Fiat Barchetta exterior front three quarters

Fiat Barchetta | Alternative Classics

Fiat Barchetta | Alternative Classics

As the popular forum saying goes: ‘The answer is always Miata’, but if you’re after a small, stylish and cheap-to-run sportscar, is the MX-5 the go-to choice? We think not, and we have a Fiat Barchetta-shaped reason why.

Launched in 1995, the Fiat Barchetta joined a roadster heyday that included the Mazda MX-5, Toyota MR2, MG F and premium alternatives like the BMW Z3, Mercedes SLK and 986 Porsche Boxster. Meaning ‘little boat’ in Italian, the Barchetta had the effortless style of a Venetian gondola, and the shortened underpinnings of a Fiat Punto.

Inside, body-coloured panels gave it the feel of a 1950s roadster, while under the bonnet lurked a growling 131PS (96kW) 1.8-litre twin-cam engine that may as well have been custom-made for powering an Italian drop-top.

The front-wheel drive setup was less ideal. It meant the Fiat couldn’t match the cheeky handling of its rivals. However, a much bigger issue – and the reason they’re such a rare sight on UK roads – is that the Barchetta was only built in left-hand drive.

In 2000, the Fiat got a third brake light, while a comprehensive facelift followed in 2003 – the awkward styling of these later cars makes them less desirable today.

Fiat Barchetta: Why buy one?

The Barchetta’s effortlessly cool design remains one of the biggest reasons for buying one. You get the same long-bonnet, stumpy-rear-end look as the MX-5, but with details like delicate pop-out chrome door handles, an achingly cool style line, curved hunches, and individual tail lights elevate it to a plain the MX-5 can’t reach.  Sadly, the Barchetta’s 2003 facelift spoiled the look. It got a brash grille that was at odds with the delicacy of the rest of the design, while the raised centre brake light made the back of the car look fussy.

At least the engine didn’t change. All Barchettas come fitted with a 131PS 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine that’s good for 0-62mph in 8.9 seconds and a 124mph top speed. While performance was adequate, the engine’s enthusiastic induction growl – as it chased its 6,400rpm redline – provided the perfect soundtrack for an open-topped sportscar.

The handling was a little less than perfect, mind. Where an MX-5 would progressively hang its tail out of corners, the front-wheel-drive, spindly wheeled Fiat tended to push straight through them in a cloud of scrabbling tyre smoke. Stay within its limits, however, and quick steering (2.5 turns lock-to-lock) and a 1,056kg kerb weight meant the Fiat felt nimble and alert. But while rivals handle better, the Fiat has one selling point that its direct rivals can’t match – its rarity. Less than 60,000 were built and – with less than 400 left on UK roads – you’re unlikely to see another.

We understand that every vehicle is unique, which is why our Agreed Valuation policies take the true value of your classic car into account.

Fiat Barchetta: What problems to look out for?

The Fiat Barchetta might be a simple sportscar, but it isn’t without its problems. Valve trains in pre-1999 Barchettas are prone to seizing –  caused by a coked-up variator that makes the car sound like a diesel. Replacing the variator with every cambelt change should solve the issue.

A galvanised body means the Barchetta resists tin worm better than most, but check the wheel arches, chassis rails and jacking points for corrosion. Earlier, pre-2002 cars built by Italian coachbuilder, Maggiora, (which hand-finished the body for paint) are thought to be more solid than later Fiat-built cars. It’s worth noting that replacement body panels can be hard to come by.

Finally, check the roof. Its mechanism snagged the hood fabric, causing leaks, although any original roof will likely need to be replaced by now.

Fiat Barchetta: How much to pay?

The Fiat Barchetta undercut all its rivals on price when new – you could pick one up for a mere £12,000 when the car first went on sale – but rarity means you’ll now pay a premium to access its effortless good looks.

Pre-facelift cars in perfect condition cost the most. You can expect to pay more than £15,000 for a mint example with a modest mileage, although prices drop below £5,000 for well-used offerings with more than 100,000 miles. Bright colours like ‘Broom Yellow’, ‘Metallic Sea Blue’ and the wonderfully forthright ‘Orange’ add value and suit the car.

Less-desirable later models tend to be cheaper. A budget of around £7,000 will get you a clean car with around 70,000 miles under its tyres.

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