The first Abarth Day in the UK was held in 2016. It was at the Silverstone Circuit, in October of that year, and was conceived to appeal both to the Abarth faithful and those yet to be converted to the brand. In reality, I suspect most of those who attended were confirmed Abarthisti who were only delighted to spend a day where as well as the chance to look around a car park filled with the various different models that have been offered since the brand’s relaunch in 2007, but to take to the track in either their own car or one of the latest models from Abarth UK’s fleet. A display of classic models, as well as plenty of other attractions ranging from quality and complimentary pizza and coffee to various online and other challenges made for a memorable day out. Such was the success of the event, one of a number held across Europe, that it was no surprise that it was repeated in 2017 and 2018, this time at the Rockingham Motor Circuit. When I was in discussion with the Abarth UK staff finalising details of the 2018 event, I was advised that it was unlikely that there would be a similar event in the UK in 2019, as all the marketing budget would go on a pan European event to be held “somewhere”, but unlikely to be the UK. And when I met with the Abarth UK team in February this year to discuss their plans and those of the Abarth Owners Club for 2019, I was told the same thing. At the time the team in Slough had no idea precisely where or when the putative event would be. Finally, in early July the secret was out: it would be a 2 day event on the first weekend of October in Milan. Not much more was said at the time, but this was enough to get a lot of people excited. Some immediately reached for the website of their chosen airline to book a flight, but others declared that they would like to drive. A road trip was definitely a good way to make this far more memorable than just a weekend event in Milan, so I started to apply some thought to the prospect.
Now, Milan is a long way from the UK. Approximately 1000 miles, in fact, so one of the first tasks was to get all those enthusiastic Abarth Owners to apply a reality check to their enthusiasm. It was clear that to get to Milan for Saturday, it would be necessary to leave the UK on Thursday. And leaving Milan at the end of the event would mean getting home on Tuesday. And that is before looking at the cost. Whilst Owners considered what they were going to do, Abarth UK were very clear that they wanted to come with any Road Trip. A meeting with them whilst we were all at Silverstone Classic at the end of July agreed some principles. On behalf of Abarth Owners Club, I would take the lead on organising a road trip for any of the UK’s affiliated Abarth Clubs, and the Abarth UK team would join us, with a number of cars and a support van with, among other things, spare tyres. I went home after this and started looking at routes. With no opportunity to do much more than find the shortest route to Milan and back, this was not that hard. The most direct route would be to take the Gotthard to get over or through the Alps, and with an event timing of early October the possibility of early snow meant that a tunnel was a necessity, though I did hope that we would be able to take the Abarths over the mountain pass. With a draft route ready, it was time to see who was really serious about coming. And among the many expressions of interest, there were plenty of people who had lots of ideas of alternative routes. Although they were all potentially valid, none of the suggestions fitted so readily into our time-challenged itinerary. It was time to put the proverbial foot down and assert that there was now an official route. and that anyone who wanted to do something else was of course completely free to do so, but that they would not be part of the trip that we were planning. Whilst a few people were happy to commit to whatever I came up with, there were plenty more who wanted to know what it would cost before deciding whether they could join in, which was quite understandable. So the next task was to look at hotels and to estimate the cost. It was evident that a channel crossing, up to 6 nights hotels, fuel and tolls would not come cheap, and there would not be much change out of £1000. Inevitably this deterred or precluded some, and this was quite understandable. But enough were still interested to continue planning. And all this time, next to nothing had been said about the actual event itself. And then Italy went on holiday. For pretty much all of August.
That would turn out to be a challenge as we struggled to get group bookings with hotels, with no response from the hotel we had targetted in Milan, the one we thought we would be hardest, as it would seem likely that with a lot of Abarth owners from around Europe all needing accommodation, it was likely that hotels near to the venue which had been announced to be the MIND (Milan Innovation District, site of the EXPO 2015, and north of the city). August saw a lot of emails with LeShuttle and various hotels and much to my relief, it proved possible to work out something with every one of them where participants could book and pay directly, saving me having to act as travel agent. By the next of August all the pieces were in place, with a route, a channel crossing, hotels and Abarth HQ opening ticket sales for the event. I had initially estimated we would get 15 – 20 cars that would drive over from the UK, and it became clear that this was going to be the reality. As the event neared, a couple of additional factors emerged: the participants from the North East were making their own arrangements to get to the continent and wanted to join in; then a Belgian friend of Dave Quinn, Yves de Smoeck and his son asked if they could join us; then the Czech and the Slovakian Abarth Clubs asked if they could join us en route. Nothing came of this, even though I was keen and suggested that the first overnight stop in Zurich could work, but we managed to work out how to get the North East and Yves and Emile into the convoy. I had a planned vacation in the US in the middle of September, meaning that I would be away until a week or so before proposed departure, so there was lots of email and Facebook activity whilst I was on vacation, with final details and trying to make sure that everyone had the legal necessities sorted and their cars in the best possible state for a long trip. And then, all of a sudden, the calendar said October and it was time to head off.
I had always been sure that taking leShuttle rather than the ferry was going to be right strategy. The prices of the two means of crossing the Channel seemed to be more or less identical, but with the Tunnel taking 1 hour less than the boat, this seemed like the best option. One of the relatively changes in the schedule was to bring forward our crossing from mid-morning to an early departure, with a revised booking for the 7:20am. Noting that there was a very long drive ahead of everyone and that it would be necessary to be at the terminal by around 6:45am, there was a very strong encouragement that everyone travel down the previous evening and stay locally. And everyone took the hint and did so, We ended up with groups in two different hotels, and the challenges of travel following work and traffic meant that arrivals in Folkestone were spread out over several hours. I arrived at my hotel and found a couple of Abarths already parked up, and sure enough it was not long before their occupants appeared in the car park, to greet me and to agree plans for evening food, the restaurant in our chosen Premier Inn being temporarily closed.
By the time we had enlisted the suggestions of the local hotel staff, more cars arrived, now in the dark. This was the time to get to meet the North West contingent for the first time, the three guys – Matthew Wake, Adam Dickinson and Mark Gorman – being people I had never met in person. Indeed the trip comprised a mix of people I have known as long as I have had an Abarth, such as Dan Deyong and Dave Quinn, long-standing owners who I’ve never met such as Jon Fielder and owner newcomers such Claire Pottle and her husband. I have to say that the group just bonded instantly, not unexpectedly, but much to my relief. By the time we were ready to head 10 minutes up the road for dinner, Neil Potter (Curly) had arrived in his 695 Edizione Maserati. Inevitably, we lingered over dinner longer than planned, so it was later than I had hoped when we got back to the hotel, in need of sleep to prepare for the long day of driving ahead.
DAY ONE: FOLKESTONE to ZURICH
For those staying in the Premier Inn, the plan was to leave the hotel at 6:15am. By early October it is still very dark at this time. There was heavy condensation on the cars, which necessitated a couple of minutes to clear it off. Everyone appeared, slightly sleepy in most cases, I think, on time, and the Abarth UK staff were also there, full of energy and enthusiasm, for the adventure of the next few days. Introductions made, it was time to set off to the terminal.
For those who have not travelled on the Shuttle, or not done so recently, the whole experience really is as painless as they can make it. As you drive on the site, you check in, but the joys of ANPR means that the technology can find your booking, so you are issued with a boarding pass, and then proceed to the waiting area, until you are called. At that time of morning in low season, there was no queuing, and we had a few minutes for anyone who needed to grand a last cup of coffee and to await the arrival of the rest of our group who had been staying at the Holiday Inn. We didn’t have long to wait.
Right on cue, the signs changed to saying that our crossing was boarding, so we headed off in one long convoy towards the train. You might think that we would end up in one long line in the Shuttle, but it did not end up this way. The vagaries of queue management meant that we ended up surprisingly dispersed with small groups of a few cars together. Darren James who had the high-roof Ducato Van was always going to have to go with the over-sized cars, and there was much uncertainty whether Paul Hatton would have to join him, a consequence of his front splitter and limited clearance. I followed a Discovery in. and it was worth pointing out that he had only a couple of inches clearance on either side, and even the Abarth did not feel under-sized for the carriages. Once inside, we had a short wait before setting off, and you can walk back and forth, and some of the group used the time to make last minute changes to their cars, such as putting on the event stickers which Abarth UK had provided earlier in the morning. I did also make the vital and easy to do change to get the car to speak km/h and litres/100 km as well as adding on the hours time difference to the clock.
The crossing only takes 35 minutes, so as it reached 9am, we were firing up our engines for the first time on French soil,with the prospect of a drive of around 800km, and a hotel bed in Zurich. I had planned the route with fuel stops, noting that a 38 litre tank, as fitted to the 500-based cars was going to require a couple of stops for refuelling. The published route had made an estimate of times, and took account of the need to get food. There had been debate as to whether we should plan an evening meal before Zurich, but I was confident that if we could stick to our route and the timing we should get there around 7:30pm. We did assemble at the first service station as you pull away from the terminal, but this was more a case of getting everyone together from the various parts of the Shuttle that they had been on.
