It was not long after the relaunch of the Abarth brand in the UK, back in the late Summer of 2008, that the first group of enthusiastic owners from across the country came together, under the aegis of the Abarthisti. This was the era of the Forum, as opposed to Facebook, and the first few months of what was effectively a new online Owners Club saw a gradual increase in participation as the number of cars sold by the initial set of dealers reached into the hundreds. I found the Abarthisti forum within days of buying my first Abarth, back in May 2010 and met some of the early members almost immediately. Some of the group had clearly met each other a few times already, with a particularly enthusiastic group based in Yorkshire, but in those early months, any events where Abarths were present were largely ones for all Italian cars rather than being anything specific for the Abarthisti. I took on the mantle off organising events as part of the responsibilities when I became a moderator for the group but even as the number of owners increased steadily – new car sales were running at about 100 a month at the time – because of the geographic dispersion of those who now had an Abarth, numbers of attendees at anything other than the Brooklands and Stanford Hall events were still relatively low. A transition of Abarthisti to ownership under the Auto Guide family did not help matters, as the new owners controlled everything other than Forum content. It was only with the creation at the start of 2015 of the Abarth Owners Club, that we finally had complete control of everything. By this time, the transition from Forum to Facebook was well underway, and the number of owners seemed to be growing almost exponentially. Those new owners were keen to get together, more locally and more frequently than some of the national events enabled, so it was no surprise when a number of Regional Groups started to form. In an ideal world, the country would have been divided up into Regions, so that no matter where anyone lived, there would be a Regional Group for them, with the Abarth Owners Club being the umbrella to co-ordinate nationally where that was necessary. Of course, it did no work out like that, with some Groups wanting more independence than that, and with lots of enthusiasts creating new Facebook Groups without even looking to see if there was already something in place. And so, as most more established marques have found, the UK finds itself blessed with a large number of different Groups for the Abarth Owner. Some are barely active, whereas others have a membership of several hundred and organise a busy program of events throughout the year. Some limit their membership to people who live in their catchment area, whereas others welcome anyone who wants to join in, regardless of their home address. Inevitably, many of their events clash, but as each Regional Group has a large enough membership base now, they can still be pretty sure of having a decent enough turnout for their event to be viable.During 2019 I managed to attend events organised by three of the Groups, and present now a few photos from each of these.
ABARTH SURREY SUSSEX HAMPSHIRE
AOC Surrey Sussex and Hampshire (SSH) has been around for a couple of years and is now run by a completely different team from the folk who created it back in 2017. John Wildey and his team have been working very hard to grow their membership from a relatively low base and announced a comprehensive program of events for 2019. One of the first was a meeting at Urnfield Sports Ground and Pavilion on the outskirts of Guildford, which took place in the middle of March. I was keen to attend this, not just to show my support to the group, but also because from what John told me, this looked like a venue with masses of space which could be just what we would want for a much larger and national event. The weather was typically sort of dry but grey late winter and it was not exactly warm, but I duly set off, hoping to get there mid morning.
Most of the cars here were 500-based. These ranged from Paul Hatton’s much-loved 500 Esseesse through more recent cars such as my 595 Competizione to some of the latest Series 4 cars including “Sprout”, the Adrenaline Green painted car which belongs to Rick Lythe and Rebecca Cracknell.
Also here was a 695 XSR Yamaha Edition. Created in recognition of the fact that for the third year running, Abarth will be Official Sponsor and Official Car Supplier of the Yamaha Factory Racing Team which is competing in the 2017 FIM MotoGP World Championship. In the wake of the Abarth 595 Yamaha Factory Racing and the 695 biposto Yamaha Factory Racing Edition, the 695 XSR Yamaha Limited Edition special series is available exclusively with a Pista Grey livery: only 695 sedans and 695 convertibles were made. This version was created to celebrate the Yamaha XSR900 Abarth, which is the first exclusive motorcycle to spring from the collaboration between the two brands and which sports the same grey livery with red trim as the 695 XSR, as well as sharing many of its features. The special series makes extensive use of carbon fibre to demonstrate its affinity with the front fairing, front mudguard and saddle cover of the two-wheel Yamaha. The Abarth 695 XSR and the Yamaha XSR900 Abarth also share Akrapovič ultralight exhaust developed in the racing world to boost the personality, sound and performance of both vehicles. On the Abarth car, the carbon fibre tailpipes enhance the looks and technology of the exhaust system. The XSR logo on the tailgate distinguishes the Abarth 695 XSR, while an aluminium badge identifies the sequential number of 695 units for each body type. Other carbon fibre details, in addition to the mirror caps and Akrapovič tailpipes, are available as optional equipment, such as dashboard fascia, pedal covers, gear knob and kick plate. A 1.4 T-Jet engine delivering 165 HP sits beneath the bonnet. Equipment on this special series includes Koni rear suspension and Eibach springs, 17” Supersport alloy rims with Matt Black finish, Satin Chrome accents on handles and badge supports, red details on bumpers and mirrors, red brake callipers and a braking system with perforated discs. This version can be customised even further using the tuning kit to increase the power to 180 HP, improve handling by fitting a Koni front suspension with FSD (Frequency Selective Damping) valve and make braking even prompter with 305x28mm perforated and self-ventilating Brembo floating front discs with high-performance Ferodo HP 1000/1 front brake pads. It also features the new UconnectTM 7″ HD LIVE system integrated with Apple CarPlay allows iPhone users to access contents such as Apple Maps, Messages, telephone calls, Apple Music, also with Siri voice assistance. The cars were sold during 2017 and proved popular.
