Auto Italia
July 2002

Fiat Barchetta BUYERS' GUIDE


he Punto-based Barchetta is everything you would expect from a small, hand-built Italian two-seater, and then some. It handles, performs, and seduces the senses with its cowled headlamps, jewel-like rear lenses, and those clever flick-out door handles. It's no wonder the competition suddenly looks so clumsy.

Though the Barchetta was made available through Fiat UK from launch in late 1995, the majority are imports from Europe, mainly Germany. But never mind, being left-hand drive only means that the flood of imports has made prices even more competitive — early cars are now being advertised for as little as £5,000 in the classifieds, making it a great used buy.

So what's the catch? Well, for some it's the simple fact that the Barchetta is only officially available as left-hand drive. But surely that's a small price to pay for a car that's truly as exciting to drive as it is to look at. Either way, the Barchetta is unlikely to disappoint, as long as you follow a few buying guidelines.

There's really only one, though there's an assortment of options and special editions to tickle your fancy. The UK-specification cars were pretty well equipped with a five-speed 'box, power steering, ABS, immobiliser, electric windows, and driver's airbag. There was also a Comfort Pack which added central locking, leather trim, electric aerial and door mirrors, and front fogs. Air-conditioning remained an options.

Special editions kicked off with the Limited Edition which ran from '95 to '98, and was superseded by the Riviera and then the Milano in 2001, but, despite all the extra goodies, don't pay too much more for these models.

While UK-specification cars had ABS as standard, don't expect all European imports to have it. If there's a big hole above the servo where the ABS pump should be, then you are out of luck — and retrofitting is not financially viable.

Clever variable valve timing ensures silky power delivery from the 130bhp 1.8 throughout the rev range and, weighing so little, you will find the Barchetta feels much faster than it really is. And that special rasp from the exhaust only adds to the sensation.

Recently spotted examples:
96N, 36,000 miles, red,  £5,995 (private)
97P, 30,000 miles, Broom Yellow,  £5,500 (private)
99T, 28,000 miles, Silver LE,  £8,995 (dealer)
2000W, 13,000 miles, metallic blue, hardtop  £11,000 (private)
2001W, 7,500 miles, silver  £10,250 (dealer)

Being front-wheel drive there's bags of grip, and the Punto chassis feels well balanced. You might find the ride rather firm, though there's plenty of feel through the steering wheel. Like all good sportscars, the Barchetta flatters a novice driver and delights a good one.

Mechanically all the cars were virtually identical, and generally fault-free, with one obvious exception — the valve timing variator. The variator's internal tolerances on early models were too tight, meaning that as a build-up of carbon formed the variator seized, causing a diesel-like rattle. You can't miss it. The problem only affected cars made up to March '99, and it was profilic, as Paul de Turris from DTR European Sportscars explained. "We've had cars that have had three replacement variators fitted — they last between 50-60,000 miles, though life expectancy depends on the use of quality oil and regular changes." To this end Paul recommends Havoline X1 semi-synthetic, and changing the oil every 6,000 miles or every 12 months. Crucially, says Paul, it is essential to replace the cambelt at the same time. "We've had lots of cars where the variator's been changed but the old cambelt has been refitted, which should never be done. If the belt breaks you'll be faced with a bill for £1,500 to replace the bent valves." Prudent, then, to check receipts on any car you look at to ensure that has been done.

Engine bhp mph 0-60 mpg Ins Grp
4 cyl/1,747cc 130 124 8.9 34.9 16

Despite the fact that there was no official Fiat recall the variator problem was aired on TV's Watchdog programme, and Fiat began replacing variators free of charge. Today they are less willing to do the work for nothing unless a car has particularly low milage or has a meticulous service history. In any case, DTR charge around £300 for a new variator, cambelt, and tensioner, which is half the price of having the work done at an official Fiat dealer.