The first stop was a “mere” 140km from Calais, at the Aire de Baralle. This was selected as it would allow Yves and Emile who were coming from Belgium to meet with us, and the hope was that Matty Misz and Danielle Etheridge who had been on a ferry crossing and were likely to be ahead of us would also be able to catch us. This part of the journey was easy, with light traffic on the A26 autoroute, so keeping a convoy together was not difficult. With the entry to France’s toll system behind us (and let me commend the wisdom of having the tag which means you do not have to take tickets and pay on the spot) it was a case of making steady and generally legal progress to the first stop. Some decided to top up the tanks, and more took the opportunity to grab a late breakfast or an early lunch, knowing that the next planned stop was some hours away. When we pulled in, we spotted a Belgian plated Abarth already waiting for us, even though we were earlier than anticipated in getting there.
Mindful of the long journey ahead, we did not linger unduly and were soon back on the road for what was going to be the longest stretch, 375 km, to the Aire de Longeville, somewhat east of Reims, on the A4 autoroute. Traffic remained light, so keeping cars in convoy formation was not hard, with people every now and then accelerating past the rest, to become the new leader. I was in a group of several cars, as we passed a service area some way short of the planned stop when I realised that several of the cars immediately in front of me made a last minute decision to dive into a different services area. I would later learn that the human tank capacity, and hence the need for a call of nature stop, may not be as great as that of the cars! I carried on, with Curly immediately behind me, confident that everyone would eventually catch up at the declared stop. We had a number of walkie-talkies with us, though not enough for every car, and there was also a WhatsApp group which proved invaluable during the whole trip, and most people turned on location sensing so we could see where everyone was. This is where those of us who were one up did suffer, as a co-pilot or passenger could leverage these tools in a way that a solo driver could not. Anyway, we did all get to Longeville, where we caught up with Matty and Danielle. We were well ahead of schedule, and several people then fell to the temptation of a burger, so we stayed at this stop longer than planned. Getting everyone to realise that we were only just over half way there was a hard message.
The next stretch was also a long one. Continuing east along the A4 autoroute, to Strasbourg, then taking the A35 south past Colmar and Mulhouse, crossing the Swiss border north of Basel with a fuel stop chosen to take advantage of lower Swiss fuel prices, at Pratteln, just east of Basel. And here is where the convoy and the navigation started to be tested. Nearing Strasbourg, it appeared that the junction with the A35 was completely closed for major road works, so at the next junction, I followed the signs for the deviation, with Jon Fielder following right behind. Signage was not good and I missed the next sign, and ended up heading to I knew not where. And when I could stop. I realised that Jon was no longer behind me. I was now on my own. Whilst Alsace villages are very pretty, there was no plan on this trip to see any and yet here I was in one. I looked at Google maps and came up with a route which would take me through several more and would rejoin the A35 just south of Strasbourg. Eventually, I did emerge onto the autoroute, to see terrible traffic heading in the opposite direction, it now being evening rush hour. I had lost a lot of time, and the really annoying thing was that I later discovered that I need not have done so at all, as in fact the closed junction was solely for traffic heading north on the A35 and the one for those heading south was still open. Eventually, I reached the Pratteln service area in Switzerland, as light was fading, knowing I needed to put the light converters on the car, but even more that a nature calls breaks was the top priority. I arrived to find a number Abarths in the car park, so I was not hopelessly late, but when I came back from the toilet, they had all wisely set off.
The last leg from here to Zurich should have been the easiest. And to the outskirts of Zurich it was. But Zurich is not an easy city for the car driver, and although I used to work there, I always used public transport.. The hotel, the Ibis Zurich Airport Messe, was several km off the autobahn and although the directions looked easy enough, they proved to be anything but. I in fact got very close at the first attempt, but the consequence of heavy traffic and difficulty of seeing street names in the dark meant several failed attempts to find it. I ended up as definitively the last to arrive, which was embarrassing to put it mildly, but eventually, the Abarth was tucked up in the car park with the others and I could enjoy a much-needed “Stange” and the local Zurich delicacy of “Geschnetzltes” (thinly sliced pan-fried calves liver with rosti). And after that, it was time for bed.
DAY TWO: ZURICH to MILANO
Distance wise, this was always going to be a much easier day, and that was deliberate in the planning. You can get from Zurich to Milan in not much more than 3 hours if there are no traffic hold-ups. Our plan was to take longer than that, taking the Gotthard Pass, if the conditions permitted. I had always said that this would be a decision made on the day, and photos of the admittedly higher Stelvio Pass from a month earlier with alarming amounts of snow had made me wonder if winter was going to arrive early On the Friday morning, as the group assembled for breakfast, the forecast did not look all that hopeful with sleet being predicted from late morning.
But first we had to get from Zurich, about an hour north of the climb up and over the Alps. It is mostly an autobahn journey til you get to the VierWaldStatter See, but there was a requirement to replan when the route to the east of the lake was marked closed, which meant going the slightly longer way around. There is a service area, called Gotthard about 10 km before the entrance to the tunnel and the instructions were to meet there. Just before we got there we came across a German plated Abarth Punto, and the cars in front of me succeeded in getting him to pull into the service and park with us. It is fair to say that he was somewhat surprised to find that he was par of a group of 19 British plated Abarths!
By the time we were nearly all assembled – having lost Paul Hatton somewhere on the outskirts of Zurich – it was time to make a plan. With the mountain tops clearly visible, it was clearly not snowing or even raining, so we decided that the pass it was to be. And a good decision that proved to be. The traffic always backs up in advance of the tunnel portal, with lights used to regulate flow, but we could just drive up the right hand filter lane, following the signs to Andermatt. And once off the autobahn, things got much more interesting. I have been on this pass many times, so I knew what to expect, but for many others, this was a first, and it is fair to say that they were stunned. At the first large lay-by area, I pulled in and the first group did the same, so we could see the stunning view and for the first of many photos from the pass that were what I had always hoped we would be able to get.
After the initial climb, the road reaches Andermatt, and you can head in all directions on what are universally scenic passes – the Furka, or the OberAlp if you go west or east . We were headed south and now ready to ascend the real Gotthard, which climbs up to a height of 2091 m above sea level. The road surface is generally good and there are plenty of pull-outs, and we stopped at a couple of them, and them about 4 km before the summit, you can turn off and go on the old Pass, a cobbled street. I decided we would do this, as there would be plenty of places for more photos and also for the back markers of the group to catch up. Needless to say, some of them did not see that we had done so, and they went on the main road, though when they heard all our horns blaring, they did turn around and come and join us. This proved to be a great place for photos, though it was not warm. The lads from the North West, wearing shorts had clearly not realised just how cold it gets as you climb!
From here it was a very short ride to the Pass Summit, and the chance to take more photo around the lake and to get a warming cup of coffee and a bratwurst.
From here it was more or less all downhill. Although there is an old, and still partially cobbled pass down the south side, this was closed, so there was no choice to take the modern road. There are lots of swooping bends, but care is needed as there are also hairpins and with a lot of height to lose, you need to make sure you don’t cook the brakes. The pass rejoins the main autobahn at Aiorlo and from here with the language switching from German to Italian you continue down the valley past Bellinzona, Lugano and to Chiasso and the border with Italy. We had quite a convoy for most of this part of the journey. One amusing scene as we paused in the queue to get through the border was to see Dan Deyong wave a passport out of the window of his car, as his son, Aaron was riding with one of the other solo drivers, and was potentially going to need it. Needless to say, he did not, and with nothing more than a bottom gear crawl over the border, we were in Italy. Milan was in sight! At the first toll booth there was another lesson in how hard convoys can be. I chose to go in a lane alongside one with the lead three cars in it, figuring that I would emerge at the same time as one of them. But two cars in front of me, there was a massive delay, as a Bulgarian plated car just could not figure out what to do. Eventually, after having failed to get a long queue to reverse to let him out, the lady in front of me simply paid his €2.50 toll, so he could proceed. But everyone was now well ahead of me, and although I then drove Italian style, I suspect everyone else did, so I ended up by myself again. This time, the hotel was right alongside the autostrada, so easy to see and to get to. This time I was among the first to arrive.
Duly installed in the Holiday Inn Zara, two thoughts pre-occupied many of the participants: was there a car wash so we could get rid of the grime of the last two days travel; and how about some great Italian food for dinner? There was ample time to attend to the cars first. The hotel suggested a place about a 10 minute drive away, on the outskirts of Monza, which gave rise to a thought that we might go as far as we could at this world famous circuit. That was before we discovered that the suburbs of Milan suffer from evening traffic just like everywhere else. So the 10 minute journey took rather longer than that. The car wash did not let us down, though, with a range of facilities which were just what we were looking for. And we got there just in time, with a wash bay available for each of us without the need to wait, but as we were finishing the cars off, plenty of locals arrived to clean their cars, too. Some were clearly somewhat bemused to find a load of British-plated Abarths there, and we found out that at least a couple of those present were planning to go to the event the following day either because they already knew about it, or after we had told them why we were there. Reality dawned on us that once the cars were clean, there really was not time to go to Monza, especially since the traffic did not seem to have eased, so headed back to the hotel with cars that would at least be presentable the following day.
And so to dinner. I asked the hotel if there was anywhere he could recommend that was in walking distance. The receptionist paused and then said that he knew a place that would do better than that, and they would come and collect us and return us, and which served excellent Italian food. When I said that there were 25 of us, he did have to call to check, and the answer came back that this would be OK. The reality was that they only had two vehicles, so it took a number of trips to get us all there. But it was well worth it, with a menu of classic Italian cooking, and all at a reasonable price. Food and wine flowed, with everyone relieved to have reached Milan in one piece, the sole exception being Paul Hatton whose car had gone into limp mode, a result of what turned out to be a torn diaphragm in the turbo actuator, and a non-standard part. Plans were put in place for the Abarth UK support team to investigate in the morning, which did not prove to be the relief he was looking for, though in the end, it did deliver a solution so he could drive home with the rest of us. This was the only mechanical incident or concern on the whole trip.
