Introducing the Barchetta
It has poise agility and character
– just like the best of its ancestors. It rewards attention to
detail in driving and in looking… those clever little details
and the subtle, blending curves. Providing you can cope with the left
hand drive it offers tremendous value for money and lots of fun.
‘Barchetta’ echoes those cute little two seater racing cars
of the fifties in name and spirit (Barchetta means little boat) and
it will offer you just the right sort of exhaust note and speed to go
with the extra sun tan and open air sensations. It’s got a great
personality and gives a taught ride – like the best of the little
The Barchetta has been with us for over nine years now. It made its
debut at the 1995 Geneva Motor Show. Several manufactures had noticed
the growing sales of the Mazda MX5 and rightly concluded the market
for soft tops was back in – including Fiat. Speculation had been
rife about the basis for the Fiat soft top car after production of the
X1/9 ceased. A cut down Coupe perhaps or a revised Uno? In the end they
chose the more obvious route with a small and light chassis based
on the Punto floor pan.
Early cars were often European imports as there was a price differential
in the mid-nineties. The UK spec. cars tend to have more options included
as standard - in particular the ABS, and power steering are useful.
To date there has been only one basic model with a range of limited
The basic UK spec also has an optional Comfort Pack which provides central
locking, leather trim front fog lights, electric aerial and door mirrors.
The Special Editions were; from 1995 to ’98 the Limited Edition,
followed by the Riviera to 2000, which was superceded by the Milano
Technically the engine is a new development. It’s a 1747cc 16
valve 4 cylinder. The first production Fiat with variable valve timing
(vvt). The power peaks at 130bhp (6300 rpm) and top speed is 125mph
with 0-60 in 8.6 secs.
The vvt contributes to a smoother
power delivery as well as a considerably flatter torque curve - 90%
of peak torque is produced at 2000 rpm. It also helps to provide good
economy (34 mpg). But the design has not been without some problems
- as carbon build up on the variator of the variable valve system causes
them to seize up. This affected cars up to March 1999 the most. Barchettas
also have fully independent suspension with disc brakes all round.
4 cylinder transverse, iron block alloy head.
DOHC 4 valves per cylinder, variable valve timing
82mm x 82.7mm
Multipoint injection, Hitachi system
Power: 130bhp @6300rpm
torque: 121lbs/ft @4300rpm
Front wheel drive, 5 speed +reverse,
drive ratio 3.563:1
front: Macpherson strut, lower wishbones, coil springs, anti roll bar
Independent beam with trailing arms, offset coils, anti roll bar
front: Ventilated disc, rear: Solid disc
speed: 125mph, 0-60 8.6 secs
The car’s well balanced with a taught sporty drive. Forward visibility
is good and the mirrors, driving position and controls are ok for the
small and tall amongst us. Rear visibility is hindered a little by the
large gap between the rear hood transparency and the door window.
The new high compression engine is brilliant. It combines relaxed cruising
and a good top speed (124mph) with excellent pick up from the torquey
vvt 1800. The ride is firm with little body roll at normal cornering
speeds, although I preferred the ‘B’ I drove with variable
rate shockers and slightly lowered springs. Gear change is positive
with a quick rack (2.5 turns lock to lock) and overall cornering is
accurate. Press on in the corner and the car will politely understeer
to the point where side-slip takes over. More speed after this and real
understeer kicks in, hesitate on the throttle slightly here, and the
short wheel base will flick the car into oversteer – more than
a Punto would do - it feels as if the anti-roll bar is unwinding. It’s
not progressive and betrays that it wasn't a design priority to anticipate
me removing oodles of tyre tread in this fashion. It’s a flickable
nippy sports car – not meant for the track day of course. Love
it for sunny days and the long cross country weekends, its fun personality
and those gentle curves.
For looks I like the leather interior – although that has its
own noises. Part of the noise was induced by scuttle shake over bumps,
the ‘B’ is a wee bit over-twitchy across its diagonals for
my liking, but then it’s a very light car too. I think the hard
top looks great – especially on the dark coloured cars like the
second 'B' I had a good go in. The only problem is that I like the top
down thing too. How difficult is hard top removal?