There were also a couple of the latest 124 Spider cars. 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. Even a couple of years after the first cars reached the UK, this is a rare sighting, with only around 1500 of them on UK roads.
Something very different is this rather splendid Ford-based Rod which was parked in one of the lock-up garages at the site. The owner emerged, and got it out, so we could all have a look, before he headed off for a drive.
This was the smallest of these gatherings, but even so I enjoyed it. It was a chance to meet a number of owners who had until this day just been names on Facebook, to get to talk to them and also to see the venue for myself. Certainly there is a vast amount of space and it would easily accommodate hundreds of cars, with no real problem of annoying anyone who would be overlooked. Plans to hold a big summer event there came to nothing (and the weather was not kind so it is perhaps just as well we did not go ahead). It remains a possibility for 2020.
This was a mid-week evening meet, organised by the Abarth Hertfordshire Group. They were formed in 2018 under the leadership of Dan Deyong, someone I have known almost as long as I have owned an Abarth as be bought his first one about the same time as I acquired mine. He has built the Herts Group up from scratch very quickly and there is a sizeable core of enthusiastic members who attend not just their local Group meetings but are also great supporters of national events. Hertfordshire is a long way from home for me, but I was able to attend this one as my second event of the evening, as earlier on I had been at the Classics on the Common meet in Harpenden. That event used to last from early evening til dusk but has gradually shifted to earlier in the day, so when many of the cars started to leave around 6:30pm, I decided I could make the short journey to join the Herts Group for the rest of the evening. They were to be found at The Battle Axes pub in Borehamwood, popular not just for the quality of its food but also for its extensive garden space.
I had a good look at what was in the car park before making my entrance. As this was in late July, there was still some light when we emerged, having duly fed and enjoyed a good chat.
The majority of the Abarths here were 500 and 595 models, as you might expect. Prominent among them were several of the Modena Yellow cars, which among the group have become known as £the Bees”. Some look relatively standard, but others, such as Mark Johnson and Nico Vogli’s cars have been personalised quite extensively.
There was just one example of the 124 Spider here.
There was one example of the Punto here, a Punto Evo belonging to Steve Miller, who in fact is the leader of the Abarth Punto Collective group. 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. For those in the know – which never seemed to be that many people – this was a really capable and desirable car, and the owners love them, lamenting the fact that the model had quite a short production life and has not been replaced.
Final Abarth here was this, the first 595C Esseesse in the country, belonging to Daniel Graham. He had been at Harpenden earlier one, where I had seen his Porsche 55RS Replica and had clearly found the time to pop home and to swap cars over. The new 595 Esseesse was announced earlier in the year and sits at the top of the 595 range, above the Competizione, with some added items of equipment and a standard limited slip differential. an Akrapovic exhaust as well as standardising the 7″ screen for the Uconnect system with navigation. It can be spotted with the special 17″ white alloys.
I was in my Ghibli, and as I parked it among the Abarths, I was reminded just how large it is!
