Carlo Abarth and the Fiat 500

Carlo Abarth

It was 1949 when Carlo Abarth set up his tuning business in Turin, Italy. He specialised in Fiats, but his additional work on them saw them recognised as cars in their own right with a separate identity to the factory Fiats.

Very similar to John Cooper's company in the UK which made its name modifying Minis to produce the Mini Cooper and later Mini Cooper S, Carlo Abarth employed hundreds of people by the early 1960's and produced thousands of cars per year.

A Fiat 500 Abarth
A Fiat 500 Abarth | Source

The Old Fiat 500

One of the early money earners for his company was the tiny Fiat 500. Designed as economy motoring for the masses Abarth took it and increased the engine capacity and tuned it further to produce a pocket rocket that could embarrass far bigger engined cars in the tight and twisty stuff. With around 40bhp it nearly doubled the power output of the original Fiat 500, increasing top speed from a rather breathless 55mph to over 85mph and giving a major boos to acceleration with 0-60mph coming up in around 15 seconds on the Abarth. The standard model was only likely to reach sixty miles per hour if you threw it off a cliff, and you'd do better with a calendar to time its acceleration rather than a stopwatch.

With its upgraded brakes and suspension, plus the flared wheel arches and body stripes it was a popular car with those looking for performance on a tight budget. Production ended in 1971, having started in 1963, and Fiat actually bought Abarth in 1973 and still use the name on some of its sporting models, including the all new Fiat 500 Abarth. Many of the Abarth cars are still popular today with collectors, as are some of the variants like the Steyr-Puch 500 which actually used their own flat-twin engine instead of the vertical-twin in the Fiat car, often leading to some confusion over engine types. The Fiat 500 itself was eventually replaced by the Fiat 126.

In recent years Fiat brought back the 500 name on a new model range to capitalise on the love people still had for the old model, in the same way BMW had done with their version of the Mini.

Technical Specification: Fiat 500 Abarth

Type: Vertical-twin, air-cooled, 593cc

Power: 38bhp

Brakes: Drum all around

Transmission: 4-speed manual

Suspension: All independent

Top speed: 87mph

Acceleration: 0-60mph in 15 seconds

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