when I heard Radwood was coming to Austin Texas, a mere 8 hour drive from my home outside of New Orleans, I knew I had to make the trip and I knew exactly which car I wanted to take. It wasn’t my 1994 “meh car” turned racecar, and it wasn’t my 1996 Confederate Hellcat motorcycle. No, out of all the rad vehicles I have access to, the one that I felt most embodied the spirit of Radwood was my dad’s 1987 Fiat x1-9.
OK. So maybe the Fiat X1-9 isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when the words “mid engine Italian sports car” are uttered, but the little car is undeniably rad. It was designed by Bertone, sports pop up headlights, side vents, a targa top, and has angles that define 1980s design language. It was, without a doubt, the car for Radwood Austin. I just needed to get it running and ready for 16+ hours of road in time for the big weekend. Even right out of the showroom these cars were never considered reliable, but after replacing the battery, rebuilding the starter, fixing an electrical connection under the dash, installing new brakes and mounting fresh tires on the tiny 13" alloys I thought it might make it to Austin. The more experienced among you may notice I skipped a vital piece of maintenance. It would come back to bite me.
The weekend finally arrived and i was excited to depart. coverage of Radwood has been hard to miss over the last couple of years and I wanted to experience it first hand. Getting to have an adventure with my wife was a bonus and because its easier to get someone to watch a child than a dog, my blue heeler was along for the ride too. so with tools, clothes, a tent, and sleeping bags all stuffed into the surprisingly capable stowage areas in the front and back of the little tin car, all two and a half of us squeezed in. Stephanie paired her phone to the stand-alone Bluetooth audio unit and we set off down the interstate to a very 80s playlist.
I10 from New Orleans to Houston is as straight and boring as it gets and the weather wasn’t particularly nice either, but vibes inside the cockpit of the little Italian sardine can were good. Small talk and the hilarity of being in such a small space kept us smiling and the few interesting views that I10 does afford surrounded us as visibility out of the Fiat X1-9 is unhindered. Moving at 70 mph 40 feet over the swamp and through the cypress and pine, we headed west passing through small cities and pulling over occasionally for fuel and to let the wife and dog stretch their legs.
Eventually we hit Houston and the monotony of i10 turned into white knuckle driving as the 6 lane interstate banked as it curved and merged. the roads were wet and following distance was increased as that 6th sense that all drivers aquire told me that the brakes absolutely WOULD lock up in a panic situation. There is certainly room for improvement in the suspension too as the steering feels a little loose and the transfer of weight as the body rolls gives the car handling characteristics best describes as squirrelly. Still, the little Fiat was running well and if we could make it out of Houston we were only 2 hours away from our campsite in Austin.
Suddenly I felt a shutter in the floor board. the car had just died. I looked at the gauge cluster and the tac was dead, temp and volts seemed OK. I’m still coasting 70 mph down a 6 lane interstate and I’m taking in all this information as I make my way to the shoulder. I’m no stranger to breaking down. I’ve repaired cars out of state before, and at this point I’m hoping to diagnose a fuel pump or electrical issue and get it fixed, or at least diagnosed on the side of the interstate. I turned the key to try and re-start the car and the engine whirred with no sign of compression. With a heavy heart I opened the engine compartment as I already knew what had happened. A look through the inspection hole in the timing cover on the engine confirmed My fear. The timing belt had snapped. How could I have forgotten to deal with such a vital piece of maintenance!? It’s not like i didn’t know the importance of keeping these belts fresh. Now my wife, my dog, My dads car, and I are on the side of the interstate five and a half hours away from home, and I’m already pretty sure We are going to have a hard time finding a timing belt for this car before the end of the day. Immediately, I started calling every major auto parts store to no avail. The optimistic Radwood adventure had just turned into a scramble to get home.
When you set off on a road trip in a 30+ year old Italian sports car it’s guaranteed to be an adventure. Its just a question of how much its going to cost you... Because I wasn’t in tune with the maintenance needs of this car it ended up costing me a tow bill... Even worse, it cost us Radwood.