Legend of Carlo and Abarth
1908 - 1979
Carlo Abarth was born in Austria. But most
of his later life was spent in Italy. Here
he pursued his principle passions for winning races, consummate car
design and his canny applied business skills. By 1950 these combined
to give us Abarth and Co. A tuning company with a truly world class
reputation and competition pedigree second to none.
(with Armando Scagliarini) of the Abarth & Co tuning company, was
born in Vienna on 15th November 1908, named Karl Abarth. (Under the
Scorpio star sign – from which the Abarth emblem originates).
His interest in mechanics was evident from an early age. And he was
apprenticed in a motor bike factory becoming a test rider, then chief
tester during the 1930s. He was European Champion 5 times on racing
bikes before an accident in 1939 forced him to retire.
At the age of 30 he emigrated to Italy ,where he started work for his
father. He changed nationality and became an Italian citizen (hence
the change of his first name from the German sounding ‘Karl’,
to the more Italian sounding ‘Carlo’).
In 1946, after the war, it he joined Merano where he became Italian
distributor for cars and Porsche products. With the help of his old
friend Ferry Porsche, Abarth was hired as a director at Piero Dusio's
Cisitalia. Piero had formed Cisitalia (Compagnia Industriale Sportiva
Italia) just before the war to develop and race Porsche based cars.
Dusio’s ambition was to become a performance car manufacturer
and Abarth obtained the licences for Cisitalia from Porsche. In 1947
following Cisitalia race successes, Carlo Abarth became technical and
sporting director of Cisitalia, but the company’s finances foundered.
And Dusio headed for Argentina.
proved to be the impetus for Carlo to take several of their chassis
and build his first race cars. The Abarth &
Co tuning company was created in 1949/50. Carlo Abarth, with his friend
Armando Scagliarini, formed ‘Abarth & Co S.r.l.’. They
located in the beautiful university city of Bologna. Together with the
limited production of the Abarth 205A, (car coding taken from the Cisitalia
cars) Abarth modified various other Italian GTs, altering both the appearance
and performance of the original cars. By 1954 Abarth employed 90 people
and had become a household tuning name in Italy.
From the outset he
applied a route to success that would become world famous. While the
race cars and race winning were his passions, the main earner for the
new tuning company was actually the exhaust systems and performance
manifolds Abarth & Co produced. Most of the firm's resources were
directed towards tuning kits based around performance exhaust systems.
And as a result Abarth's reputation for quality products had a popular
and broad base. A second line of effort was directed towards racing
GTs and Prototypes, initially with mixed results. While the Abarth 205A
and 206A achieved some success, the 207A and 208A were more expensive
and not as popular. It is the third 'product' line that really launched
the Abarth legend. Carlo produced the road/race Fiat 600 derivatives
- underpinned by an agreement with Fiat.
The Fiat 600
modifications hit the Italian market at just the right time. His engines
were built from Fiat's production blocks, and his chassis were as small
and light as possible. His business genius was to focus on what he did
best - extract reliable power from the Fiat engines and combine these
with attractively styled bodies, but always with performance in mind.
By 1956 the
bodies clothing Abarth’s chassis read like a who's who of Italy’s
finest carrozzerie – (coach builders). Firms from Allemano to
Zagato had produced cars carrying his name. But in 1956 Fiat produced
the 600, the first really modern looking Italian car of the post war
500/600 range. Ever alert to the opportunity these little cars created,
Abarth built six Fiat opalescence grey 600 Berlinettas (saloons) for
the Turin Salon show that April. They were equipped with the Abarth
750 engine - this had quickly captured a performance reputation in Italy.
Abarth had transformed the 600cc 22bhp original engines into 747cc 51.5bhp
race winners. So while the world’s motoring
press crooned over the body styling exercises displayed at the exhibition
(for instance Zagato's ‘Double Bubble’), Italians flocked
to Abarth for an affordable road/race car.
Actually, demand was too high for such a small company. But
instead of trying to increase the small numbers of staff already busy
producing exhausts, Carlo decided to offer the 600 conversion as a kit.
This 750 Abarth had many incarnations across a truly noteworthy racing
career in a huge selection of bodies and specials. Carlo had tapped
into a real passion in the best Italian spirit at a time when many Italians
would afford to buy.
