Fiat Abarth – Piccole ma cattive!
For some reason Fiats have been on my mind. Today, looking through some industry press I noted Fiat recently held the unfortunate record for most days of inventory waiting to be sold (136). The new Fiat 500 is doing ok and the resurrected Abarth is a kick to drive but the 500L has failed to ignite much passion in the market.
In only vaguely related news, a couple days ago Sergio Marchionne, head of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCA), pulled the plug on one of the industry’s most prominent and respected players, chairman of Ferrari Luca Cordero di Montezemolo.
While discussing the life and times of Fiat/Ferrari with an acquaintance this afternoon we rummaged back to earlier days of Fiat powered racing and my friend fondly recounted flogging a late ‘60s Fiat 750 Abarth on tracks here in California.
Setting aside the not so good recent Fiat news, we enjoyed reminiscing about the marvelous hardware Carlo Abarth created from otherwise prosaic coupes. I decided to follow the serendipitous path we had come upon and dig through my collection for interesting Abarth material.
Carlo Abarth was indeed a fascinating guy. He shared Enzo’s passion for racing and drove his teams to a long string of racing victories. A brilliant engineer, the breadth of his expertise and his capacity for innovation was amazing. Yet, after decades of success – punctuated by a number of missteps, his company was ultimately absorbed by his main benefactor, Fiat, in August 1971. Carlo’s fanatic focus on racing, combined with a famous my-way-or-the-highway attitude, meant profits sometimes failed to support his ambitions.
Making small bore machines go “… very, very fast…” was Carlo’s obsession. Don Rosendale wrote an excellent history recounting Abarth’s accomplishments, from which that quote is taken. At the time of the article (Automobile Quarterly, Vol. 1 No. 3 Fall 1962) an Abarth Simca 1300 had been clocked at 150 mph on a public highway outside Turin. At the LeMans trials a few months earlier, the modified Simca had beat the times of the quickest Jag XK-E by a humiliating 10 seconds a lap.
The car that made Mr. Abarth’s name famous in automotive racing households across Europe was the Fiat 600. Introduced in 1955, the 600 was the basis for the 750 Abarth coupe my friend campaigned
more than 50 years ago. The stock 600 made 22 horsepower. Carlo stroked it to 750cc and pulled 47 ponies from the same tiny block of aluminum. Bolting on a twin-cam head (Bialbero) to replace the pushrod system raised the power further. The Fiat 600 D model introduced in 1960 could be punched and stroked to a full litre – Carlo’s “Mille” engine. The modern 500 Abarth would undoubtedly suffer under Carlo’s scrutiny: too big, too heavy, too plush and nowhere near fast enough…
In honor of one of those wonderful fanatics who pursued their automotive visions and advanced automotive technology by doing what “couldn’t be done”, over the next several weeks I’ll provide a short series of articles recounting some of Carlo Abarth’s story and remembering several of his creations.
To encourage audience participation I make this offer: I have a press presentation box (see photo) from the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth North American Debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show – it really should be in the hands of an Abarth collector/owner/admirer. I propose anyone interested write a short Fiat Abarth story and send it along to me via e-mail (Word Doc, please). [firstname.lastname@example.org] A decent command of the English language is necessary, but my close circle of automotive cognoscenti and I will choose the one we like best. The winner will be notified in due course and the Abarth Presentation Kit awarded with appropriate ceremony.
Looking forward to your stories!
Fine print: Only one winner (only have one box). Decision of judges is final, regardless how arbitrary it may seem. All submittals become the property of Alden Jewell, unless specifically requested otherwise. Some of the better submittals may be published on this site or in other forms by Alden Jewell – attribution will always be included. If there is anything about this that violates some law I don’t know about the whole deal is off. Most important – Have fun.