Abarths at Duxford Imperial War Museum – September 2016

When I bought my Abarth in May 2010, the Abarthisti Owners Club had been up and running for over a year and there had already been a few organised meets. The one that everyone talked about had been held at Duxford at the Imperial War Museum. Some of the reason for this, I am sure, as it got mentioned in just about every conversation concerning the event, was that it had taken place in January and had been bitterly cold, as only former airfields seem to be, though it was also remembered for the spectacular setting, and indeed there were plenty of photos from the meeting of rows of Abarths parked in front of that most distinctive arch-fronted building, the American Hangar. Over the years, the event came up in conversation less frequently, as many of those early owners and attendees of the event moved on, but I did not forget, as knowing venues that are not just Car Club friendly, but also which hit the spot with the attendees is always useful. Following the success of two Abarth specific meets earlier in 2016, I resolved that as many Abarths as we could muster would pay a return visit to the site, so a whole new generation of owners could enjoy it. In selecting a date in late September, I also hoped that it would not be the temperature which would linger on in everyone’s memories. The site certainly was welcoming, with a very enthusiastic approach to my initial enquiry. so a date was agreed, and the task of selling tickets began. Every venue does this differently. For Duxford, they ask that you sell at least 50 admission tickets – a target I thought should not be too hard, and which indeed was surpassed more than twice over. I’d never been to the site before, as somewhere off the M11, north of Cambridge is not exactly close to home, or even en route to anywhere else much. There is more than one way of getting there from the West Country, depending on day of the week and time of travel. On a Sunday morning, the most logical route takes you along the M4, around the M25 and up the M11. With no traffic to speak of, it does not take anything like as long as you might expect, which is why I arrived just after 8am, nearly an hour before I had agreed to my site host. There was nothing for it, but to wait at the gate area. Patiently.

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Needless to say, the first cars started to arrive around 9am, so it was a case of figuring out how to park them up. I knew from my conversations with the site staff that we would not be parking in front of the American Hangar, but elsewhere on site in an area that contains a nice square and then a long line backing onto the air-field. Space was not going to be an issue, it was more a case of working out whether to separate the cars in any particular way, such as by model type. There are pros and cons to this, and plenty of people have an opinion on what they think is the “right” thing to do, which you can be pretty sure will be different from what you chose. However, I did know that there were going to be two 124 Spiders attending, and figured that as this would be the first time that most people would have seen them in the metal, and that also the owners would be particularly chuffed with their new toys, then these should have a central and prominent place. Keeping it clear until they arrived was not so easy, but I managed it. Bertie Bryant’s car, the black, one, was the first privately registered 124 Spider in the UK, having been ready for the roads on the Thursday before this event. and Jay Tee’s car, the grey one, followed two days later, on the Saturday, the day before this event, a replacement for his much-loved Funk White 500. It will be interesting to see how the market takes to the 124 Spider. Many have criticised the price, which at a few pounds under £30k as a starter, means the car is not cheap, and several have opined that they would have expected more than 160 bhp from the 1,4 litre turbocharged MultiAir engine, especially as the chassis is clearly capable of handling it. That will surely come (in exchange for ££). Meanwhile, this is an interesting alternative to the Mazda MX5, with which the car shares much under the skin, but with its own personality and style, and a particularly great-sounding exhaust.

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Beyond leaving room for the 124 Spiders in the area by the Spitfire, I decided to let the owners make their own decisions as they arrived and when I returned from the main gate area, I could see the various lines of cars already in position. That did mean that there was a mix of 500-based cars and Puntos in the same line. Some shuffling of cars during the day did take place, as some owners wanted to move things around for photos and other purposes. 500-based models were by the far most numerous of the three body-styles of the modern Abarth. As ever, no two cars here were exactly the same. There was a good mix of the colour palette which has been offered on the car since it went on sale in Spring 2009, and plenty of the different versions which may be only a marque expert could distinguish were also on show. These ranged from some of the early cars, when there was only a choice of a standard 135bhp car of an upgrade to 160 bhp with the Esseesse kit, and just 5 colours (two of which were white), to the later 500C and then the 595 Turismo and Competizione models.

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There have been four distinct “Series” of 500 model over the years. The latest has only just started to appear on British roads, and is the easiest to identify, as there are plenty of detailed changes, ranging from a new lower front end, reshaped front lights (except on the Competizione models, with their Xenon lights, which keep the round units for now), new rear light clusters, a new rear diffuser, new wheel trims and some new paint colours. Of these, all the indications are that Modena Yellow, a colour offered on the 695 Biposto Record Edition last year, will prove particularly popular, and there was an example of that here.

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There was just one example of the 695 Biposto here, that belonging to Carla and Jerry Rigden. They acquired it earlier in the year, and although they’ve brought it to quite a few events over the summer, it is a car that many had not seen, as Biposto models are understandably quite rare.

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I guess you could say that all the heavily modified cars are rarer still, as they are all unique, with the tastes of their respective owners on display for all to enjoy (or not!). There were several of them here. Laura Croft’s car, with its distinctive turquoise blue/green wrap certainly comes in that category, and in case the visuals are not eye-catching enough, the air suspension that is fitted, and which she demonstrated many times during the day, is a novelty many enjoyed seeing, and the sound system, is, well, LOUD!

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It was not the only car that looked far from standard, as this gallery will evidence.

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There were far fewer Punto models here. That is only to be expected, as with only around 375 of each of the Grande Punto and Punto Evo having been sold in the UK, not all of which are still with us, compared to the five figure sum of 500/595 cars now on our roads, then the ratio is always going to be stacked against the larger car. Nonetheless, there were several cars here, all of them well-known in Owners Club circles.

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The day started off as a rather typical sort of cloudy day which was warm enough, though there was a constant threat of rain in the air. But by lunchtime, the skies were looking brighter, and during the afternoon, the sun burned off the clouds, revealing plenty of blue sky. For the photographers, that gave rise to some more possibilities and another round of the assembled cars to get some more photos.

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Having seen the photo I had used to publicise the event, from that January 2010 meet, with Abarths in front of the American hangar, everyone wanted to repeat the display there, to get some photos, especially as the weather had now improved. Enthusiasm was such that several attendees had asked the site staff, and more than one person reported back to me that they had been told that by mid-afternoon it “would be OK”. Sure enough, as sometimes happens when you get a group, someone – I know not whom – took the initiative, and started to head down there, with many others following. Barely were the first cars in position, with every imaginable camera and phone in action, when my site contact came running over, in a panic, saying that we could not go down there, and by doing so, we’d broken just about rule going, as they need to separate cars and the public. She asked that we move the cars – very slowly – back to where they were, and that we did not post all the photos online, at least not before she made sure she was not going to be held to account for our inadvertent transgression. So there are only a few pictures that I managed to get of cars in this part of the site.

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Many of the attendees did manage to get a good look around the many displays in the various Hangars and outside, and reported that there is a lot to see, and it was all well presented. I was just too busy running the event to do that and by the time more or less everyone else had gone, was mindful of the fact that the journey home was probably going to take longer than the one to get there, so I really saw very little of the Duxford IWM itself. That will have to be for next time. And I am sure there will be a next time. Despite the issues caused by our unauthorised movement on site, I was assured by my contact that we will be welcome to return, and judging by the comments from those who went along, plenty would welcome the chance to do so. Duxford 2016 will go down in Abarth Owners Club memories, and not because it was unspeakably cold, but simply because it was a great day out.

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