A 50 per cent power hike from a bolt-on tuning kit sounds deeply impressive. And it is – even if the extra horses only amount to a couple of dozen. That was the baseline Carlo Abarth started from: the modest 27bhp of Fiat’s 600 baby car, the minuscule four-seater that got cash-strapped 1950s Italy back on its wheels. It was meant to be family transport, but with his growing experience of extracting improbable power from mundane components Abarth seized on it as an affordable route to sporting fun – and turnover for his young firm. Cleverly, once
he had developed a spec for his enlarged engine, he marketed a kit to convert any 600 into an 850 Abarth, enabling him by 1962 to claim the 1000 build figure needed to qualify for the Touring Competition class.
Arriving in a wooden crate, the kit comprised everything from crankshaft and carburettor to gaskets, even down to full instructions and an official ‘Abarth Derivata’ chassis plate. “We don’t know if ours was converted at the workshop or by a customer,” says Nick Soprano of Motor Classic & Competition Corp, where this example is on offer, “but it has all the right parts and the registration document says the same thing. A good friend of mine brought it over to the States after he fell in love with it in Italy, where it spent most of its life. It has light patina – not too shiny or overdone. Really, it looks like it would have done in its first few years.”
This one boasts Campagnolo wheels, propped engine cover and the front disc brakes which may indicate a factory conversion, but in any case they’re a plus on a curvy road.
“It’s a fabulous little guy, really nimble,” says Nick. “That little 850 is so effervescent, willing to rev. It doesn’t know it’s just 850 – it wants to believe it’s 1600!”
Once homologated, 850 Abarths hoovered up class wins, touring car and manufacturer titles and even a category victory at Le Mans. Including the parallel 500-based variants, the marque is said to have garnered 900 wins in 1965 alone, making the scorpion badge a symbol to be respected across Europe. And in America it still turns heads. “People love it,” says Nick. “I’ve driven it plenty. It would be great for classic rallies or sprints.”
This mighty mini might be tiny, but when it grows up it wants to be a Ferrari…
ENGINE 847cc, 57bhp
TRANSMISSION four-speed transaxle
SUSPENSION front: transverse leaf and A-arms, rear: semi-trailing arms
TOP SPEED 88mph