DAY THREE: ABARTH DAY, MIND DISTRICT, MILANO
And so, it was Saturday and Day One of Abarth Weekend. Fortified by the hotel’s breakfast buffet, we assembled all the cars in front of the hotel, ready for the off. And this being Italy, it was not just us taking pictures but the hotel staff came outside, camera phones in hand to record the sight and spectacle of 19 Abarths being started up and heading off for a day of fun.
The MIND district was only around 12 km away, according to the map, just off the A8 autostrada, though our instructions did give us a specific gate by which we should enter, which looked to be down some back street. With the cars in a long convoy, what could go wrong? Well, when we got to a crossover on the autostrada, it seemed like we need to perform something of a suicide manoeuvre across several lanes of traffic. Most of the cars in front of me did not do it, but there was enough of a gap that I was able to follow Jay Tee, confident that he knew where he was going. It turned out he did not, and we came to a halt in a side street, only a couple of km from the site, but in need of a replanned route to get there. A few minutes later, and we were in a queue of Abarths still in what looked like a slightly iffy road that was not going to take us to any significant landmark. The queue did not move, and did not move, and then eventually did move, a few car lengths. Excited Abarthisti from various countries started to make noise, lots of it, with their horns and their engines, which brought out locals from the shops and businesses by where we were queued, who also got out the phones to record the sight before getting further colleagues to take a look.
Eventually, the queue moved quite a bit, and we turned a corner, to see that the line went up the road, into a parking area and back out again. Entry to the site seemed particularly slow, and we ended up in the holding area for well over an hour, in addition to the hour we had spent around the corner. So, whilst the gates were supposedly open at 8am, it was now gone 10am and we were still outside the venue. Still, there were plenty of cars to see, some local, others who had travelled from further afield, including a few who had driven from the Ukraine. Although everyone was keen to get into the venue, there was something of a pre-party atmosphere to the assembly, though, no-one getting visibly too frustrated.
Finally, the queue moved a bit, but as we emerged from the holding area, the officials told us that we should head to one of the other entrances. That was all very well, but the road was narrow and a series of vans were trying to force their way down in between, probably irked that the road was effectively blocked by Abarths. Moving into spaces and letting them through meant that although I was able to follow other Abarths to the new entrance, I lost the rest of the UK group who had been behind me. But finally, having done what seemed like half a lap of the perimeter of the very large site, I was at the entrance gate, being checked in. Of course, from here, there was a whole load of the site to drive across to get to where all the Scorpionship Club cars were due to park, and sign posting seemed a bit lacking, as this entrance was not designed for us, but in the end, I was able to get to an area which was jam-packed with Abarths and people. Luckily some of the UK crowd were on foot and near the entrance so they could point me to the space allocated to us, which would have taken some finding otherwise. It turned out that everyone had in fact got in the site within a few minutes of each other, but nearer to 11am than the 8am we had intended. The most pressing task at this point was to find the Abarth UK team as they had told us that they would be handing out a bag of tokens which we could exchange at any of the food and gelateria stalls on site, a most welcome gesture indeed. Cars were still pouring in. It emerged that the difficulties had been caused by a failure of the scanning system at the main gate, so everyone was being checked in manually, and when you have around 1000 cars to process, that takes time.
As I wandered the length of the site, to see what was included and where everything was, I could hear the announcement that the grand unveiling of the 695 70th Anniversario Edition would be at 11:30 on the main stage. Sure enough, there was a car on there, under a massive cover. However, we had all seen what it looked like a few days before, as a leak through Germany had resulted in someone posting images on the Abarth Owners Club Facebook page on the Thursday, which once spotted by Abarth HQ, we were asked to remove. Although we complied, the news was out and more and more pictures emerged, so Abarth did their own online reveal on the Friday. The press had been invited to MIND for the Friday afternoon for an event, and I soon came across Stef Villaverde (Stef AB TV) who had been there, and then Chris Rees, editor of Auto Italia magazine who had also come out to see this 70th birthday present from and to Abarth. In fact, I did not wait til 11:30 to see one in the flesh, as I spotted one parked up out of the way, and raced over to take photos, only to discover that someone was doing so officially, which made my efforts increasingly difficult. Not to worry, as there were several of the car on site and I would get plenty of pics during the weekend.
Although the car will be offered in a choice of 5 colours: White, Black, Podium Blue, Grey and 1958 Green, all the cars on site were in this last shade, a new colour for Abarth and one selected to evoke memories of the 1958 record-breaking 500 that just so happened to be on site as well. I can assure that the two shades of green are quite different, the older car being much lighter. Online verdicts of the new car had not been entirely positive, with many challenging the appearance, others the spec and yet more the price (£29,995 in the UK). In the metal, I have to say it looks far better than those first web pictures portrayed, and there is no doubt that the 1949 buyers of the car will be getting something quite distinctive, with the Campovolo Grey accents around the wheelarches and lower body skirts. What they won’t be getting is more than 180 bhp, as it would seem that to get Euro 6d compliance from the T-Jet engine, 180 bhp is the limit. But the Abarth 695 70° Anniversario does have an ace up its sleeve. Look at the back and you’ll notice a rather large roof-mounted spoiler serving as the special edition’s party piece. Manually adjustable in literally a dozen of positions, the spoiler was developed in the wind tunnel to achieve maximum aero efficiency regardless of speed. Its inclination varies from 0 to 60 degrees and helps increase aerodynamic load by 42 kilograms when the car is travelling at speeds of 124 mph (200 km/h) provided the spoiler is at its maximum inclination. Abarth has done the maths and it claims the new aero component will reduce steering corrections by as much as 40% based on the testing they’ve done at FCA’s wind tunnel in the Orbassano municipality located southwest of Turin. Power is provided by the familiar 1.4-litre turbocharged engine with 180 hp and 250 Nm (184 lb-ft) of torque, good enough for a sprint from 0 to 62 mph (100 km/h) in 6.7 seconds before topping out at 140 mph (225 km/h) if the spoiler is in the 0° position. Those 17-inch SuperSport wheels are paired to a Brembo braking system with four-piston aluminium calipers finished in red, hugging the 305-mm front and 240-mm rear self-ventilated discs. Rounding off the changes on the outside is the newly developed Record Monza exhaust with active valve for a better soundtrack. Abarth also spruced up the cabin a bit where the body-hugging seats are exclusive to this special edition, just like the individually numbered plaque reminding you this isn’t an ordinary 695. Onboard tech includes support for both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, DAB digital radio and a navigation system for that seven-inch touchscreen display. Additional standard equipment includes automatic climate control, daytime running lights, LED fog lights, unique mats, and the Abarth telemetry system if you plan on taking the hot hatch to the track. The first cars are due in dealers before the end of 2019.
This is not the only new model for the 70th anniversary, as a few weeks prior to this event, Abarth launched the 595 Pista, conceived to be a focused option between the standard 595 Custom and the Turismo version. Although closer in concept and price to the Turismo, this one is just that bit more performance-focused, though it has no more power than the Turismo. That means there’s 165 bhp at the disposal of the driver’s right foot, courtesy of a 1.4-litre turbocharged engine that’s fitted with what Abarth describes as an “oversized” Garrett turbine and breathes out through a high-end Record Monza exhaust system. That’s a standard feature on the higher-end Competizione version, but doesn’t feature on the 595 Turismo. Although the new turbocharger turbine doesn’t make the 595 Pista any more powerful than the Turismo, Abarth says it does change the power delivery. By changing the pressure in the combustion chamber, the car’s 170 lb/ft (230 Nm) of torque can be delivered lower down the rev range, at 2,250 rpm. The Pista has also been bestowed with a Koni rear suspension set-up, which features something called Frequency Selective Damping, or FSD for short. The system essentially tunes the suspension to suit the road surface and speed, with the aim of providing more stability and comfort. Other mechanical features include the specific Abarth braking system, which grips ventilated 284 mm discs on the front and 240 mm discs on the rear. The car also has an automated manual gearbox, which effectively works as an automatic, but also has shift paddles to allow the driver to take control with sequential shifts. Externally, the Pista is set apart by its special livery, which incorporates matt grey paint and bright green details. The door mirror caps, splitter, and wheel centres are all green, which contrasts with the black of the diffuser, alloy wheels, and front grille surrounds. The car also gets special Pista badging on the tailgate to denote its special-edition credentials. Inside, there are new seats that honour the Italian car manufacturer’s 70th anniversary, with Abarth 70 lettering on the backrests. The seats themselves are racing-style buckets wrapped in new upholstery, while the cabin also features a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system. It’s a version of the same Uconnect system seen across the Fiat range, and it comes with an HD screen, DAB radio, and the Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity systems. Also mounted on the dashboard is a flat-bottomed sports steering wheel, as well as a sports button that modifies the car’s characteristics for more spirited driving. The system tweaks the peak torque output, as well as changing the power steering settings and throttle response. An example was positioned right by the main stage.
