For once Pininfarina was not the port of call for an Italian car company that wanted to create a stylish roadster. Instead, Fiat’s own central design studio handled the development of the Tipo B Spider 176 project. This tidy little sports car with its rounded contours and coupe-like soft-top was based on the Fiat Punto Mk 1 platform. The Barchetta had Fiat’s venerable 1.8 litre petrol engine, which wasn’t the quietest motor in the car park — even though it was tuned and featured variable valve timing for the first time in a Fiat production car.
Still, it was a pretty roadster with a nicely finished interior that went down rather well with junior boy (and girl) racers. It was a lightweight car that delivered good performance but what really sold it was the delightful appearance. The name (meaning `small boat’) was a generic Italian term used to describe a two-seater roadster that Fiat appropriated as its own, endowing the Barchetta with rounded front and rear bumpers, stylish headlamps beneath sloping glass on the front wings, elegant rear lamps and distinctive six-spoke steel wheels.
Although designed in-house, the delightful Barchetta was fabricated by outside coachbuilder Maggiora. After taking a break in 2003 (when Maggiora went bust), a revamped version was relaunched from Fiat’s Mirafiori factory in 2004. But this snappy sports car’s time had come and gone, for the Barchetta was discontinued in 2005. It was a sad demise for those interested in buying a classic open-top roadster, though plenty of enthusiastic drivers will continue to enjoy the Barchetta experience for years to come (there are dedicated owners’ clubs in many countries that hold annual meetings). Better still, good used examples are inexpensive, so it’s possible to join the Barchetta party for a very reasonable entry fee.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1995 (until 2002)
1,747 cc Straight Four
Top speed of 118 mph (190 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 8.7 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Unfortunately it isn’t possible to get hold of a right-hand drive example of the Barchetta — Fiat never commissioned this option, even though the car was exported to the important British and Japanese sports car markets.