Comparisons – more fun than an MGF certainly more agile. Definitely
a better drive. Perhaps lacks some all round sophistication in comparison
with the MX5. What about comparing with the old guard? Well the
X1/9 always convinced me it was under powered because the grip and cornering
potential was so much greater– it was over engineered if you like
- another 80 plus bhp and we’d be in business. The Barchetta I
wouldn’t want to change like that. Some spring rate and damping
adjustment would do fine. As a package it’s all here, and very
much together and very much ready for the (outdoor) party life. See
you at the beach barbie!
Buying a Barchetta
Check that imports have their
V5 documentation in order (should be less of a problem now). Prices
are starting at £3500 for good early examples of the less popular
Variator problems did not cause Fiat to recall the car, but they did
offer a free replacement on documented proof of regular servicing. As
time passes extracting the free replacement becomes much more difficult
(try pulling teeth it’s easier). The first variator modifications
didn’t work as well as the second – the fact that there
are two says it all. Buying a used Barchetta means being confident that
the oil changes were made every 6000 miles
Check the service record for variator upgrades. It must have them!
Primary colours are currently less popular (and cheeper), most popular
are silver, black and dark blue.
The bodywork is fully galvanised, and hand built to high standards so
the panel gaps are good in the original cars.
But accident damage may involve
less knowledgeable UK fitters – and poorly fitting replacements...
Check carefully around the headlights, look for even trim and no rust.
Check front and rear bumper/ valances for even gaps.
Check bonnet gaps and door to A post gaps.
Hood tends to go at rear window first (cracking and yellow discolouring)
- and only last 4 years
Check for water staining around hood leaks – adjustment on fitting
is important and skilled (half day task) get replacements fitted by
someone with experience.
Plastic on the rear window also degrades quicker folded if left in contact
with the hood. Use cloth to keep window plastic off hood material. Mohair
replacement hoods are also available
Engine & Mechanicals Notes
Check service history for oil change points and cam belt /cam tensioner
Check cam box for signs of brown oil deposits on cam and cap. Good examples
will be clean.
Variators - As carbon builds up on the variator they tend to seize up.
This affected cars up to March 1999 the most. (Because of closer tolerances
in the variators.) Check bills for last replacements. Inspect cams and
cam box for deposits and budget £300 for a new variator.
Tyre wear heavy on front – check carefully, and check for geometry
alignment wear across the treads.
Check front brake discs and calipers – heavy wear point.
Other drive train items are similar to Fiat in general and Punto components
Exhaust system - check for
fatigue cracking in the middle between mounts and at tail pipe - consider
lighter stainless steel alternatives.
Suspect all electrical motors after 8 years and check ease of operation.
Check for slow electric window winders and aerial due to water ingress.
Option packages include a wind stop - up to head rest height - (part
5908059) and hard top (part 5908186) with cover (part 5909111) as well
as boot mounted ski and luggage racks and alloy wheels. I think the
colour coordinated hard top – matching the body colour looks best
and the wind stop helps (just about) to keep the toupee on. If you’re
doing a lot of city driving there is an air conditioning option too.
Can I find a right hand drive or could I have one converted?
The right hand drive conversions will cost about £4k in parts
and labour. The problem is that under bonnet and dash layouts were never
designed for rhd, and consequently there is a lot of interference between
components… and therefore many potential bodge points. Should
you find an rhd, have it checked out carefully for details to loom,
instrumentation panel (and access), brake system, clutch, pedal box
and power steering solutions. Furthermore re-sale values will not be
greatly increased by rhd conversion. Unless you can find conversions
from a reputable known source, we recommend avoiding them.
How long can I expect a hood to last? The rear plastic window
splits – especially if it’s folded down in the cold! They
last about four or five years. Budget £350 - £500 for Fiat
– after market quality examples are available too. We’ve
had no reports from club members about frame problems yet. But hood
fitting takes time by a skilled fitter if you want to be sure of avoiding
leaks. No wind noise should be present around the windows.