As well as the Abarths, also present in the evening was this splendid, and now very rare, Tipo Sedicivalvole. It is believed that there are only around 10 of these cars left on UK roads. The Tipo (Type 160 in development speak) was styled by the I.DE.A Institute design house, and produced between 1988 and 1995. The Tipo was initially available only as a five door hatchback. The car was made entirely out of galvanised body panels to avoid rust, and was built on a completely new Fiat platform, which was later used on Fiat, Alfa-Romeo, and Lancia models. It stood out because of its boxy styling that gave it innovative levels of packaging, rear passenger room being greater than that in a rear-wheel-drive Ford Sierra, but in a car that was of a similar size to the smaller Ford Escort. This type of design was comparable to the smaller Fiat Uno, which was launched five years earlier. For 1989, the Tipo won the European Car of the Year award. Unveiled in January 1988, the Tipo went on sale in Europe during June 1988, and on the right-hand drive UK market from 16 July 1988, initially base (i.e.), DGT, (early Italian market DGT models were badged as ‘digit’, presumably in recognition of the digital dash, but this was quickly changed to DGT after a dispute over ownership of the name, leading to confusion about whether the model was diesel-powered) S, SX and 16v trim levels were available. Power outputs ranged from 57 to 146 bhp, with a engines of 1.1, 1.4, 1.6, 1.7, 1.8, 1.8 16v, 2.0, and 2.0 16v litre petrol engines, as well as a 1.7 and 1.9 diesel, and 1.9 turbodiesel, though not all of these were available in all markets. The 1.1 base engine was widely regarded as underpowered for the car, which was otherwise roomy for five adults and with above average equipment. This version was never sold in the UK, which initially received only the 1.4 and 1.6 versions of the Tipo, with the 1.8 and 2.0 petrol engines and the diesel powered units not being imported until the early 1990s. The smaller Uno had been a huge success there during the 1980s (peaking at more than 40,000 sales in 1988) and it was widely expected by both Fiat and by the motoring press that the Tipo would prove similarly successful, not least as the car launched into a favourable market in the UK, where none of the “big three” (Ford, Vauxhall, and Austin Rover) had launched an all new car of this size for at least four years. However, these three marques all had new Tipo sized products within three years, and increased competition reduced the Tipo’s sales. Initially it won plaudits for its innovative and practical design, as well as its good handling. It was originally sold with only 1.4 and 1.6 petrol engines, although the 16 valve 1.8 and 2.0 engines with fuel injection became available in the early 1990s. The digital dashboard of higher end models proved to be controversial and unreliable. The addition of the more powerful models did little to help, even though these were pretty good. The top of the range was the 2.0 Sedicivalvole (16 valves), which took its engine from the Lancia Thema, and with a much smaller and lighter bodyshell to house it, this power unit brought superb performance and handling, and a top speed of around 130 mph (210 km/h), which made it faster than the Volkswagen Golf GTI of that era. Many thought it to be one of the best cars in its class at the time. The Tipo was facelifted in 1993 and a three door version was added, as well as minor exterior changes (the two evolutions of the car can be differentiated by their slightly different radiator grilles and headlamps) and improved specifications; safety features like stiffer bodyshells, driver’s airbag, and side impact bars were added to the range. This included the new S, SX, and SLX trim levels, as well as a new eight valve 2.0 GT model. The Tipo ceased production in the summer of 1995, and was replaced by the three door Fiat Bravo and five-door Fiat Brava.
Among the other cars in the car park was this Morgan Aero 8. Designed by Matthew Humphries, the Aero 8, launched in 2001, is notable for several reasons, primarily because it is the first new Morgan design since 1964’s +4+. It does not use anti-roll bars, an oddity in a modern sporting car. It is also the first Morgan vehicle with an aluminium chassis and frame as opposed to traditional Morgan vehicles (“trads”) that have an aluminium skinned wooden body tub on a steel chassis. The engine first powering the Aero 8 was a 4.4 litre BMW M62 V8 mated to a 6-speed Getrag transmission. In 2007, the Series 4 Aero 8 was released which had an upgraded 4.8 litre BMW N62 V8 with an optional ZF automatic transmission. All Aero 8s are assembled at Morgan’s Malvern Link factory, where they are able to produce up to 14 cars a week (Aeros and trads). It was criticised by many for its “cross-eyed” look which originally was justified by the manufacturers as conferring aerodynamic benefits. In response, Morgan changed the design for 2007 and later cars to a front end design based on the Morgan Aeromax, using Mini rather than VW New Beetle headlights. The car would go on to form the basis for another of other modern-looking Morgans such as the AeroMax. Production ceased in 2010.
This was a very nice meet. I knew just about everyone present, and their reaction when I walked in was particularly pleasing, as they clearly were not expecting to see me, but were delighted that I was there. The venue was lovely, and whilst not suitable for a really large gathering – there had been long delays with food orders earlier in the evening, I gather – but for a modest sized group, it is excellent.
