Production of the Fiat Barchetta (Italian for 'little boat') sports car began in February 1995 after a four-year design and development programme. Based on the Fiat Punto platform, the Barchetta came with a 1,747cc DOHC four-cylinder engine plus a 5-speed manual gearbox and its performance and handling was soon being favourably compared to the iconic Mazda MX-5.
Weighing in at 2,328 pounds (1,056 kgs) the two-seater Barchetta could accelerate to 60mph in less than 9 seconds and had a top speed approaching 120mph (around 190 kph) thanks to a 130hp (96kw) engine with variable camshaft timing - a new innovation for a Fiat production model.
To begin with the Barchetta manufacturing process was rather involved, with bodyshells constructed at one location and then shipped to a coachbuilder named Maggiora at Chivasso for final assembly. This production method was feasible because the roadster was not being made in large quantities. Additionally, although various trim options were available, the Barchetta was only ever sold as a left-hand-drive model, even in those markets - United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, etc - where right-hand-drive is the normal configuration.
Unfortunately, 2002 saw the Maggiora company declared as bankrupt, which resulted in Barchetta production being suspended in May that year. Following the demise of the coachbuilder Fiat decided to transfer assembly of the sports car to its huge Mirafiori factory at Turin, but this obviously couldn't be done overnight. Eventually, after a delay of almost two years, the Barchetta was relaunched in 2004.
During the interim period, the car's design was revamped, with numerous small styling and engineering modifications carried out. Arguably the most notable of the exterior alterations were those made to the front spoiler and rear bumper, but the essential sporting character of the Barchetta remained intact.
Sadly, due to a combination of factors, not least the problems associated with integrating a limited production model into a mass-production environment, it became apparent that the roadster was no longer viable. In June 2005 Fiat pulled the plug and consigned the Barchetta to the history books.
However, unlike mundane models built for family motoring, sports cars such as the Barchetta have always attracted enthusiasts who thoroughly enjoy the driving experience and really appreciate performance and style. The Fiat Barchetta is another example of the world-famous Italian heritage for creating distinctive automobile designs with a certain flair and it is, therefore, no surprise that this delightful little roadster already has a devoted following - one which should ensure many of them are preserved, thus enabling future generations to cherish what is a true modern classic.
Included are road and comparison tests, new model introductions and updates, plus full performance data. The Novitec and Limited Edition are reported on and advice is offered on acquiring a good pre-owned Barchetta.