There were examples of the rest of the current range on site. These were available for short test drives, for those who managed to get a place to do so. I caught the cars early in the day before this started and again in the evening after most people had left the site.
Parked up near the main stage was a display of models from Abarth’s Heritage or Classiche collection, shipped over from Turin and the FCA Heritage Hub. I was expecting this, as when I had enquired about the possibility of adding in a visit to the FCA Hub and the Classiche operation as part of our visit, I was advised that most of the stuff of interest would be in Milan for this event. Perhaps that led me to expect rather more than was actually here, as the display comprised three cars parked semi under cover and then a few more just beyond them. Historic Abarths were generally in far shorter supply than I had hoped for, though the cars here were all, of course, rather nice.
Perhaps the most important car of the collection was the oldest, the very car which set all those records in 1958. Everything began in July 1957 and the launch of the ‘Nuova 500’, a car created by Dante Giocosa and powered by a two-cylinder engine (479 cc capacity) that developed 13 bhp of maximum power and took the car to a top speed of 85 km/h. Karl Abarth fell in love with this baby Fiat and also saw it as an important challenge: he was soon convinced that it could become a high performance car if properly engineered. So he set to work and, while retaining the original engine capacity, increased the compression ratio (from 6,55:1 to 8,7:1) and adopted a Weber 26 IMB carburettor and a special Abarth exhaust: this enabled him to increase the power of the basic model by 7 bhp, taking it up to 20 bhp and then 23 bhp through extra tuning. This injection of horsepower and the special Abarth edition of the ‘Nuova 500’ contributed considerably to the fortunes of the standard production model. Another two versions of the new Fiat were introduced during the same year: the ‘500 Coupè’ Zagato and the ‘500 Coupè’ Pininfarina. The first, driven by Ovidio Capelli, gained Abarth a victory in the 500 Category Italian championship for 1958. Doing the same year, Karl Abarth set out to demonstrate that the ‘Nuova Fiat 500’, if properly converted and tuned, could turn in a lively performance and so the baby Fiat – sporting the Abarth scorpion on its front – became the star for a whole week of a marathon event that has gone down in history: over seven days and seven nights, the plucky little car covered a distance of 18,186 at an average hourly speed of 108 km/h and succeeded in beating no fewer than 6 international records by covering: 10,457 km in 4 days at an average speed of 108.9 km/h; 12,933 km in 5 days at an average speed of 108.2 km/h; 15,000 km in 139 16’ 33’ hours at an average speed of 107.6 km/h; 15,530 km in 6 days at an average speed of 107.8 km/h; 10,000 miles in 149 09’ 29’ hours at an average speed of 107.8 km/h; 18,186 km in 7 days at an average speed of 108.2 km/h. By notching up yet another success, Karl Abarth confirmed that it is possible to produce racing cars from minis with small engines: Hence the phrase ‘small but deadly’. And so began the 1960s, defined as the golden age of Abarth due to the brand’s great racing and sales success and the fact that the ‘500 Abarth’ model underwent its most significant developments during this period.
In 1963 Karl Abarth, technological and innovative by nature, decided that he wished to increase the performance of the Nuova ‘500’ still more by increasing its capacity from 499.5 cc to 595 cc and obtaining a power output of 27 bhp. Extensive changes to the engine and changes to the fuel system, i.e. replacing the Weber carburettor by a Solex C28 PBJ, powered the Fiat 500 Abarth to a top speed of over 120 km/h. The pocket Abarth sports car was immediately recognisable by the Abarth grille on the front end accompanied by a distinctive metal model signature and the Abarth badge on the side panels with the wording Campione del Mondo [world champion]. Some months after the market launch of the ‘595’, the Marche racing factory launched a ‘conversion kit’ containing all the parts necessary to turn a Fiat Nuova 500 into a Abarth 595 in terms of its engineering and outward appearance: pistons, camshafts, cylinder head gaskets, exhaust, oil sump, chrome grille with side friezes, enamel badge and chrome wording. This venture was evidence of Karl Abarth’s willingness to use his mechanical genius to help aspiring young drivers by satisfying their demand for lively performance even from cars that are used every day and not only for racing. For the Marche racing workshop, 1964 began with the launch of the Fiat Abarth ‘595 SS’, a version of the ‘595’ with additional tuning and more power. This baby racing car could develop 32 CV of power and a top speed of more than 130 km/h; it created a sensation in the world of motor sports. It differed from the previous model due to the black rubber clips on the bonnet lid, the code SS on the bonnet and boot lids and the wording ‘esse esse’ on the dashboard. These aesthetic touches further enhanced the sporting nature of the small car. And as was now customary for Abarth, the launch of the car was accompanied by a conversion kit that allowed Fiat 500 owners to convert their care into a ‘595’ SS and find themselves at the wheel of an authentic Abarth branded sports car. The last ‘595’ model was the ‘595 SS Competizione’ version: wide track, wide-based wheels, wheel arch with more protruding red strips, with a power of 34 bhp and top speed of 130 km/h. Karl Abarth had created a new car for new victories. The roll of honour of this Abarth-branded mini included a long series of triumphs, from its debut on the Monza racing track in 1964 with Franco Patria at the wheel to its victory in the 600 Category Italian Touring Trophy with Leonardo Durst at the wheel at the end of the same year. These cars have become very rare as many were crashed in competition or simply rotted away due to bad rust protection in the 70s A number of recreations have been built,
Abarth had even more success with the models they produced based on the larger Fiat 600, and there were a couple of them here, an 850 TC and the more potent 1000TC. Officially known as the Fiat-Abarth 850TC Berlina (Turismo Competizione, or “touring competition”), it was introduced towards the end of 1960, using Fiat 600 bodywork with some modifications, most notably a boxlike structure ahead of the front bumper which held the engine’s oil cooler. The rear wings were usually blistered, to accommodate larger wheels. The engine is a four-cylinder model based on a Fiat unit, with 847 cc capacity and 51 hp. Overall length is 3,090 mm (122 in), overall width is 1,400 mm (55 in), height is 1,380 mm (54 in), wheelbase is 2,000 mm (80 in), and its front and rear track are 1,160 mm (46 in). The fuel tank holds 5.9 imperial gallons, and its empty weight was 793 kg (1,748 lb). The 850TC remained in the price lists until 1966. In 1962 the 850TC Nürburgring was introduced, with 55 PS at 6500 rpm. The name was intended to celebrate the class victory of an Abarth 850TC at the 1961 Nürburgring 500 km race. There followed the 850TC/SS with two more horsepower; this was renamed the 850TC Nürburgring Corsa towards the end of the year. Between 1962 and 1971 the 850cc and 1000cc class cars won hundreds of races all over the World and were commonly called “Giant Killers” due to their superior performance over much larger cars, culminating in a famous dispute with SCCA authorities in the USA when Alfred Cosentino (FAZA) was banned from running his 1970 Fiat Abarth Berlina Corsa 1000 TCR “Radiale” engine because his car was faster (mainly in wet conditions) to many V8 Mustangs, AMC AMX’s and Chev Camaro’s etc.The SCCA authorities dictated FAZA and Cosentino be forced to use an early design engine a non “Radiale” engine from 1962 model in his cars but still achieved 51 Victories from 53 races. The most victories in SCCA racing history, thereby cementing the superiority of the Fiat Abarth Berlina Corsa over larger and more powerful cars.
By the 1970s, Abarth was under Fiat ownership, and it became the motor sport department, producing cars that bore Fiat, Lancia and even Oselli badging. Perhaps best known of the products of the first part of this decade was the 124 Spider, or to give the car its full name, the Fiat Abarth 124 Rally, a street legal rally version of the 124 Sport Spider sold to the masses, known also as “124 Abarth Stradale”, introduced in November 1972. Its main purpose was to receive FIA homologation in the special grand touring cars (group 4) racing class, and replace the 1.6-litre Fiat Sport Spider rally cars which were at until then being campaigned. At the time 124 had already won the 1972 European Rally Championship at the hands of Raffaele Pinto and Gino Macaluso. The 124 Rally was added to the Sport Spider range, which included the 1600 and 1800 models; the first 500 examples produced were earmarked for the domestic Italian market. Amongst the most notable modifications over the standard spider there were independent rear suspension, engine upgrades, lightweight body panels, and a rigid hard top. In place of the usual rear solid axle, there is independent suspension from lower wishbones, the original trailing arms, an upper strut and an anti-roll bar. At the front a radius rod on each side was added to the standard double wishbones. The Abarth-tuned type 132 AC 4.000 1.8-litre, twin-cam engine was brought from the standard 118 to 128 PS DIN (126 hp) by replacing the standard twin-choke carburettor with double vertical twin-choke Weber 44 IDFs, and by fitting an Abarth exhaust with a dual exit exhaust. The 9.8:1 compression ratio was left unchanged. The transmission is the all-synchronised five-speed optional on the other Sport Spider models, and brakes are discs on all four corners. Despite the 20 kg (44 lb) four-point roll bar fitted, kerb weight is 938 kg (2,068 lb), roughly 25 kg (55 lb) less than the regular 1.8-litre Sport Spider. Engine bonnet, boot lid and the fixed hard top are fibreglass, painted matt black, the rear window is perspex and the doors aluminium. Front and rear bumpers were deleted and replaced by simple rubber bumperettes. A single matte black wing mirror was fitted. Matte black wheel arch extensions house 185/70 VR 13 Pirelli CN 36 tyres on 5.5 J × 13″ four-spoke alloy wheels. Inside, the centre console, rear occasional seats, and glovebox lid were eliminated; while new features were anodised aluminium dashboard trim, a small three-spoke leather-covered Abarth steering wheel, and Recaro corduroy-and-leather bucket seats as an extra-cost option. The car carries Fiat badging front and rear, Abarth badges and “Fiat Abarth” scripts on the front wings, and Abarth wheel centre caps. Only three paint colours were available: Corsa red, white, and light blue.
