Fiat's Abarth Competitions Centre

Abarth is the largest manufacturer of speed equipment that I have visited. The writer’s previous visit was in the mid-sixties, when the company’s sports/racing machines and little two-seater road cars were flourishing alongside a phenomenal output of those big-bore exhaust systems. In 1971 Carlo Abarth. who established the Company in 1949 to privately race Cisitalias and manufacture exhaust systems, sold out the factories to Fiat.

General Manager of the Abarth organisation these days is a former member of the Mille Miglia organising team, Sig. Renzo Avideno, President of the reconstituted Company is former Ferrari and Fiat engineer, Aurelio Lampredi, who played such a major part in the conception of Ferrari’s larger V12 motors before he joined Fiat in 1955. Working on the more normal Abarth goods intended air retail sale are approximately 250 people (roughly the same as FAVO when that was established while another 60 personnel are devoted solely to the task of acting as Fiat’s factory competitions department.

Also included in the competitions brief is the study of suitable new Fiat models for competitions; the results of such study could be seen when we called. The 124 Spyder model has reached the end of its competition career— though that’s the last thought that would cross your mind when looking at our pictures, depicting a multitude of spare bodyshells and complete cars—and the successor is to be the boxey 131 saloon.

In order to homologate the 131 in the best possible trim, Abarth will produce their own production version. Like the 124 Spyder that it replaces, this special 131 will have an Abarth-manufactured five-speed gearbox, independent strut. rear suspension, ventilated four-wheel disc braking, and a large number of lightweight panels, possibly even extending to Perspex sideglass. The aim is to have the car ready for homologation, and International action,within the European Rally Championship, by March 1st next year. In rallying guise the engine, like the Lancia Beta Coupe’s. a development of the Fiat twin cam unit. should boast 220 horsepower. This will be extracted from a Kugelfischer fuel injected 2-litre, 16-valve engine.

In the recent past Abarth’s name has always been primarily associated in our minds with racing. Remember the dinky, wheel-lifting rear-engine Topolinos with 1-litre engines, as well as Chris Craft’s 2-litre Sports Car title in 1973? The advent of full Fiat control brought a new rallying spirit to the sprawling collection of aircraft-style hangars that comprise Abarth. In 1968 and ’69 Abarth had been involved in some technical support work for Fiat owners using their vehicles in rallying, but by 1970’s Alpine Rally, a team of Fiat-Abarth 125 Twin Canis was entered. In the Following year 147-b.h.p. Group 1 Fiat 125s were campaigned, but it was the introduction of the lightweight Abarth 124 Spyder that gave them the chance to be a little more ambitious in their programmes. The result has been to grasp the European Rally Championship titles for Rafaele Pinto and Maurizio Verini (1972 and ’75 respectively); two Outright wins on the TAP Portugal Rally (scored by Markku Alen and Pinto) and second place in the World Rally Championship (to their stablemates at Lancia) both this year and last.

The background politics to the feud between Lancia and Fiat would make Machiavelli proud of his present-day countrymen. Part of their differences, aside from a proud tradition of independence, comes from their reasons for competing. Lancia have a sporting image to maintain, rather like BMW and Alfa, but Avideno comments that Fiat’s Commitment is to “proving the car’s strength.”

Sig. Avideno continues: “Racing is for those with cars homologated to win outright. We do not have these sort of cars, so we rally. I tell you what I think about the rally regulations: I say rallying should be for the big manufacturers of cars, not the smaller GT-makers. Porsche and Stratos are too sophisticated, and there are those who make these sort of cars only for competitions. I think rallying must be kept for normal cars that you can find anywhere. Also rallying was only on bad roads, now we have it on smooth asphalt too. It’s no good, it’s not natural. For us, it is best on the rough. where the car can be tested to the limits.”

At this point Lampredi interjected that, “For me, I am sure that only Formula One and rallying are getting the bigger crowds in motor sport : the rest are going down, and this is why we cannot get the money for things like sport prototypes”.

For the immediate future this year’s objective is to thoroughly develop the 131. hopefully so that it is capable of taking the major honours the following year. “But, of course”, says Avideno, “we would next like to see a Fiat win the Monte Carlo Rally… and maybe the World Championship!”—JW.