Attractive lines and GT performance from the one-litre engine make the Abarth a favourite.
Strictly speaking the Fiat Abarth Coupe we tested is not a modified car, but a recognised model in its own right. Carlo Abarth has developed a number of modifications for this pretty Fiat model, all of them within the F.I.A. Group 3 competition regulations, and the finished article is offered in this country by Radbourne Racing Limited from their new premises at 1a Clarendon Road, Holland Park Avenue, London.
On the Continent the Fiat Coupé has built up a strong proportion of the ” second-car ” market, while in this country there are many who think it a reasonable proposition at £865 including tax—it is a very nice little car with quite exclusive interior features and having nippy performance from the 47 b.h.p. engine. The Abarth version is equally attractive to anyone looking for those qualities plus extra zest in acceleration, since £300-worth of modifications to the engine and suspension make it a thorough little G.T. car.
Starting from the base of the engine, the Abarth specification first lists a nitrided crank, ready balanced, lengthening the stroke from 64 to 74 mm. and increasing the capacity to 982 c.c. Special pistons and connecting rods are fitted, a new camshaft installed, while the exhaust-manifold and silencer are improved. The Weber 30 DIC carburetter and inlet manifolding is not touched. A finned alloy sump not only looks highly impressive but increases the oil capacity to 9.5 pints, so with the twin exhaust tailpipe and much lowered suspension there is not much difficulty in mistaking the Abarth. Just to make sure, the Radbourne demonstrator has a red background (on white coachwork) to the scorpion insignia on the nose.
As supplied by Fiat, the Coupe has Pirelli Cinturato tyres on 4-1/2 J rims, a large tachometer on the instrument panel, and quite sporting bucket seats so there is little need to spend money on extras. Like a number of Italian cars the Abarth OT 1000 needs a lengthy warming-up spell on a cold morning, since it is easy to start but difficult to keep running under initial load. Also when the gear oil is cold it is difficult to select first gear.
One advantage of the modifications is a substantial increase in the rev-limit. Maximum power is raised to 68 b.h.p. net at 6,200 r.p.m., where the red line on the tachometer begins, but the safe limit is now 7,000 r.p.m., representing a 13% increase of range in each gear.
Despite the hotter camshaft, corresponding to the one used in the Spider, there is no noticeable loss in tractability, at least when the engine is warm, though the engine is never too happy under 30 m.p.h. in indirect ” overdrive ” top. As with the ordinary Coupé, there are two distinct pressures on the throttle, opening first one and then the second butterfly in the twin-choke carburetter.
First pressure endows quite brisk and economical performance, always adequate for town use, though second pressure releases full power with not uneconomical results – as our overall fuel consumption figure (a fraction worse than 30 m.p.g.) indicates. Acceleration from rest is quite exhilarating, since first gear is a really low ratio, second being so far removed that the 30 and 40 m.p.h. times are a little disappointing.
The power unit is always very smooth throughout the range, to the extent that the rev-counter needs to be watched carefully when accelerating hard in first gear. The rev-counter on the test car, which had done all of 13,000 miles, only worked properly when the car’s interior was nicely warmed, and as we took figures at Silverstone on a really cold and stormy day the figures were far from satisfactory. Since facilities for proper testing are limited, our table only records times up to 60 m.p.h.; higher speeds and maxima have had to be disregarded. However, the Abarth OT seemed to be giving healthy acceleration up to 80 m.p.h. or more, and 7,000 r.p.m. in top (95 m.p.h.) was seen several times.
Despite lowered suspension, the ride quality was a good deal better than expected, handling also being better than standard though with the reservation that the Abarth reacts strongly to a bad cross-wind. On the first point, the Fiat Coupe gives quite a firm ride and feels undulations in a pitching movement yet as modified, the Abarth does not pronounce the characteristics. Handling feels perfectly safe, with no undue tendency for the tail to swing on Silverstone’s flooded corners, and the big disc brakes are perfectly satisfactory in standard form. Like the steering, the brakes have a curiously dead feel characteristic of Fiats, a thing one gets used to very quickly.
The Abarth is faster, quieter and more comfortable than almost any other under-one litre GT car we can think of, and if the price seems a handicap these points should be borne in mind. With good looks and fine economy included, it might make some friends at a retail price of £1,164.—M.L.C.
m.p.h. (sec): 0-30 – 4.9; 0-40 – 8.0; 0-50 – 11.9; 0-60 – 16.1
Speeds in gears: m.p.h. 1st – 25; 2nd – 47; 3rd – 67; 4th – 95 estimated.
Fuel consumption: 29.8 m.p.g.
Conversion by Radbourne Racing Limited. Ia, Clarendon Road, Holland Park Avenue, London. W11