As European car makers in the early ’90s from MG to Porsche and Mercedes scrambled to come up with a rival to the MX-5, Fiat’s Barchetta was perhaps one of the closest contenders.
However, the Barchetta tends to be overlooked here in the UK thanks to being left-hooker only despite being sold through Fiat dealers.
The Barchetta (‘little boat’) was built on the platform of the Fiat Punto which meant front struts, rear trailing arms and – uniquely among the other MX-5 challengers – front-wheel drive.
The hatchback-derived underpinnings gave it a higher seating position than the MX-5, although as MGF dealers discovered, that could often work to their advantage when buyers not familiar with traditional sports cars were intimidated by being eye-evel with truck wheel nuts.
In most other respects, the Barchetta was very closely matched to the Mazda: the 1.8-litre twin-cam turned in 130 bhp and the car was only 40 kg heavier.
It also impressed early road testes with its rigidity, Autocar reckoning it to be stiffer than the Mazda and to ride much better too. Incredibly, they also reckoned the Fiat could corner harder than the Mazda, while remaining easier to drive fast. Praise indeed.
There was just one snag: Fiat apparently considered tooling up for right-hand drive but the conversion would have added £2500 to the car, making it uncompetitive against the MGF.
Ironically, the car was a strong seller in right-hand drive Japan, but left-hand drive was more fashionable there at the time.