More than 70 years since the company was founded in March 1949, the Abarth name still resonates strongly with car enthusiasts around the world.
What began with the downfall of the old Cisitalia racing team at the end of the forties has gone on to blossom into among the most respected names in Italian automobiles. And while today’s Abarth range is not as diverse as it once was, the company’s ability to turn small and humble Fiats into tiny, growling monsters remains deeply appealing.
That know-how has given us some remarkable vehicles over the years, from the early sleek sports cars, to hotted-up versions of Fiat’s more recent models. Abarth’s touch has also led to wins in events like the Mille Miglia and World Rally Championship, which in turn created some of the great cars you see here.
1956 Fiat-Abarth 750 Zagato
Abarth might be best known for its upgrades to standard road cars, but in the early days it wasn’t unusual for the company to simply take the platform from a standard road car and rebody it entirely. Designer Zagato’s work on the Fiat 600 platform resulted in among the prettiest cars Abarth ever made, while a 535kg kerbweight and upgraded 747cc engine – which lent the car its 750 moniker – helped the Zagato to a first-in-class finish at the 1957 Mille Miglia.
1963 Abarth 595
If you were a Fiat 500 driver in the early sixties, the only clue you’d have that an Abarth 595 had pulled up alongside you at traffic lights might have been some special stripes or, if you had a keen eye to notice it, a slightly lower, squatter stance. That is until the light went green, when its 30bhp output, nearly double that of your 17bhp 500D, saw the 594cc Abarth disappear into the distance. Brilliantly, upgrade kits are still available today.
1966 Abarth 695 SS
If the 595 started the trend for warmed-up 500s, the 695 SS or “esseesse” was the ultimate expression. Now with wider arches and often with its engine cover propped open to help heat escape from the air-cooled twin, it’s arguably the archetypal Abarth. New cylinders and pistons, upgraded camshaft and valve springs, a new exhaust, and a larger carburettor all contributed to a 37bhp 500 that could hit nearly 90mph, and only around 1,000 cars were built.
1972 Fiat-Abarth 124 Rally
Roadsters aren’t a natural choice for rallying, because their open bodies lack the strength of fixed-roof cars. With a lightweight platform, though, the 124 Sport Spider made for a surprisingly adept Group 4 rally car. In addition to the necessary strengthening, Abarth fitted a 126bhp 1.8-litre engine, a rigid roof and independent rear suspension, along with fibreglass and aluminium body panels that helped it undercut the standard Spider’s kerbweight by 25kg.
1976 Fiat 131 Abarth Rally
Nothing gets the blood flowing like a homologation special, and nothing says homologation special like box-arched bodywork transforming a humdrum family car into a wild rally weapon. Abarth supplied a 138bhp, 16v four-cylinder on twin Webers, while Bertone fitted the independent rear suspension and bodywork extensions. It was effective, too, with manufacturer titles in 1977, 1978 and 1980, and a driver’s crown for Walter Röhrl in 1980 with the famous Alitalia livery.
1983 Fiat Ritmo Abarth 130TC
Better known by the Strada name in the UK, the Abarth 130TC was a true Golf GTI challenger in the early eighties. The twin-cam two-litre kicked out 128bhp, and breathed through twin carbs at a time others were jumping on the fuel-injection bandwagon, but this made for healthy performance, with the 130TC reaching 0-62mph in less than eight seconds. It got a pair of Recaros up front, and the exterior had all the stripes, slats and angles you could ask for.
2015 Abarth 695 Biposto
In that wonderfully Italian way, the clue to what makes the 695 Biposto special is in its name. Well, partly, because what the name (meaning two-seater) didn’t reveal about the 500-based special was the uprated 187bhp output, titanium rear strut brace, Brembo brakes, OZ wheels and adjustable suspension. Oh, and options included polycarbonate windows, and a six-speed gearbox controlled via a race-style shift lever – an £8k option for a model based on an eight-grand city car.
2018 Abarth 124 GT
Abarth’s most recent 124 sports car lived briefly, but burned brightly. Already a more focused version of the standard Fiat 124 Spider, with a 170bhp take on the turbocharged 1.4 unit and a firmer set-up, the GT gained a lightweight (16kg) carbon-fibre roof panel and a set of 17-inch OZ alloy wheels. Each was a nod to the ultimate version of Abarth’s sports car, designed to compete in the R-GT rally class, and its rarity is sure to make it collectable in the future.