It is a Thursday afternoon, hot and still. We are alone at Momi's garage. Just him and me and two X's, his and mine. I dropped by to talk about his X, the silver colored X1/9 which occupies half of his tiny garage. She is always there mysteriously draped under a plain cloth cover.
We are sitting at the corner of the workbench which is loaded with engine parts, some packed and new some dirty and old, scattered tools and two cups of coffee. Momi's boyish look does not reveal his age, the buds of gray hair do. He is slim and upright, competent and exact at his work, his eyes are gleaming whenever he is talking about cars.
"Momi Levi, I have prepared some written questions, if it's all right with you".
Momi chuckles uneasy about the pending exposure, "Is there a quiz at the end?"
Q. Why X1/9?
To my surprise, form and style are not at the top of his list, "It is the cheapest and the best base there is. Anyone who doesn't have loads of money and wants a car which behaves well – it is a good start. It is also a good start for the one who does have lots of money, there is a long way to go here.
Q. And if you had a lot of money, would you choose something else?
I would have chosen a second car, along with the X. The thing about the X1/9 is that you can start with a 70 HP car and go all the way to 700.
Ya, and the silver one has 680 HP (at the crankshaft). Confirmed. And you can have all the range in between.
The road handling is superb, the way it holds the track, the fun.
And here Momi adds, for the first time – "and the appearance, for those who care about style".
Q. How did you start with the X1/9?
Well, it actually was my mother's 128. I was fifteen at the time. I still have that car, 27 years later. She had 60 hp, now it is 300, soon to be 450. I have the engine ready, waiting to be installed. Pretty soon I realized that Fiat engines are the real thing. They have what a sports engine should have. They rev up well, they are sturdy at the bottom end and lend themselves to lots of improvements.
Of course the 128 had the handicap of a front wheel drive. From here it was a short hop to the X1/9. Mid engine and rear wheel drive lets you use all the power you pump in.
Q. When did you start with the X1/9?
In 1999 I visited my sister in Los Angeles. I took a trip to Las Vegas with a friend of hers. I was lucky and won $14,000. I bought the car for $2750. Yes, this car right here.
Since then I must have added some $140,000 to it, and this is not the end yet.
Q. Did you plan it all from the beginning? A vision? Or was it all by ear? Did you know at the beginning what would the car look like at the end?
Basically yes. I knew from the start it would have 450 hp. Of course some things have changed as time went on. I developed the inspiration for the car to have everything perfect. You may say I have developed a passion for perfection. It is not only the speed. Every trim, every peace of rubber, every carpet. This car is the best one possible, be it special parts made to order, making parts by CNC milling or whatever it takes.
The car now undergoes another heat of improvements. I am putting in an improved set of brakes and an additional 150 hp.
Momi encourages me to take these pics of the center cap which is an example of the meticulous detailing.
Here are the new brakes. Each caliper has six pistons in it, three on the inside and three on the outside. They are made of Aluminum and the pistons are not of the same size for a better distribution of forces. The disks are Aluminum cored to save weight and improve heat transfer.
Q. And how do you add 150 horses to the engine?
It is a lot of money. It involves some increase in engine size, longer con rods and shorter pistons, improvements to the turbo, header, and engine management computer (going from MOTECH M48 to the M480 model), a bigger fuel pump, and such. At the end of all this I'll have some 800 hp there.
Then of course I'll have to improve the transmission so it would be capable of handling all these horses.
Q. When you're saying a bigger engine, do you mean this one or a new one?
I definitely mean this engine. As I said, it will have a longer stroke, less weight, a new cam shaft, everything harmonized to make the whole package work.
A side view of what's under the hood
Q. Are you using off the shelf items for all this?
Nothing is off the shelf. Everything is made to order, mostly to my specifications. I call for the length of the con rod, the rise of the cams, the angles for the valves and the weights.
Q. And where do you get them made?
Not everything comes from the same place, not even from the same country. There are very few places where they really know what they are doing.
Q. So you really design all the things you need?
Yes I do. Not that I studied all of that. It is a lot of experience and a lot of common sense.
Q. How many years have you been into cars now?
20, more 24. But the serious stuff started after I got out of the army. That was some 21 years ago.
Q. What actually have you done to this X?
I started with this excellent basic car, which is well designed but low on power. I went through everything. Steering gear (it is less then 2 turns end to end), brakes, suspension, transmission, engine, everything. The front system is all mine, sturdier steering arms, no rubbers – all polyurethane bushings in stainless steel housings. All with special joints and bearings.
I have doubled the thickness of the rear triangles, installed new springs and special struts. The car now performs as if it was designed for 600 hp (at the wheels). And all this with a set of small tires for the car –
225 X 50 X 15, fairly standard for a 2X4 car. The car handled as if it was born for 600 hp. A bit wild, but with a bit of down tuning, everyone could drive it.
Acceleration is a at less then 3 secs for 100 Km/h, 10.5 secs for a 1/4 mile, and that is with a 198 Lb (90 Kg) man beside me. (To take pictures, he explains with a smile).
Q. What do you target this car for?
This car is meant for track racing, asphalt and turns. I'm using it for drag because that's all we have in this country (or do we?) but it is meant for the track. It is fun to drive.
Q. Would you be willing to race it abroad?
If I decide to race abroad I'll build a new car, no dashboard or carpets or leather. At these hp they call for a roll cage and other stuff too.
Q. What is your philosophy about a racer? What's important, what's worth emphasizing?
First of all – brakes and suspension. You must be able to stop hard before the turn and you must take that turn at a maximum speed. And of course, you must have ample power to get there. So it is brakes, suspension and power. Anything less then that is not worth the effort.
Q. You spend a lot of effort at reducing weight. Is that important?
Up to now I've managed to loose 50 Kg. These parts are made of Carbon fibers : The top, front hood, engine cover and rear trunk cover.
The seats are light weight, I should also use a smaller battery. These new brakes should loose me some 16 Kg.
This 60 litter fuel tank will have to shrink down
Q. Will there ever be an end to these improvements?
I guess not, and we both laugh.
Q. Who did all the work, Body and paint, engine and chassis?
I did. Well, the body shop helped and I didn't do the paint, but I was the leading figure at all times on all jobs. Measurements and fitting of the Dallara panels was a meticulous job. I replaced a great set of wheels just because the offset didn't match the Dallara. It took six weeks just to make everything fit.
Notice the Dallara fairing and the modified air scoop.
Q. You have a broad and sexy instrument panel there. What's in it?
Everything. All temperatures, pressures velocities, soon to have temp per each cylinder. Every imaginable gage.
This is the brakes control panel –
Q. Would you prepare such a car for any customer in Israel?
I would have no problem doing it though I don't see it happening. It would be expensive, would take a lot of my time and my place is small. But in principle I would not refuse to do so.
Q. What is your dream about the X.
What's my dream? I dream the car will do a 1/4 mile in 9 seconds.
Q. Would you like to join the Ferrari or the McLaren team?
The embarrassed smile joins us again, in my dreams I do. In reality, may be, for a short tour, maybe. To see new things, to learn.
Momi Levi, typically one ear glued to the cellular
At the end Momi informs me of a new silver X video that's on the way, this time a lot clearer.
Herzel, in Israel
The late Green '85 X1/9