I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first moment I laid my eyes on a bright orange Barchetta. It must have been sometime in 1995 over one of those weekends when the Italian Fiat dealers remained open for the introduction of the new model to the public.
I was eleven years old at the time and could not quite believe my eyes: until then, the Fiat cars I grew up with were the Panda, the Uno, the Tipo, the Tempra, and so on. Hugely successful cars, at least as far as Italy was concerned.
Clever designs, but certainly not sexy ones.
My young impressionable mind could not believe Fiat could do “sexy” at all… Until the Barchetta proved otherwise.
Everyone knows that the Barchetta is based on a shortened Punto platform, yet you would never tell. The Barchetta holds a special place in the modern era of car design because it’s so evident that it’s been a labor of love. Today is regrettably rare to see a new design developed and honed to such perfection, down to the very last detail.
Both the front and rear ends of the Barchetta are made of three stamped steel panels, yet you see them as uninterrupted, seamless elements on the finished car. That’s because each one of those seams, on every single bodyshell, was brazed out. That’s a time-consuming manual job car manufacturers avoid at all costs: it just goes on to show the kind of lengths Fiat went to, to get the Barchetta’s look just right.
So the Barchetta had the look of success, yet only a paltry 57.791 (according to the best estimate available) were made.
As you can see, the Barchetta is a much rarer car than it should have been, which is a crying shame, as Fiat had a little winner in its hands.
Fiat’s chronical over-reliance on the Italian market certainly did not help sales. Still, I believe Fiat could have gotten much more out of the Barchetta had it developed properly over the years, offering engine options, performance versions, and new features. On top of that, I’ll never comprehend why the Barchetta was never offered in RHD configuration, given the UK is the strongest sports car market in Europe.
Unfortunately, the Barchetta stayed in production with minimal updates, falling off the radar of company management while Fiat’s fortunes steadily declined.
In 2002 the company that assembled the Barchetta on Fiat’s behalf, Carrozzeria Maggiora, went bankrupt, and it seemed Fiat itself was to share the same fate.
Production of the Barchetta resumed in 2003 at the historic Mirafiori complex. Sadly, the poor little roadster had been subjected to a restyling that must have cost less than the coffees of the meeting that decided it. The new bumpers did the Barchetta’s look few favors, while the car’s specification was left mostly unchanged.
The Barchetta went away quietly in June 2005, forgotten by the marketplace but certainly not by the Italian car enthusiasts the world over.