FIAT BARCHETTA REVIEW

Forget its Punto origins and the lack of a steering wheel on the right side – the Barchetta handles beautifully and offers a lot of classic roadster for the money.

We Brits might have snubbed the beautiful Barchetta en-masse when it was new – thanks to Fiat’s refusal to sell it here with right-hand-drive – but it now makes great sense an affordable 1990s sports car.

Despite undercutting Mazda’s MX-5 and the MGF when new the slower sales mean it’s now a much rarer sight in the UK, but once you’ve got used to the Barchetta’s LHD layout (which takes all of five minutes) you’ll be treated to one of Fiat’s best looking and best handling cars.

It was sold here in two stints – the original 1995-2002 cars, built by Maggiora before its bankruptcy that year, and then a facelifted model built by Fiat itself at its Mirafiori plant between 2003 and 2005.

Whichever version you go for the Barchetta is a grin-inducingly good drive – and you’d never get bored of looking at its pert, Andreas Zapatinas-penned proportions.

VITAL STATISTICS

ENGINE 1747cc/4-cyl/DOHC

POWER 130bhp@6300rpm

TORQUE 121lb ft@4300pm

MAXIMUM SPEED 120mph

0-60MPH 7.9sec

FUEL CONSUMPTION 27-33mpg

TRANSMISSION FWD, five-spd manual

 

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

IS IT AN IMPORT?

The Barchetta’s LHD layout – and the predictably slow sales in the UK as a result – means plenty of buyers have imported cars, particularly from Germany and Holland. While there’s nothing wrong with these cars there’s a good chance they’ll have the instruments calibrated in KM/H and the incorrect lights – and don’t pay the premium UK market Barchettas fetch for one.

 

DOES IT SOUND LIKE A LONDON TAXI?

In 1999 there was a recall for a sticky control valve on the engine’s variable valve timing, which if left unrepaired both blunted performance and gave the Barchetta with an uneven, diesel-esque engine note. Check the history and find out if the work’s been done – and the engine should be smooth and eager to rev when starting up.

 

A GRAND OPENING

The slimline door handles are one of the Barchetta’s best stylistic features – but they are prone to failing with age, so check both carefully as replacement items can be tricky to source. It’s also worth checking the roof for signs of damage – if they’ve been folded on particularly cold days they can get damaged. Cars sold with hard top roofs go for a premium – typically around £700 – but look at them carefully for any signs of them letting in leaks.

 

WATCH FOR PRANGED CARS

The Barchetta’s body is galvanised so corrosion isn’t too much of an issue. If you see any rust setting in, particularly around panel caps or near the corners of the car, it could be a sign of poorly repaired accident damage, as are any uneven panel gaps or signs of overspray. Key places to check for signs of any crash damage are the inner panels under the bonet, the sills for straightness, the rear structure underneath the car and the inner structure of the boot.

 

HOW’S THE PAINT?

You’re more likely to see signs of stone chips or blemishes, particularly around the bonnet edge and the front bumper. They’re easily treatable if they’re minor cosmetic blemishes – and shouldn’t put you off buying one – but cars with parking-related dents that need replacement panels are trickier to sort out.

 

SEE RED OVER A MISSING KEY

Barchettas were sold new with a master key – distinguished by its red plastic grip, rather than the blue grip used on the car normally used when driving the car. These keys were used by Fiat dealers were used for recoding replacement keys and cannot be reordered – so view a car being sold without one with suspicion. Swap the battery over and you’ll need the master key for the immobiliser to allow you to start up again, so it’s a potential headache if you haven’t got one.

 

OUR VERDICT

While it might cost more than an MX-5 of the same age it’s better looking and due to their comparative scarcity in the UK far more likely to attract intrigued glances at classic events. It’s also big fun to drive – dismiss it as a Punto roadster at your peril – and the parts commonality with other 1990s Fiats mean that sourcing replacement mechanicals is far from tricky. Buy one that’s been looked after and carry on cherishing it – that way you’ll end up with a curvaceous Italian roadster before the rest of the UK realises what it missed out on and starts pushing prices up.

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