Another Barchetta foible concerns the exhaust. The sheer weight of the system often results in it snapping in the middle, and you might also notice one of the tailpipes missing — they are heavy, too, and tend to drop off.


To remedy the problem, Paul de Turris recommends fitting a lighter stainless steel replacement. Prices start at £269 plus VAT fitted, which is £60-£70 cheaper than the original mild steel system.

Entry model: PAS, ABS, immobiliser, electric windows and driver's airbag
Comfort Pack: central locking, leather trim, electric aerial and door mirrors, front fogs.
Limited Edition ('95-'98): available in silver with red leather/red hood, or garden green with biscuit leather/hood, 15in alloys, fogs, titanium coloured air vents and instrument surrounds, electric mirrors/aerial, central locking, wind stop
Riviera ('98-'01): available in black with red leather/red hood, and red with black leather/black hood. March 2000 available in any of the five Barchetta colours.
Milano ('01-present): rebadged (with the round Fiat logo) Riviera

The Barchetta's body is galvanised, so you will be unlikely to find any problems with rust. However, being handbuilt, body damage is very obvious as UK coachworks rarely have the experience to fix the panels properly. Rust spots around the headlights are a sure clue of a front-end knock. Another good check is to make sure the bumper fit is even all the way around the car. If it's not, start raising some eyebrows.

Despite costing around £3,500 to do, Paul de Turris from DTR says converting a Barchetta to right-hand drive won't add to resale value. In fact he's dead against the idea. "Given the choice of an original left-hand drive and a converted car at the same price, I would alwyas opt for the left-hand drive — the Barchetta's made for left-hand drive, it's not symmetrical."
Worst still, some conversions, says Paul, are pretty grotty with rivets in the dashboard, and the instrument binnacle shoved into what was previously the glovebox. If you insist on a converted car, inspect the quality of the work thoroughly.

Hoods last for around four to five years, though beware of split plastic rear screens caused by folding the hood when it's cold. New items from Fiat cost £330. However, DTR sell mohair hoods, with screen, and the possibility of colour coding from £499 plus VAT fitted.

The Barchetta can be heavy on front tyres, front discs, and pads, so check these when looking at used examples — ventilated discs and new pads cost from around £175 fitted. Finally, watch for multiple owners. Cars imported from Germany are often ex-hire vehicles, so if in doubt ask to see the German 'Fahrzeugbrief' to see if it's got a company name on it. Oh, and make sure any import you view has a V5, otherwise you could get involved in forking out for unpaid VAT when you come to register it.

Specialists like DTR are best because they import the Barchettas themselves from known sources, and have a thorough knowledge of the car. You could try your luck in the classifieds, and this is where the older, cheaper cars will be, but all the usual provisos apply. The Auto Trader website displayed 50 Barchettas for sale when we logged on at Either way, inspect the car thoroughly and get an HPi check.

Hardtops are a very desirable Barchetta option, transforming the car into a snug little coupe — you should budget on paying a £500-£700 premium on a used car with a hardtop thrown in with the deal. However, as Paul de Turris warns, it's not a case of simply buying one out of the classifieds. "Each hood is custom fitted to the car, and it takes around five hours of expert adjustment to get all the window gaps set up properly." Needless to say, if this hasn't been done the hood will leak, so quiz the owner as to the hard-top's source, look for signs of water stains on the interior, and get the ower to fit the top for a second test drive while listening for excessive wind noise or rattles. And remember, you'll need somewhere to store it when it is off the car.

Buy on condition is the best advice here. Avoid cars showing sighs of abuse or neglect, and ones with many unsympathetic owners and, ideally, cars without ABS. The special editions with leather are the best buys, and the most popular colours are silver, black, and metallic blue. If you are on a budget, you could negotiate a good price on a far less popular yellow, burt orange, green or red car, but you may have trouble selling it on later. Hardtops are always nice, but make sure they have been properly fitted.
Thanks to DTR, Mortlake
(0208 878 6078)