Home » Let’s Take A Moment To Remember Those Bonkers Fiat X1/9 Ladder Bumpers: Cold Start

Let’s Take A Moment To Remember Those Bonkers Fiat X1/9 Ladder Bumpers: Cold Start

Cs Fiatx19 Bumper1

I bet by now you’ve seen those videos about that crab that was modified with human DNA so it grew more complex neural ganglions, and then they gave it a microphone and all it would talk about were the strange, ladder-like bumpers used on the US-market version of the Fiat X1/9 from 1975 to 1978. Of course you have: it was all over the HAM radio and fax networks. Anyway, that crab reminded me about those strange bumpers, which you can see in that brochure up there as well. My, those were peculiar bumpers!

The X1/9 had more minimal bumpers in Europe, and by 1979 Fiat rubbed their eyes and looked sheepishly around before re-designing the bumpers to be a bit more integrated, which wasn’t terribly difficult considering the ladder bumpers were integrated in a way professional designers refer to as “not at all.” You can see those in this old commercial from 1979:

Look how much rubber is on the sides of those things! I’m told those side rubber pieces are called “elephant ears” and that’s not just because they have a trunk in between them.

Want to see the big ladder bumpers actually in action? Of course you do. Happily, Fiat made this fantastic ad that shows those big bumpers smacking into some damp-looking grassy soil:

They seemed to hold up pretty well!

Let’s take a look at these bumpers, via pictures of a nice one I grabbed off this auction site:

Cs Fiatx19bump2


Holy crap are these strange bumpers! The wishbone-shaped side rubber end caps, the two aluminum rails, the rubber overrider blocks set on the bumper face, acting as the ladder’s main rungs, along with smaller inset black blocks that hold reflectors at the rear and the absence of reflectors up front. I believe these bumpers are the same units front and rear, and are set far enough from the body on shock-absorbing mounts so they met American 5 mph bumper standards.

I think these tend to get maligned in the X1/9 community, but I think I like these strange, functional battering rams. They have a sort of unashamed industrial-looking design that fits well with the sharp lines of the car.

Plus, I bet removed, they could make a decent ersatz ladder! Or maybe use both for drywall stilts!

Share on facebook
Share on whatsapp
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit

39 Responses

  1. In high school there was a teacher with an X1/9 and another with a Spider. Someone in the science department devised an experiment/challenge for their class to come up with a way to measure the iron oxide in one’s parking spot and the oil stains in the other and create meaningful comparisons. I don’t recall the outcome, but I sure remember how funny the idea was.

  2. I have an 81 Spider 2000 and the bumpers are paired 2 inch chromed steel tubes that probably weigh 70 lbs each. Just ridiculous on a car that light

    1. I had a friend in HS with a beat to Hell Datsun 1200. The previous owner for whatever reason had replaced the stock bumpers with a pair of steel I beams. Parallel parking was never an issue again.

    2. My 1976 BMW 2002 with chunky 75 lb aluminum diving boards saved me (and the car) from serious injury from a young kid in a pickup. I replaced them with lightweight early style stainless units that are quite decorative.

  3. I came here for the wacky bumpers but was forever changed by the crazy Italian guy seemingly finding perverse pleasure in barrel rolling a X1-9 for his job. Color me impressed that the entire structure didn’t collapse into itself and the passenger compartment.

  4. I was alive and fully sentient during those years, and I don’t remember these bumpers at all. And there was an actual Fiat dealer in my town. I guess X1/9s were really that rare where I lived. Or, it being New Jersey, they would rust away before anyone but the dealer and the owner actually saw them.

  5. Those look so much better than the solid chunk o’ rubber approach that most car companies took. They may have been less protective (I’m not entirely convinced), but looking more stylish definitely fit the Italian sensibility of the brand.

    The crash video was pretty impressive! But the first one, done in Sergio Leone style, cracked me up at the end. After listening to the beautiful Italian language for the whole commercial, the narrator suddenly transitioned to Mario-style English: “five-ah spid-a”

  6. I remember wanting an X1-9 right before I got my drivers license in the mid-80s, when I was desperate for a car, any car. Found one for sale fairly cheap and asked my dad about it. When he asked me where it was I said it was on this property under a tree, looked like it hadn’t moved in ages. Bit rusty. “That’s where they all are” was his reply. Maybe if it’d had these awesome bumpers I could have convinced him.

    I ended up with a ’70 Beetle.

    1. What about the ones Checker put on the Marathon (and it’s derivatives)? Looked like they took a couple steel girders off a skyscraper construction site and just bent them around the ends of the car

  7. I have a ’78. The bumpers were cut off by a PO. I filled the mounting holes, so it’s very neat now.

    I think they are more often removed as weight savings than appearance. They weigh a ton and the X is already a little underpowered.

      1. I’m currently working on a 1973 International Harvester 4×4 pickup. Pulled it out of a farmyard and trailered it home. Rebuilt the motor and welding on it now. Pretty busy with it.

  8. When I got my long term project X1/9, the first thing we did was remove those big later era bumpers and yeet them directly into the scrap bin. Still absolutely adore that commercial though. I’ve long thought Fiat should revisit those and show them repeating the experiment with modern cars. I’d volunteer, looks fun as hell!

  9. In the US market, the 1974 X1/9 (the first model year) was equipped with the slim, trim, black painted steel bumpers. That’s the one to have. These giant silver battering rams were a new thing for the 1975 model year.

  10. I bought a used red 1978 X/1-9 from a Toyota-Triumph dealer in Lawton, OK in 1980. I later understood why it was on the used lot. Oil pan gasket went south followed by the transaxle seals. Traded it at a used sporty car lot near Oklahoma City for a 1977 Corvette with worn valve guides and a warp drive cruise control that would ONLY accelerate. When the Fiat worked, it was under-powered but it was fun to drive slow because it was so well-balanced.

  11. I worked for a Fiat Lancia Lotus dealer in the mid 70’s. What a fine trio of brands! I was stoked when I was given an X/19 for a demo. I get a free sports car! Wow! First thing …take that targa top off and stash it in the frunk…pull handle for it under dash…handle comes off in my hand!! Head to the parts dept…show parts guy..he goes “ They all do that”. Grr. Also had a Lancia HPE for a demo. Not so High Performance Estate Wagon. Same Fiat engine as the 124 and 131…smogged to death. Got to drive a Lancia Scorpion! Bigger X/19. Ridiculous fold back top on plastic rails. Oh yeah, like that’s gonna hold up! When You Only Live Twice came out, drove a Lotus Esprit to the Century Cinema, parked right out side the front door. With our brochures under the wipers. It was white. When the movie was over people came out drooled over it..one guy was heard to say “ Will it go under water?” You bet! Sign here!

    1. Honestly, the roof on my Scorpion was a breeze to work on. I removed it to touch up some stitching and it was easy peasy even for one medium-height person. Functionality wise, it’s quirky in the whole roll-up design thing, but it operates great. Lancia engineering in one of it’s better moments.

  12. I’ve seen a lot of X1/9s in my day, and yet this is the first time I’ve ever seen those ladder bumpers. Weird. I wonder how many were replaced with better-looking versions over the years?
    Also, I love how, even in their own advertisement, the driver’s head sticks up over the windscreen. “See? Even tall people can fit in our tiny car!*”
    *Some disassembly required

      1. I think they are absolutely stunning cars, especially without the bumpers. I wish I could post a photo of mine. Of everything I’ve driven, I love it the most.

Leave a Reply