Fiat 124 Abarth review

By: Paul Blank, Photography by: Paul Kane

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Paul Bevis’ 1972 Fiat 124 Abarth is a rare homologation special, which while it’s roots are the humble Fiat 124, is a highly specialised derivation

First published in Unique Cars #264, Aug/Sep 2006 

Fiat 124 Abarth

Fiat produced 1.5million 124 sedans – Lada has continued adding ever more to that number. In 1967, a year after the sedan’s launch, Fiat introduced the first of its pretty and popular 124 Sport models. Both of these had been designed in-house by Fiat.

But while Bertone made the smaller Fiat 850 Spider, they arranged with Pininfarina to design and build the attractive 124 Spider model at their Turin facility. Like the Sport model, it was always offered with a twin-cam engine. The model sold very well – over 129,000 – and the ultimate version was the rally homologation model; the Abarth 124 Rallye.

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fiat-124-spyder-front.jpgPininfarina styling has sublime proportions

Fiat had been supporting the 124 Sport Spider in rallying for a couple of years with a modicum of success. Then at the Geneva Show in 1972 Pininfarina showed a 124 Rallye, which most people thought was simply a styling exercise.

However, Pininfarina was showing off the latest weapon in Fiat Group’s formidable rally armoury. Its launch was timed with Fiat’s acquisition of tuner Abarth, which gave the company the ability to develop a very effective rally car. The model brought Fiat three second places in the World Rally Championship for Makes.

To be eligible for rallying, a minimum number of the same specification cars had to be built.

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fiat-124-spyder-engine-bay.jpgCombination of pokey engine and lightweight body made for spritely performance

"Opinions vary but either 1013 or 995 Abarth 124 Rallyes were built," tells Bevis. "There are four known in Australia and mine was imported to Sydney in 1991."

The car changed hands a couple of times, and the previous owner spent about twice the car’s value rebuilding it in a money-no-object exercise to prepare the car for competition use. "It’s done two Targa Tasmanias and Classic Adelaide five times with the last owner."

Bevis has long been a Fiat enthusiast, having owned over 20 of them, and the Pininfarina Spider has been a favourite. After having a Spider under restoration for more years than he cares to remember, the opportunity to buy his ‘ultimate Fiat’ came up last year. Bevis snapped it up.

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fiat-124-spyder-rinterior.jpgRallye interior was designed for competition use

Pininfarina are one of the longest established Carrozzeria, having begun in 1930 becoming arguably the greatest and best known in the industry. Success came quickly and by 1939 500 people worked at the plant. The company are credited with some of the most famous of all car designs, including the 1947 Cisitalia sports car, which is the first car exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

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Alfa Romeo, BMC (Morris, Austin, Wolseley, etc), Peugeot, Lancia and importantly, Ferrari had many of their cars designed by Pininfarina. The Rolls-Royce Carmargue coupe was a Pininfarina design as were the seminal Lancia Aurelia B20 GT, Fiat 130 Coupe, Peugeot 404 and Ferrari’s Dino 246.

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The 124 Spider was one of Pininfarina’s longest production runs, lasting 13 years. Pininfarina marketed the car itself for a period at the end after Fiat decided to stop selling the car. The Rallye, whilst strictly speaking isn’t a Spider, had a fixed hardtop, lightweight bodywork, big wheelarch flares and came in red, white or powder blue, all with black bonnet, boot and lower body.

With body-hugging race seats, a rollcage and all the noise expected in a lightened competition car, it’s obvious from inside that this isn’t just a sporty road car. While it is a tight fit, that’s ideal for throwing the car around roads at high speed. The Abarth is a responsive, rorty, purpose-built machine.

 

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