The Fiat Barchetta – An Underrated Roadster


Remember the Barchetta?

Fiat flogged just 751 Barchettas during the decade or so the model was on sale in the UK.

It wasn’t popular between 1995 and 2006 because it only came in left-hand drive – and power went to the front wheels. That put us Brits off, and it was eclipsed by rear-wheel-drive roadsters of the time. Cars like the MGF, BMW Z3 and the timeless Mazda MX-5. Silly really, when you look back on what a decent car the Barchetta was.

Silver Barchetta

I drove one for a TV review back in 2001. It was red, and the ITV cameraman took the proverbial. He said I looked ridiculous in my “Noddy” car. Well, yes, my ears might be on the large side, but I never wore a pointy hat with a bell on the end. (Google ‘Noddy and Big Ears’ if you’re under 30). To be fair, the tiny two-seater convertible probably did make me look daft. I’m a big(ish) chap and diminutive Italian roadsters are best driven by snake-hipped dudes. Or maybe not. Anyway … let’s get back to the car.

Barchetta with roof up

The Barchetta, which means “little boat” in Italian, had the same mechanics as the Fiat Punto. This meant it didn’t cost that much to run. It was also reliable and, on the move, the Barchetta felt planted due to a rigid chassis. It was never going to extract the wax from your lugs with a 0-60mph time of 9.0 seconds, but getting that from a 1747cc four-cylinder powerplant wasn’t bad at the time.

It could also do 124mph, but with the roof down during my 2001 test-drive it felt faster. Mind you, my memory could be addled, we are talking 17 years ago.

Fiat Barchetta Interior

Anyway, the Barchetta definitely had a penchant for the highest areas of the rev band. The left-hand drive arrangement made caning it a bit risky on twisty lanes when you needed to overtake. However, in the city (I lived in Birmingham at the time), having to sit at the tiller in the left seat wasn’t a total inconvenience – you could enter and exit from the kerbside.

In the cabin, the retro white-faced dials looked great, and probably still do – if you can get your hands on a used Barchetta. The car was never lavishly kitted-out, but it did come with power steering and anti-lock brakes. Back in the day, you could also opt for a ‘Comfort’ pack, which added little luxuries, such as leather seats and central locking.

Fiat Barchetta rear

I still recall the boot being large enough to accommodate a couple of bags – and the non-electric hood was a piece-of-cake to operate. It was just a case of opening two catches and pushing the fabric roof back.

With hindsight, I did have a blast during my 2001 evaluation of the Barchetta. But even then, I thought of it as an underrated machine. Fiat deserved to have sold more of them here. Maybe it would have done, had the automaker made a right-hand drive version.

Then the Barchetta could have cut the mustard, in terms of sales, with the Z3, MGF and MX-5.