Spider was leaving the US after a long tenure, taking over the role of the sporty (but not too sporty) Italian roadster, while competing with the likes of the Mazda Miata.

That alternate universe is now a reality with the first two model years of the Barchetta being up for grabs, provided you can find a minty one. And provided you don’t want something else.

The Barchetta arrived on the scene in 1995, picking up where the Fiat 124 Spider left off a decade prior. So much time had passed between the design of the 124 Spider and the debut of the Barchetta that it’s still surprising it took Fiat this long to field a successor. But the Torino automaker obliged with a cabrio and coupe duo, styled quite differently from one another, the latter by none other than the young Chris Bangle at Centro Stile Fiat. The roadster, penned by Andreas Zapatinas, Ermanno Cressoni, and Chris Bangle, arrived a couple of years after the coupe and featured plenty of avant-garde design details on its own.

Powered by a 1.7-liter inline-four driving the front wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox, the Barchetta served up 130 hp and 121 lb-ft of torque, with 62 mph arriving in a leisurely 8.9 seconds.

Sprints from stop lights were not what the Barchetta was all about, however. Instead, the model was aimed quite directly at lifestyle roadster buyers living la dolce vita somewhere in the south of Europe.

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At the moment just the first couple of years of Barchetta production are eligible for importation.


“The curving front, the compact and muscular rear section with its distinctive rear lights and twin chromed exhaust pipes, the flush fitting push button door handles—all combine to emphasize the car’s one and only role in life,” Fiat ad copy of the time whispered. “Pure driving pleasure.”

Speaking of those distinctive rear lights, they were certainly not a parts bin item and ensured that the Barchetta would not be mistaken for anything else on the road. Another design element that assured this was the sharp crease flowing along the sides of the roadster, lending it a somewhat nautical feel.

Handling, on the other hand, was far from nautical, but may not have the mistaken for the BMW Z3 of the era, which arrived just a year later.

“Handling and roadholding are a delight, aided by sure-footed front wheel drive and light, but pin-sharp, power steering,” ad copy of the time promised.

Just what the Barchetta’s handling and performance could have offered in the 1990s will remain unknown to most Fiat enthusiasts in the US, as there are just a handful of these stateside at the moment. But as the rolling 25-year importation window continues to expand, perhaps we’ll see more of these in North America, along with its (far better known) Alfa Romeo 916 Spider frenemy of the day.

Jay Ramey Jay Ramey grew up around very strange European cars, and instead of seeking out something reliable and comfortable for his own personal use he has been drawn to the more adventurous side of the dependability spectrum.

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