In 1976, 400 examples of the Fiat 131 Abarth Rally were built for homologation purposes. These cars were built in a cooperation between Fiat, Bertone and Abarth. Bertone took part-completed two door standard bodyshells from the production line in Mirafiori, fitted plastic mudguards front and rear, a plastic bonnet and bootlid and modified the metal structure to accept the rear independent suspension. The cars were fully painted and trimmed and then delivered back to the Fiat special Rivalta plant where they received the Abarth mechanicals. The street version of the car used a DOHC 4 valves per cylinder derivative of the standard quad cam inline-four engine, equipped with a double downdraught 34 ADF Weber carburettors producing 140 PS at 6400 rpm and 127 lb/ft at 3600 rpm of torque. The street cars used the standard gearbox with no synchromesh (Rally type regulations required the use of the same type of synchromesh on the competition cars as on the street versions) and the hopelessly under-dimensioned brake system of the small Fiat 127. Competition cars used dry sump lubrication and eventually Kugelfischer mechanical fuel injection. In race specifications, the engine produced up to 240 PS in 1980, being driven to World Championship status by Walter Röhrl.
And so we come to the modern Abarths. These were parked in two distinct areas. Those who are not affiliated to any particular club were in two long lines in the area beyond the stage and merchandising stalls and a far larger number, those belonging to both a Club that is affiliated to the Scorpionship program were in four seemingly never-ending lines the length of the event, with areas beyond this also filled with all manner of cars with the Scorpion badge on them. There was signage for each Club, just in case the licence plates did not give away the origins. All told, over 900 cars were in this part of the display, and whilst there was a particularly large presence from the Italian Clubs, as you might expect, just about every European country seemed to have anything from a few to dozens of cars parked up. Walking up and down the lines, it became something of a challenge to think of a variant that I had not seen. Just about everything that has been produced since that 2007 relaunch was here, with rarities mixed up among the bigger selling versions.
The vast majority of cars here were the 500-based models which have been on sale now since the end of 2008, following a launch at the Paris Show that year. Since that time there have been a number of detailed changes to the standard cars and a lot of limited editions. Those who really know the marque can spot most of them, but some are so subtle that unless there is a badge you can see, you will not ne quite sure which version you are looking at. It used to be relatively easy, when the model was first launched, as there was only one version as shipped ex works called the 500. It had a 135 bhp 1.4 litre turbo-charged engine coupled to a five speed manual gearbox, with 16″ alloys as standard, and the option of 17″ wheels, and a colour palette comprising of two whites (BossaNova White, the standard colour, or the pearlescent Funk White), Red (Pasadoble), Pale Grey (Campovolo) or Black. If you wanted more power – 160 bhp – then you could order an Esseesse kit, which came in a large wooden crate, containing new wheels, springs, an ECU upgrade, the Monza exhaust system and badging. It was dealer fitted and could be applied at any time within the first 12 months or 10,000 miles from registration. Needless to say, it proved popular. As were many of the optional extras, with stickers for the sides, a large scorpion for the bonnet and even a chequered pattern for the roof among the personalisation options offered. Several of the original style of cars were here.
Whilst a sliding glass sunroof (Skydome in Fiat/Abarth parlance) was an option from inception, fans of open air motoring had to wait until Geneva 2010 for the launch of the 500C models.
For the first few months these cars only came with the robotised manual gearbox, which limited the appeal in the eyes of some, but they also introduced us to the “bi-colore”, a series of two tone cars, with upper and lower halves of the body painted in different colours. It took us a while to get used to this, as no other production road cars had been painted like this for some time, but now this is seen as yet another of those marque defining attributes, and (perhaps with the exception of the rarely seen Rally Beige and Officina Red combination that would come for 2014) in the eyes of many this distinctive look enhances the appeal of the cars still further.
Having used the legendary 695 badging from the 1960s on the Tributo cars, at the 2012 Geneva Show, Abarth dusted off the 595 name that had been used on the less powerful of the Nuova 500 based cars of the same generation, and created two new versions which we should think of as Series 2 cars, the 595 Turismo and Competizione, both of which could be bought in either closed or open top C guise, with either the 5 speed manual or robotised automated gearshifts. Both models had the 160 bhp engine as standard. Effectively they were a replacement for the Esseesse kit, and it meant that the cars were produced complete at the factory, rather than needing the dealer to undertake the upgrade (and the associated paperwork), though Abarth did not withdraw the Esseesse kits from the market for some while. Turismo, as the name suggests was aimed slightly less extreme in intent, featuring standard leather upholstery, upgraded dampers and climate control, Xenon headlights and Alutex interior details. The sportier Abarth 595 Competizione replaced the leather seats with Sabelt cloth sport seats and Alutex with aluminium, while adding p-cross-drilled brakes and the Record Monza dual-mode exhaust.
Some new colours were introduced, and very soon one of those, Record Grey, frequently combined with a tan interior became one of the most popular choices. There were several examples of this popular colour here and there is no denying that this combination suits the Abarth shape very well.
Rumours started to circulate towards the end of 2014 that Abarth were going to upgrade the Competizione model, so as better to bridge the gap between the Turismo and the 190 bhp 695 Biposto that had been added to the range earlier in the year. It was Geneva 2015 when the result was finally shown to an expectant fan base. Most exciting news was that thanks to a bigger Garrett Turbo, the engine had been tweaked to 180 bhp, and with reduced CO2 emissions. A standard spec that included Koni Dampers, Brembo brakes, Xenon lights, Sabelt seats, Climate Control, parking sensors as well as other refinements that had been added like the TFT instrument display all proved very compelling, so not long after the first cars reached the UK in June of 2015, I found temptation too hard to resist, and as is well documented here, swapped my 2010 car for one of these. At the time I ordered it, Cordolo Red, a tri-coat pearlescent paint which shimmers in bright sunlight looked set to become one of the most popular colours of the lot, even though it is a cost option. Indeed, the Launch Edition models were all offered either in this colour or Scorpion Black, with black wheels. Surprisingly, the colour was not carried over to the Series 4 cars.
A new colour was announced with the new Competizione cars, called Podium Blue, but it was not going to be immediately available, and there were no accurate representations of exactly what shade it would be. Rumours circulated on Abarth forums and Facebook Groups all summer, with lots of guessing and no real facts, although we had been assured that it was not the same as the Abu Dhabi Blue that had featured on a very small number of 695 Tributo Ferrari models in 2011. It was October 2016 when the first cars reached the UK and those who had taken the gamble could see for themselves whether they had got it right. Common consent is this is a stunning colour. A rich blue, it changes shade in different lights. I think it looks fantastic. It has proved very popular and remains on offer to this day.
What is known as the Series 4 version of the familiar 595 reached the markets in the middle of 2016. After rumours had circulated all winter following the launch of the facelifted Fiat 500 last year, Abarth finally unveiled the Series 4 at the end of May 2016. Initially, we were told that the cars would not be available in the UK until September, but that came forward somewhat, with dealers all receiving demo cars in June, and the first customers taking delivery in July. Three regular production versions of both the closed car and the open-topped C were initially available, all badged 595, and called Custom, Turismo and Competizione, as before, though numerous limited edition models have since appeared and in most case disappeared. The most significant changes with the Series 4 are visual, with a couple of new colours, including the much asked for Modena Yellow and a different red, called Abarth Red, which replaces both the non-metallic Officina and – slightly surprisingly – the tri-coat pearlescent Cordolo Red. as well as styling changes front and rear. The jury is still out on these, with many, me included, remaining to be convinced. At the front, the new air intake does apparently allow around 15 – 20 % more air in and out, which will be welcome, as these cars do generate quite a lot of heat under the bonnet. Competizione models for the UK retain the old style headlights, as they have Xenon lights as standard, whereas the Custom and Turismo cars have reshaped units. At the back, there are new light clusters and a new rear bumper and diffuser. Inside, the most notable change is the replacement of the Blue & Me system with a more modern uConnect Audio set up, which brings a new colour screen to the dash. Mechanically, there is an additional 5 bhp on the Custom (now 145) and Turismo (now 165 bhp) and the option of a Limited Slip Diff for the Competizione, which is likely to prove a popular option. Details of the interior trim have changed, with a filled-in glovebox like the US market cars have always had, and electric windows switches that are like the US ones, as well as a part Alcantara trim to the steering wheel in Competizione cars. These cars have now been on offer for three years and with Abarth sales on the rise, it was no surprise that they were particularly well represented here.