The kit was
expensive in its day, more so when prices for the extra radiator and
brakes were added. It was still a lot cheaper for the average Italian
to purchase the kit, and do the work themselves (or borrow a relative’s
machine shop). Even though each car started with it’s standard
Fiat body, every Abarth built car was different. The cars built in Abarth's
workshops also benefited from additional mods, like strengthened front
leaf springs, larger rear springs, front disk brakes, the extra radiator
mounted below the floor pan and top hinges that allowed the engine lid
to sit open. (In competition it was thought that the open rear bonnet
lid was for extra cooling - in fact it was to improve the car's aerodynamics
- which it did very successfully). Abarth built cars also received a
unique three-spoke steering wheel and Amadori or Campagnolo road wheels
There is no accident
about Abarth’s focus on the small 4 cylinder Fiat engines. Three
years later, he repeated the trick (late in 1960) with the 600D. Abarth
increased the stock engine’s four-cylinder's displacement to 767cc,
and breathed his own brand of magic on this engine to produce one of
the all time motoring masterpieces. Ultimately engine capacity was upped
to 847cc. The bore was stretched from 60mm to 62.5mm and the stroke
lengthened from 63.5mm to 69mm. Top speed was increased to 87.5 mph
(as fast as saloon cars with twice the engine size) and torque increased
from 5.5 kgm (39.8 lbs/ft) to 7 kgm (50.6 lbs/ft) at 2800 rpm. The car
was designated 850 “TC” (standing for Turismo Competizione).
Abarth continued to build all manner of racing and sporting variants
on this theme.
The kit itself included a crankcase with larger diameter bearing
supports, a tempered steel crankshaft, lighter and stronger connecting
rods, and lighter pistons with smaller skirts.
It also included a new camshaft (altering timing and valve lift), a
Solex 32 PBIC carburetor and single-pipe manifold, plus a famous Abarth
silencer. The head was given larger valves, valve springs, gaskets.
While an air filter, clamps, and miscellaneous screws completed the
for the cars included essential perforated wheels, a larger front radiator
and bigger brakes. These were sold separately. The Abarth Scorpion emblems,
grilles, badges and lettering also had to be ordered separately.
In the fifties, the
Abarth name can also be found on a variety of Porsche Renault and Simca
cars - competing in a wide range of events and breaking records. Abarths
captured four World Records (all on the Monza banked track) and many
European titles with Carlo himself often heavily involved. Abarth &
Co also tried out the sports car markets with a range of larger engined
cars, exploiting the company's ability to generate small batches of
different sorts of car. As always willingly aided by the best of Italian
coach builders. By the end of the fifties the Abarth brand was truly
renowned across Europe.
By 1961, to
meet racing homologation requirements in the ‘Touring Competition’
class, Abarth was required to build 1,000 units – apparently completed
by the end of 1961! After this point the number of 850 TCs built, either
as cars or kits is not known but is large. This was only achieved by
Abarth's move to new premises on Corso Marche, in Turin. Corso Marche
was also much closer to the centre of the Fiat empire
Carlo Abarth was a magnificent tuner, comparable to his contemporary
soul mates Enzo Ferrari and Ferry Porsche. To give an example of Carlo
Abarth’s technological knowledge, in 1960 Ferry Porsche asked
him to design a Porsche for their race programme. The result was the
famous Porsche Carrera Coupé Corsa. To complete this racing beast,
Abarth received 26 chassis of the then 356 B Porsche. With this car,
Porsche basically cleaned up in the European Championships.
By the end of the sixties, although the race results were still successful,
Abarth & Co found itself in a more competitive marketplace, and
profitability was beginning to decline. Furthermore some development
issues with the 2 litre race engines were proving expensive, and in
1971 Carlo sold Abarth to Fiat. The car giant embargoed further work
on the race cars, preferring Abarth to focus on rallying. This was the
cue for several ex-employees on the racing side to begin their own businesses,
(for instance Osella).
With such a world reputation, it was unlikely that the Abarth name could
be seen as anything but a prestigious asset. And the Fiat Competition
department was based at Corso Marche until its closure and move to Chivasso
during 1992-93. In this time all the competition cars continued to be
prepared there, including the 124 Abarth, Lancia Stratos, X1/9 Prototipo,
131 Abarth, 037 Abarth, Delta S4, and finally the Delta HF4WD and Integrales.
There was also a change of name to Fiat Auto Corse and more recently
to N Technology. Fortunately some traditions were retained. For instance
the new project codes are still applied in sequence from the 1960s,
beginning SE001, the 037 being surprisingly enough SE037, the Delta
S4 being 038, and the last Evo 2 Delta was SE050.
The importance and pre eminence of this tuning company, in both the
Carlo Abarth and Fiat Abarth eras cannot be understated. Their range
of achievements and Championships remain formidable. In the later years
it was the Abarth teams that provided the backbone of Fiat/Lancias'
World Rally Championship success. And 12 World Rally Championships between
1974 and 1994 make them the most successful WRC constructors of all
the 1972 Lancia Fulvia win as this was achieved with little Abarth support)
is the legacy of beautiful and gloriously noisy performance cars Abarth
have left for us that bear witness to the craft and passions of their