Developed during the early 1990s the Fiat Barchetta arrived mid-decade as Italy’s answer to the ultra-successful Mazda MX-5. Featuring attractive styling, a revvy little 1.8-litre four-pot and sharp handling, it was a great little sports car – despite its humble front-wheel drive hatchback underpinnings.
Strong performance and low pricing helped sales, but as it was produced exclusively in left-hand drive, the Barchetta never sold in massive numbers in the UK, making it a relatively rare sight on our roads. This rarity can be a plus point as the Barchetta, aided by its striking looks still turns heads today. On the second hand market, it has proven itself as a reliable weekend runabout.
Which one to buy?
The Barchetta was produced exclusively in left-hand drive and many early cars were imported from Europe as prices were far lower than in the UK. Official imports had the correct speedos and light fittings but there are few other clues to differentiate the two so watch out for unscrupulous sorts trying to charge more for the cheaper imported cars.
The 130bhp 1.8-litre inline-four was technologically up-to-date, featuring variable valve timing and a 16 valve cylinder head. With an all-up weight just shy of a ton, performance was spirited. Although based on the front-wheel drive Punto, the Barchetta proved itself to be a sharp handler. Unless you intend to slide sideways through roundabouts with the tail hanging out, you will not be disappointed.
Standard equipment was nothing special, but perfectly adequate for this type of car. Power steering, ABS and a radio were all standard while the Comfort pack added central locking, electric mirrors, leather seats and passenger side airbag. Riviera and Lido special edition models came with some additional luxuries such as quilted leather seats and unique paint schemes.
It continued with relatively few changes until 2002, when coach builders Maggiora declared bankruptcy. Production was halted between May 2002 and early 2004 as the tooling was relocated to Fiat’s Mirafiori plant. When it did return, the Barchetta received a refresh, additional equipment and a big price drop. Two airbags were now standard as well as a CD player and leather covered steering wheel. The bumpers were updated but the changes were not drastic. The running gear remained unchanged and not much more than a year later production was once again stopped, this time for good.
Any good condition model can make for a great drive, if you are looking for extra equipment the limited editions or post-2003 cars are your best bet.
Performance and specs
Engine 1747cc 16 valve DOHC in-line four-cylinder
Power 130bhp @ 6300rpm
Torque 121lb ft @ 4300rpm
Top speed 124 mph
0-60mph 8.7 seconds
Fuel consumption 33.6mpg
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
• Quick, reliable and with the majority of service items readily available, the Barchetta can make for a great summertime car. As there are some personally imported cars out there and some with patchy histories, it is worth doing a thorough check over any potential purchase.
• Some cars have been converted to right hand drive, and if this is the case make sure it has been carried out to a professional standard. A thorough inspection of the electrics and pedal box is vital to ensure all is functioning correctly. Ideally, stick to the official LHD imports to reduce any potential issues.
• Airbag warning lights may be activated due to cabling that has become damaged by the seat mechanism, a relatively simple fix.
• The 1.8-litre engine is robust and other than regular servicing, ensure that it has had its timing belt replaced at least every 40,000miles. Water pumps should also be replaced in tandem as they are also driven off this belt and if they go the belt can snap causing serious engine damage.
• One recall is listed for Barchetta models in the UK, and this was for a potential seatbelt malfunction that affected cars built during the very first year of manufacture.
• Rust is not a major issue on these cars so any bubbling up of the paintwork or signs of corrosion could be due to poor accident repair work or general neglect.
• The soft top mechanism is quite reliable, however the plastic rear windscreen distorts and cracks with age. The fabric can also get damaged and should be left up when not in use.
• Windows can be ill-fitting when the roof is up and longer trips can be a bit uncomfortable due to wind noise. This is not unique to the Barchetta as other small convertibles have similar traits.
1995: Fiat Barchetta goes on sale. Available solely in convertible body style and LHD. 130bhp 1.8-litre engine is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox
2000: High-level third brake light phased in on all models
2002: Production stops for over a year due to body shell manufacturer, Maggiora going out of business
2003/4: Production restarted and Barchetta models receive a refresh and a list price reduction of £2800. Standard equipment now includes two airbags, CD player and front fog lights. Front and rear bumper design updated.
2005: Final year of Barchetta production
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.uk-barchetta-owners-club.org.uk – UK Barchetta Club
• www.fiatbarchetta.com – Barchetta Enthusiast site
Summary and prices
With nice design touches that elevate it above some of its more mundane contemporaries, the Fiat Barchetta is a desirable modern classic that offers a rewarding driving experience. Prices for early cars with 60k+ mileages start at around £3000, while mint condition examples cost one or two thousand more. The last facelifted models can command up to £9000, however you don’t need to spend anywhere near that much for a good one.
Words: John Tallodi