A version I had never seen before was this 500 Cabrio Italia. Based on the regular 500C, it was unveiled at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show, created to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Italian unity. Just 150 units were built, appropriately so, each featuring a special chrome “500 Cabrio Italia” plate with satin effect. The 500 Cabrio Italia came painted in a special Blu Abu Dhabi livery combined with an electrically operated black top and tinted rear windows. Adding a touch of class and sparkle are the 10-spoke 17″ rims with diamond effect combined with yellow Brembo front calipers. Along with the celebratory additions to the exterior of the vehicle, Abarth supplied this special edition with a number of components that set it apart from the rest. For starters, the “esseesse” brake system consisting of perforated self-ventilated front brake discs and fixed four-piston calipers has been added, as well as Xenon headlights with dipped and main beam functions. Sliding into the vehicle, the driver would notice “Abarth Corsa by Sabelt” seats in natural leather with carbon fibre backrests. Once comfortably seated, the driver can wrap their hands around the black leather steering wheel with double stitching and take advantage of the Alutex aluminium glass fibre pedals and gear lever knob. There is also a carbon fibre running board with dedicated “Cabrio Italia” graphics finishing off the aesthetic improvements. On a technological note, the Abarth 500 Cabrio Italia boasts of an Abarth Blue&Me MAP satellite navigation unit with a telemetric function developed in conjunction with Magneti Marelli. Powering the 500 Cabrio Italia was the 160 bhp version of the 1.4 Turbo T-Jet engine, which allowed the 500 Cabrio Italia to sprint from 0 to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds, while top speed sticks at 131 mph.
A version which was sold in the UK, but which you see very rarely these days is the 695 Tributo Ferrari. There were not many here, either. This was the first of the modern Abarths to bear the 695 badging and it was a limited edition version developed in collaboration with engineers from Ferrari. You got more power than was available in the standard cars at the time, with the engine uprated to 180 bhp, thanks to a different Garrett turbocharger. The spec included a MTA (Manual Transmission Automated) electromechanical transmission with paddle shifter, unique to this version 17 inch alloy wheels with performance tyres, Brembo multi-section discs with fixed 4-piston calipers, “Record Monza” variable back-pressure “dual mode” exhaust, Magneti Marelli Automotive Lighting xenon headlights, “Abarth Corsa by Sabelt” seats in black leather upholstery with carbon fibre shell and seat base, black leather steering wheel with red leather inserts and a tricolour hub, Jaeger instrument panel, non-slip aluminium foot wells, Scorpion racing pedals, special kick plates and a plate bearing the vehicle series number. The Tributo Ferrari was unveiled at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show, with deliveries starting in 2010. Four colours were offered: A silvery Grey, Abu Dhabi Blue, Scuderia Red and finally Yellow, and they were released sequentially in that order. Of these the red and yellow cars were the most numerous, but the car remained rare as it was fearsomely expensive. Just how expensive depended on the dealer, as in a move that only the Italians could make, they were all first registered in Italy and so technically were used cars by the time these right hand drive machines arrived on UK soil, which mean that the dealers could charge what they wanted. Most aimed somewhere between £32 and £36,000, a lot for a car of this size. Nevertheless, they all sold, though many of the UK cars ended up on another boat, off to right hand drive Asian markets, which is why they are a rare sight these days. It was good to see not just a couple of the yellow cars but also one in Abu Dhabi Blue, and, a first for me, one of the silver grey cars.
At the 2012 Geneva Show, Abarth showed the 695C Edizione Maserati, a limited production version of the Abarth 500C convertible with the 1.4 Turbo T-Jet 16v engine rated at 180 hp, a 5-speed electrically operated manual Abarth Competizione gearbox with steering wheel controls, Maserati “Neptune” 17″ alloy wheels with performance tyres, Brembo 305 mm brake discs with fixed four-piston caliper and special shock absorbers, Record Modena variable back-pressure “dual mode” exhaust, Pontevecchio Bordeaux body colour, Xenon headlights with dipped and driving light functions, sand beige Poltrona Frau leather seats with containment strips featuring single-layer padding and the pista grey contrasting electro-welding, black leather steering wheel, aluminium pedal unit and sill plate, carbon fibre kick plate, boosted hi-fi audio system. Production was limited to 499 units, and around 20 of them came to the UK, and one of these, belonging to Neil Potter, made the journey over with us. There was another example here, too, also in the Pontevecchio Bordeaux colour.
Seen by most as the ultimate model, there was the 695 Biposto. First shown at the 2014 Geneva Show, this 2 seater (that’s what Biposto means in Italian) is nothing other than a road legal version of the 695 Assetto Corse Racing car, a vehicle which has its own race series in Europe. Although the car is road legal, it was envisaged that the majority of people who buy one of these cars will use it on the track and quite frequently. So it was conceived accordingly. That means upgrades to all the important bits – engine, brakes, suspension, gearbox – and some fairly drastic measures to save weight which resulted in a car which generates 190 bhp and 199 lb/ft or 250 Nm of torque with a kerb weight of just 997kg. That’s enough to give a 0 – 60 time that is under 6 seconds, and a top speed of 143 mph. Those are supercar figures produced by a city car. There’s more to it than that, though, as the changes that go to make a Biposto are extensive, and they have been well thought through, so this is a long-way from being a hastily conceived or tuned up special. Ignoring the limited edition cars which arrived during 2015, the “regular” Biposto is only offered in Matt Performance Grey paint, and the car is visually distinctive, with a new front bumper, rear diffuser, wider arches, new skirts and bigger roof spoiler. Although the engine is still the same 1.4 T-jet that features in the lesser 500 and 595 cars, it has been reworked here, with a new Garrett turbocharger, larger intercooler, altered fuel rail and an Akrapovic exhaust system. Buyers can choose between the standard five speed gearbox or an optional race-bred dog-ring unit mated to a mechanical limited slip diff. The standard car’s MacPherson strut and torsion beam suspension has been reworked, too, with altered springs, wider tracks adjustable ride height and dampers with more resilient bushings, using Extreme Shox technology shock absorbers. The brakes are upgraded in line with the extra power, featuring 305mm Brembo discs and four pot calipers up front and 240mm discs with single pot calipers at the rear. The wheels are lightened 18″ OZ and attached via a titanium hub, shod with bespoke 215/35 Goodyear tyres. In the interest of weight saving, a number of standard trim items are removed, including the regular door trims, air conditioning, the rear seats and some of the sound deadening material. Even the standard air vents have been changed so they are covered by a simple mesh. In their place is plenty of polished carbon fibre, a titanium strut brace, racing seats and harness, as well as special trim features such as new pedals, tread plates and a race inspired digital display on the dash where the radio usually sits. Although the Matt Performance Grey car is probably the one you think of when someone says “Biposto”, there were other versions, with a very rare red being a car that I did not spot here, and the Record Edition being one I did. There were just 133 of these made, all painted in Modena Yellow, at the time an exclusive Biposto colour. These cars had some of the civility restored with air conditioning and a radio included in the spec.
More recently, Abarth have produced the 695 Rivale, a celebration of Fiat’s partnership with Riva, which has already seen a special Riva version of the 500,. Described as being “the most sophisticated Abarth ever”, it is available either as a hatch or a cabriolet, with both of them featuring a two-tone Riva Sera Blue and Shark Grey paintwork. The Rivale is adorned with an aquamarine double stripe, satin chrome finish on the door handles and satin chrome moulding on the tailgate, various aesthetic elements inspired by the Riva 56 Rivale yachts and ‘695 Rivale’ logos, joined by Brembo Brakes, Koni suspension, and 17-inch Supersport alloy wheels. Enhancing the nautical theme the new 695 Rivale features either a carbon fibre or mahogany dashboard, black mats with blue inserts, blue leather seats and door panels, carbon fibre kick plates, special steering wheel wrapped in blue and black leather and with a mahogany badge, blue leather instrument panel cover, and mahogany gear lever knob and kick plate. These are joined by the standard Uconnect infotainment with a 7-inch display, which is compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and there is also a hand-written numbered plate that can be customised with the mane of the customer’s yacht on request. Powering the 695 Rivale is the same 1.4-litre turbocharged engine that makes 180PS (177hp) and 184lb/ft of torque, that features in the 595 Competizione, allowing it to go from rest to 100km/h (62mph) in 6.7 seconds and up to a top speed of 225km/h (140mph). This is a regular model in the range, but confusingly, there is also the Abarth 695 Rivale 175 Anniversary, created to celebrate 175 years of the Riva brand. Just 350 of these were produced, half of them the hatch and the other half cabriolets. These featured 17-inch alloy wheels with a special pattern, celebratory badge on the outside, hand-crafted details such as the two-tone colour – blue and black hand-stitched leather seats with a celebratory logo stitched onto the headrest, carbon dashboard silk screen printed with special logo, numbered plate. Standard Rivale cars arrived in the UK in April 2018, and quite a few have been sold. They always attract lots of interest when they do appear.
It is not just UK owners who like to modify their Abarths, and there were lots of examples of how people have personalised their cars, some more discretely than others. Whilst the novelty of the Bavarian plated car that sounded like a canon fire would wear off pretty quickly (and he kept firing it, in a slightly wearing way) some of the other liveries and other visual changes made for even more variety among the lines of differently coloured cars.
One of the modified cars that was attracting lots of attention was the “500 GTO” of Ben Au. When Ben moved back to the UK after a period spent in Hong Kong, he brought his car with him, and it has continued to evolve with a number of modifications since.