Is the new engine design reliable? The most important area
to examine is the head – and in particular the variator providing
the variable valve timing. Up to 1999 the variators were seizing with
carbon fouling from the engine’s oil. Most would fail before 50000
miles. After 1999 tolerances on the variators were relaxed by Fiat so
they don’t seize as quickly. Use high quality semi-synthetic oils
(that create less deposits), change the oil every 6000 miles, or 12
months maximum, change the cam belt when you first buy the car and EVERY
time it is removed for head maintenance. Variators cost about £300.
Don’t skimp on oil changes, or cam belts – check for bills
to make sure previous owners have done the same. The rest of the engine
is basically bomb proof.
What models of Barchetta are there to choose from? Just the
one model of Barchetta… the special editions available are summarised
|Entry Level (UK)
||ABS , Immobiliser, Electric windows, Airbags P&D,
plus the Comfort Pack comprising Central locking,
Leather trim, Electric door mirrors, Electric aerial, Front fog
(1995 – 98)
|Silver with red hood & leather, Green with
biscuit hood/ leather
15in alloys, fogs, Titanium colour dash detailing, Electric door
mirrors, Electric aerial, Central locking, Wind stop
(1998 – 2000)
with red hood & leather, Red with black hood & leather.
Then from 2000 in any of the 5 Barchetta colours.
as Limited Edition.
|As Riviera with new Fiat badges, plus the Comfort
Pack; Central locking, Leather trim, Electric door mirrors,
Electric aerial, Front fog lights
|ABS , Airbags P&D, Front & Rear spoilers,
Alloys, Fogs, Windstop, Metallic paint
Can I fit a hard top? Hard tops make the Barchetta look like
a very cool little coupe. Hard tops are a worth while option to have
probably adding about £500 to the resale value of a used car.
But remember the cars are hand built. Hard tops may need adjustment
on the car in particular to window gaps. If you buy a new hard top have
the adjustment checked by an experienced fitter first time. At least
check for wind noises on first fitment as an indication you need help
to adjust it.
Our thanks to the efforts
from our friends in Luxemburg for compiling this evaluation. The original
site is well worth a look on Ivo's Luxemburg
sound – yes it’s the variator, talk to your dealer if worried
2. Dented hood/trunk lids – light panels and heavy use (or sitting
on the wrong bit) will dent it. Also drop the bonnet or boot holding
from the middle to close it, don’t push down on it.
3. Interior/dashboard noises – not on all but common and tricky
to trace. Can be caused by scuttle shake on rough ground. Decide if
it’s annoying and act accordingly but this is a sports car so
it will be noisier. Leather interior has its own noises!
4. Squealing brakes – yes common to Fiat design. May only occur
on warm up. If it persists across all temperatures and driving applications
have it corrected. But they will be noisier than typical Japanese or
5. Water infiltration – tends to be from poor alignment of the
replacement hoods. The door glass gap doesn’t get adjusted properly.
Have it done properly!
6. Moisture in the front/rear lights – depends which ones, headlights
are more serious. Can be from condensation as much as water ingress
though. Have it checked.
7. Rattling doors – poor re assembly is the most likely cause
– leaving pressure pads and retaining clips in non-original places.
Have them do it again!
8. Torn soft top compartment joints – Yes with lots of use or
9. Sticking hand brake at freezing temperatures - Yes below about -10
degrees C. Try and warm her up a bit! Check the rear calipers are clean
and lubricated with copper grease. Especially around the handbrake cable
10. Fold in the rear window – renew hood at expected interval
– try to keep it warm and keep the plastic away from the hood
material when stored. Avoid hood up/down changes at low temperatures
11. Slow side windows at low temperatures – Yes below freezing
the motor and winder mechanism can be affected by frozen water ingress
into the mechanism. It was designed for Mediterranean winters?
12. Inexact fuel indicator- The float and damping arrangement in the
fuel tank sender unit is a design common to all Fiats and needs to be
on level ground to register more accurately. Don’t worry the warning
light should come on at ¼ tank to empty – and typically
doesn’t register a full tank (getting progressively more inaccurate
towards full). What the needle shouldn’t do is stick.
Clubs & Interest