Perhaps the most extreme modifications apply to this car, the Giannini 350 GP Anniversario, which I had actually seen earlier in the year at the AutoRetroClassico in Torino. It is powered by a tuned turbocharged 1.7-litre turbo four pot from an Alfa Romeo 4C, now developing 350 bhp. It’s got carbon fibre widebody construction and sends power to the rear wheels, all contributing to what must be the most fun you can have in something so small. As you’d expect, the “350” in the GP Anniversario’s name indicates the horsepower figure, more than enough to propel the penny racer’s lightweight architecture. That’s 113 more horsepower than you get in the typical Alfa 4C, and 190 more than the standard Fiat 500 Abarth. The engine is mounted in the middle of the car with power going to a manual transmission, keeping the fun spirit alive through the car’s more-than-peppy powertrain. It’s not just uber powerful, either, as it has the suspension and chassis bits to back it up in the turns. Underneath the 350 GP Anniversario’s shell are gorgeous inboard-mounted Öhlins coilovers which provide the stability needed with that much twist and that short of a wheelbase. Six-piston Brembo calipers can be found up front, too, so you won’t have to worry about overpowering the car’s brakes. More impressive than all of these attributes, however, is the car’s price. Some may say it’s worth more than the sum of its parts, and Giannini would agree completely. The cost of this hillclimb-hornet is an eye-watering $180,000—or about the same price as a McLaren 570S. Giannini have said that they will build a maximum of 100 examples.
At UK events these days, the Punto-based Abarths are quite a rare sighting, and they tend to be outnumbered by the 124 Spider, perhaps not a surprise since this latter has now outsold the Punto by around a 2:1 ratio. But here there were lots of examples of the Abarth Punto, in all the versions which were offered during the model’s relatively short production life..
The Abarth Grande Punto debuted at the 2007 Frankfurt IAA Show, going on sale in the UK in late summer of 2008. Offering 155 bhp from its 1.4 litre T-Jet engine, coupled to a six speed gearbox, and riding on 45 profile 17″ alloys, the standard car got rave reviews from the journalists when they first tried it, and they were even more impressed by the changes wrought by the optional Esseesse kit. This increased power to 177 bhp, brought 18″ OZ lower profile wheels, whilst new springs lowered the ride height by 15-20mm, and high-performance front brake pads and cross-drilled front disc brakes helped the car to stop more quickly. The most distinctive feature of the car were the white alloy wheels, though, as owners found, keeping these clean is not a job for the uncommitted, and many have a second set of wheels that they use for grubbier conditions. Despite the positive press at launch, the car entered a very competitive sector of the market, and the combination of being relatively unknown, a limited number of dealers and the existence of established rivals from Renault and others meant that this always remained a left-field choice. The owners loved them, though, and they still do. The oldest cars have now had their 10th birthdays, and some have amassed relatively big mileages, but they are still a car for the cognoscenti.
The Punto Evo was launched at the 2010 Geneva Show, with the cars reaching UK buyers in the summer of that year, and it incorporated many of the changes which had been seen a few months earlier on the associated Fiat models, the visual alterations being the most obvious, with the car taking on the nose of the associated Fiat, but adapted to make it distinctively Abarth, new rear lights and new badging. There was more to it than this, though, as under the bonnet, the T-Jet unit was swapped for the 1.4 litre Multi-Air, coupled to a 6 speed gearbox, which meant that the car now had 165 bhp at its disposal. Eventually, Abarth offered an Esseesse kit for these cars, though these are exceedingly rare. Part of the Punto Evo family is the SuperSport, usually identified by the distinctive black bonnet, though not all cars feature it. Just 199 of the SuperSport versions were built, of which around 120 are registered on UK roads. These cars had many of the options from the Punto Evo included as standard. Power came from the the 1.4-litre MultiAir turbo engine, tuned to produce 178bhp and 199lb ft of torque, up from 165 of the standard Punto Evo, giving the SuperSport a 0-62 time of 7.5 seconds and a top speed of over 132mph. To help put the power down, the SuperSport was fitted with wider 18″ wheels and optional Koni FSD dampers. Standard equipment included the Blue&Me infotainment system with steering wheel controls, automatic climate control and a popular option was the ‘Abarth Corsa by Sabelt’ sports leather seats. The SuperSport was available in the same colours as the regular Punto Evo, which means white, grey, black and red.
The holy grail for Punto enthusiasts is the S2000 Rally car, and there was one here, or rather a nicely produced replica of one. First shown at the 2007 Geneva Show, the extraordinary Grande Punto Abarth S2000 was a racing car designed for racing stables, which the Fiat Racing Department entered in the 2007 Italian Rally Championship with Giandomenico Basso and his navigator Mitia Dotta. Davide Gatti, winner of the 2006 Fiat Abarth International Trophy, competed at the wheel of an official Fiat Grande Punto R3D with a diesel engine. On the international scene, the Grande Punto Abarth S2000 will compete in the IRC (Intercontinental Rally Challenge) with drivers Andrea Navarra, his navigator Guido D’Amore, and young Umberto Scandola and Anton Alen. The Abarth & C. Spa racing team would be managed by Claudio Berro. Powered by a 2000 cc aspirated engine that delivers 270 bhp, with 4-wheel drive, this Grande Punto Abarth S2000 was heir to the version that took the 2006 Italian Rally Championship title with Paolo Andreucci and Anna Andreussi, winning 7 of the 11 races on the programme. Nor must we forget the excellent season of their team-mates Andrea Navarra and Guido DâAmore who took third place. Giandomenico Basso and Mitia Dotta won the European title and the International Rally Challenge. Since its debut in 2006, the racing version proved unbeatable, whatever the type of route or terrain. As soon as the project was announced, the 15 cars that had been built to date were ordered by several racing stables in Europe and elsewhere, to compete in domestic and international rallies.
Completing the different models from the modern Abarth catalogue were a number of examples of the 124 Spider. Eagerly awaited, the 124 Spider went on sale in September 2016. A quick reminder as to what this car is: The Abarth 124 Spider was developed in parallel with the Fiat model. It does cost a lot more, and there are those who think you don’t get enough extra for your money, but those who have driven it will tell you otherwise. You certainly get more power. The 1.4 MultiAir turbo unit jumps up from 138bhp to 168bhp, while torque also increases by a modest 10Nm to 250Nm, which gives it a 0-62mph time of 6.8 seconds, which is half a second quicker than the 2.0-litre Mazda MX-5. The top speed is 143mph. It weighs just 1060kg meaning a power-to-weight ratio of 158bhp-per-tonne, and with the new Record Monza exhaust system it sounds great even at idle. The Abarth version gets a stiffer suspension setup than the regular Fiat 124 Spider, with Bilstein dampers and beefed-up anti-roll bars. Bigger Brembo brakes also feature, with aluminium calipers. It can be had with a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission with paddles, and the latter gets a Sport mode for quicker shifts. Many of the UK cars sport the ‘Heritage Look’ pack, which is a no-cost option. It brings a matt black bonnet and bootlid, plus red exterior trim detailing and has proved popular. The £29,565 starting price gets you standard equipment such as cruise control, climate control, Bluetooth, a DAB radio and satnav, plus Alcantara black and red (or pure black) seat trim. The automatic gearbox is a £2,035 extra, while an optional visibility pack brings LED DRLs, auto lights and wipers and rear parking sensors. As well as plenty of the standard car, there were a number of examples of the GT.
There were surprisingly few older cars with Abarth badging on them here, I did spot a couple of what in Britain is known as the Strada, but which to Europeans was the Ritmo in 130 TC Abarth guise. This was final major variant to be added to the Strada range when it appeared in 1984. It was based on the earlier 125 TC (which had not been sold in the UK) and was powered by a 1,995 cc engine with power output increased to 130 PS. This was achieved by replacing the single Weber carb used in the 125 TC with twin Solex/Weber carburettors on a side-draught manifold, and via improved cam profiles. The 130 TC had a top speed of 195 km/h (121 mph) and accelerated from 0 to100 km/h (62 mph) in 7.8 seconds. It was fitted with Recaro bucket seats in Britain and it remained the only 1980s European hot hatch to continue to use carburettors instead of fuel injection. Ignition timing was controlled electronically. Although appearing outwardly similar to the restyled 105 TC with its lower door and wheelarch trims, the 130 TC could be distinguished by its polished four-spoke alloy wheels (continued from the earlier 125 TC), aerodynamic perspex front door wind deflectors, and lower hatchback spoiler. The powerful twin-cam was mated to a close ratio five-speed ZF manual gearbox and had superior performance to its contemporary rivals, which included the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Ford Escort XR3i, Vauxhall Astra GTE and the MG Maestro. In its day, it was faster than all of them, but it found relatively few buyers.
There was also an Abarth Seicento here. Based on the regular Seicento Sporting model, Fiat offered an Abarth styling kit which consisted of a body kit with optional Abarth 14″ wheels. A close ratio gearbox, sill kick plates, embroidered headrests, leather gear lever and steering wheel, colour highlighted trim in the bumpers, side skirts and a spoiler were also available. Both the ‘Sporting’ and the Abarths were available with ABS, air conditioning and power steering, but due to cost, not very many owners took up the options. Not many were sold, so this was actually quite a rare car.
Also rare these days is the Stilo in any guise. Abarth badging featured on the top version of this model, too. The Abarth version was the top model in Fiat’s 2001 C-segment competitor to the Golf and Focus. It came only with the three door body – arguably the best looking of the three styles available – and the 2.4 litre 5 cylinder engine. The biggest problem was that at launch it also featured the Selespeed transmission, no manual being available. Fiat did eventually succumb to market pressure and offer one, but by then, the Stilo had largely been condemned as worthy but dull and buyers were looking elsewhere. These days, this is the version of the Stilo you are most likely to see, though.
There was lots to do beyond just looking at the cars. The football and volleyball tournaments did not seem to be a hit with the UK participants (no-one was interested in forming a UK team!), but those who had bought “driver” tickets and who had booked a slot could do a number of laps on the circuit that had been created, there were an array of new models available for short test drives, including the 70th Anniversary car, there was a skid pan and a lucky (or brave) few got passenger rides in the 124 rally car. And when hunger pangs struck, there was lots of choice for food of every type, and the gelateria proved extremely popular.
Towards the end of the afternoon, there were some awards to be handed out, and representatives from most Clubs were called on stage to receive them. The UK claimed the award for “Best Scorpionship country”, which meant that we had more members in Abarth’s Scorpionship program than any other. Perhaps that is not a surprise, as the UK is generally the market that buys the most Abarths in a given month, rivalled only by Italy.
The hours raced by, and soon it was time for the parade lap. I was unsure quite how this was going to work, as the idea of getting all the cars onto the track seemed like a recipe for chaos. But actually, everything was just fine. A surprising number of cars had departed during the afternoon, so there were rather fewer Abarths to accommodate than the full quote of 900+ cars, which helped. But the instructions were to line up and then inch forward until entering the track. This was the self same track that had been providing challenges and thrills to many an owner earlier in the day, and now I could experience it, albeit at lower speed, without the need for a helmet. As this had all been created in the grounds, with a mix of barriers and straw bales, I was not quite sure what to expect. It turned out that nearly 2km of motoring had been created, snaking around and back on itself. There were only a few straights and none of them were long enough to get that much speed before the circuit almost disappeared around another corner. Track parades are often slow and sedate, but not this one, with everyone driving with a fair amount of speed. It must have been quite a spectacle, though of course, I only saw it from the driver’s position.
Mindful of the queues to get in, we had made arrangements through the Abarth UK staff to leave cars on site and have a shuttle bus back to the hotels, though as the afternoon progressed more and more people opted out of this. They left earlier than me, as the bus was not scheduled until 8pm, so that gave chance to have a wander around again and see how the event would transition into evening party. The stage became the centre of attention, with a number of the local cars parked up around it, some with their lights on, and the music started. All trace of the English language was gone, this was very much an Italian event for the rest of the night, and a loud one at that.
Back at the hotel, it was time for dinner again. Yves and Emile had spotted a pizzeria around 200m away and we decided to try it out. When you walk into a place on a Saturday evening, and there is no-one there, it is usually a worrying sign, but our apprehensions were mis-placed, as it turned out to be an excellent find. The food was splendid and the service was prompt, even though they needed to bring food for 25 all at once. Having paid a very reasonable price we told them how much we had enjoyed our meal, at which point, Italian hospitality ensued as the Limoncello was produced “on the house” and it was nearly another hour before we left. Another less than early night!
DAY FOUR: ABARTH DAY and to STRASBOURG
Fears about queues to get back on site proved mis-placed and those who had taken their cars back to the hotel had no issue on returning to site. Unfortunately the bus transfer did not quite work out, as despite what we had agreed when booking it, the driver had given us a different and later time, which we all stuck to. No bus turned up, and in the end we had to resort to a taxi. Fortunately, he was able to get right into the middle of the event to drop us off, as otherwise there could have been a long walk. With a lot of cars having departed during Saturday afternoon, I did wonder whether the event would feel rather empty on the Sunday, but it really did not. There was still plenty to look at, with a number of the same cars parked in different sequences, as well as some which I am sure had not been there the day before.
The plan was that we would leave around lunchtime, as there was a long drive ahead of us, as far as Strasbourg, some 600 km, and the challenge of the traffic for the Gotthard Tunnel. I knew from experience that in the summer the queues can be long, with delays of an hour or so not uncommon, but was optimistic that as this was October, things would not be so challenging. How wrong could I be? Earlier traffic reports of a hold up on the A9 autostrada in Italy led to a route replanning by Abarth’s Darren James, and a group of us headed off the autostrada, and taking to a criss-cross of roads around Como and Chiasso and even around the western shores of Lake Lugano, before finally rejoining the Swiss autobahn and hitting the end of a queue a long way from the tunnel. The convoy was no longer in formation, with groups of cars in different places, all in the queue, as we all found out from WhatsApp messaging which everyone could read whilst they were going nowhere. Mild amusement came as we crawled along when we stopped adjacent to a Portaloo and a somewhat cross-legged driver of one car (name not published to protect him!) pulled to the hard shoulder and raced over to answer the call. If I had known how long we would be before reaching a service station, I would have done the same! It now started raining and the light was fading. So whilst one of the Abarth UK cars decided to go up over the pass, largely for the benefit of Peter Robinson who had flown out to Milan and was driving back, the rest of took to the tunnel. Eventually. We had already concluded that our arrival in Strasbourg was going to be so late that it made sense for people to stop at a service area and grab food. After more than a 2 hour delay to get to the tunnel, then 20 km of darkness and then the descent down the valley, it was around 6:30pm when I pulled into the Gotthard Nord service area, desperate for a toilet and also rather hungry. Some of the group had been there a bit earlier than me, and i suggested that they head off, we still had a long way to go, now in the dark and the rain. And Swiss rural motorways are surprisingly dark, so driving was no fun, especially as the rain and hence the spray got worse. Thanks to some unclear signage around some road works around Luzern, I lost the one Abarth – Paul Hatton – and ended up driving for the rest of the evening solo. There were no problems in finding the hotel, it was just a long wet journey to get there, arriving finally around 10pm. At this point the decision to go for a late channel crossing the following day seemed sensible as it mean a more leisurely start to our last day.
DAY FIVE: STRASBOURG to UK
Not everyone was booked on the same Shuttle crossing, so the group which had already lost the North West trio who had left Milan heading towards Monaco and further adventures said farewell to some others as we loaded up the cars following breakfast at the Holiday Inn on the outskirts of Strasbourg.
Having seen the traffic around the city on our outward journey, I was a little worried what we would experience this time, but it proved not to be an issue at all. This came after a first stop for fuel just a few hundred metres from the hotel, where yet more photos were taken.
One final stop remained in plan. The old Reims GP circuit is only a couple of km off the route we were taking, and it seemed like an opportunity not to miss, to go and have a look and take the photo which all who visit seem to do, of cars lined up against what remains of the old buildings on the start/finish straight. Those headed for an earlier crossing had already done this and were gone by the time the majority of us got there. We paused for just long enough to take some photos before heading off to a nearby village for lunch. This proved to be an excellent find, and we were able to enjoy a last and quality meal together.
With the Abarth UK team having caught us up, we decided to stop again by the Reims GP buildings for more photos and then Darren had the idea of doing a video of us making a racing start. It did not prove that easy as although this is only a D road, there was a surprising amount of traffic, The idea of running across the road was a non-starter, so we were all in our cars, waiting for his signal to go when he saw a gap in the traffic, It was nearly a five minute wait, but we could then pull out in sequence and tear up the road. Great fun!
From Reims, it was a simple matter of getting back to the Shuttle, We were booked on the 8:20pm crossing, but you can travel up to an hour plus or minus for free, and as we checked in, we were all (except Paul Hatton) offered a 7:20pm crossing, which was something of a bonus, as it meant we would gain a whole hour, and everyone had quite a journey back in the UK. Once again, although we lined up in convoy, we got quite separated in the carriages, but to amuse ourselves during the crossing, most people walked up and down, taking a final few photos and saying their last farewells. Back in a very wet England, it was late enough for the traffic to have cleared, so it took me little more than 3 hours to cover the 180 miles back home. Needless to say, I was tired!
Next morning, there was no WhatsApp wake up message, and no discussion about fuel stops but it was not long before the messages started to flow observing that these were missing from our lives. And then the uploads of photos and videos started. It was hard to concentrate on work with such memories being posted for the rest of the day. What a trip and what memories!
My Abarth is not my daily driver, it being used for fun trips and to events. On average, I cover about 4000 miles a year. The longest trip has rarely been more than a couple of hundred miles, and then there was this trip, where I covered half the annual mileage in just 5 days. I can honestly say that if anyone doubts whether an Abarth 595 is a suitable car for a long trip, then I can assure them that it is. Those Sabelt seats are supremely comfortable, and even the rather firm ride proved not be a challenge at all, Although my brain and my eyes were tired, especially when driving in the rain and the dark, I could happily have pushed the Abarth further.
And then there is the event itself, I can think of few other brands that would put on something like this for its owners. And certainly no other brand where when the Owners Club decide to drive from the UK, that brand team including the UK boss, decides to come along in support. The Abarth UK staff were fantastic, joining in the banter, going along with the plans, creating their own memorable moments and just being part of the fun. Some years ago an owner declared that buying his first Abarth was “life changing”, and he was not wrong. These are incredible little cars, exuding so much effervescent fun, but the ownership experience and the whole Abarth Community is on another level. It changed my life buying one in 2010 and it has been a pleasure and a privilege to help build a community second to none ever since then. Happy 70th Birthday to the the heritage and legacy of Carlo and the Scorpion brand!!