ABARTH WEST MIDLANDS
There has been a monthly meeting in the West Midlands, organised by the ebullient Salv Trapani, for many years, and he keeps asking me – increasingly pleadingly – to come along. They are usually on the first Sunday of the month, and almost always there is a clash, but finally in December, my diary was clear and I took advantage of having been up in the Coventry area the day and night before, to head over. In the summer months, the group meet at the Curborough Circuit, but that is closed out of season so they relocate to the nearby Mabel’s Cafe. I was warned that this is a popular location, and so it proved to be. I arrived only a few minutes after about half of the rest of the group and found that the cars were being parked up in the last remaining area on site. The site has a number of craft shops on site, and is clearly very busy, certainly leading up to Christmas, though I did notice that no-one seemed to stay that long. It proved pretty much impossible to keep an entire row of spaces for Abarths, though later in the morning, we were able to move some of the cars up as non-Abarths departed
Although it had been pouring with rain in Coventry when I left, as I neared the venue, I left the wet and emerged into an area of strong winter sunshine. Whilst generally welcome, the challenge this presented the photographer, with very long shadows as you get at this time of year, was considerable. So the photos here are limited and not my best!
There was a good grouping of 500-based models here, ranging from early cars such as Salv’s pristine 500 which belies its age – nearly 10 years – by looking like it has just come out of the showroom.
There were also a number of 124 Spiders here, with a nice mix of different colours from the limited palette that was offered.
As with the Herts event, I was also at this one in the Ghibli rather than my Abarth.
This was the special Xmas meet, So once everyone had ordered their food and drinks – and I contented myself with cake, having already had a hotel breakfast, but others had what looked like a really great plateful of traditional English – then Salv handed out a Christmas gift to everyone, all allocated according to a sort of raffle system. This took a while, with over 20 gifts to be handed out, and opened and commented on. It was just as well we had a secluded area in one corner of the Cafe, which I noted was pretty busy all the time we were there.
Along with all the more recent cars in the parking area, I spotted this Mark 3 Ford Capri which had to be worth a look and a couple of photos. The Capri Mk III was referred to internally as “Project Carla”, and although little more than a substantial update of the Capri II, it was often referred to as the Mk III. The first cars were available in March 1978, but failed to halt a terminal decline in sales. The concept of a heavily facelifted Capri II was shown at the 1976 Geneva show: a Capri II with a front very similar to the Escort RS2000 (with four headlamps and black slatted grille), and with a rear spoiler, essentially previewed the model some time before launch. The new styling cues, most notably the black “Aeroflow” grille (first used on the Mk I Fiesta) and the “sawtooth” rear lamp lenses echoed the new design language being introduced at that time by Ford of Europe’s chief stylist Uwe Bahnsen across the entire range. Similar styling elements were subsequently introduced in the 1979 Cortina 80, 1980 Escort Mk III and the 1981 Granada Mk IIb. In addition, the Mk III featured improved aerodynamics, leading to improved performance and economy over the Mk II and the trademark quad headlamps were introduced. At launch the existing engine and transmission combinations of the Capri II were carried over, with the 3.0 S model regarded as the most desirable model although the softer, more luxurious Ghia derivative with automatic, rather than manual transmission, was the bigger seller of the two V6-engined models. Ford began to focus their attention on the UK Capri market as sales declined, realising the car had something of a cult following there. Unlike sales of the contemporary 4-door Cortina, Capri sales in Britain were to private buyers who would demand less discounts than fleet buyers allowing higher margins with the coupé. Ford tried to maintain interest in 1977 with Ford Rallye Sport, Series X, “X Pack” options from the performance oriented RS parts range. Although expensive and slow selling these proved that the press would enthusiastically cover more developed Capris with higher performance. In early 1982, the Essex 3.0 V6 which had been the range topper since September 1969 was dropped, while a new sporty version debuted at the Geneva Motor Show, called the 2.8 Injection. The new model was the first regular model since the RS2600 to use fuel injection. Power rose to a claimed 160 PS, even though tests showed the real figure was closer to 150 PS, giving a top speed of 210 km/h (130 mph), but the car still had a standard four-speed gearbox. The Capri 2.8 Injection breathed new life into the range and kept the car in production 2–3 years longer than Ford had planned. The four-speed gearbox was replaced with a five-speed unit early on – at the same time Ford swapped the dated looking chequered seats for more luxurious looking velour trim. A more substantial upgrade was introduced in 1984 with the Capri Injection Special. This development used half leather seating and included a limited slip differential. Externally the car could be easily distinguished by seven spoke RS wheels (without the customary “RS” logo since this was not an RS vehicle) and colour-coded grille and headlamp surrounds. At the same time the 2.0 Capri was rationalised to one model, the 2.0 S, which simultaneously adopted a mildly modified suspension from the Capri Injection. The 1.6 model was also reduced to a single model, the 1.6 LS. The car was finally deleted at the end of 1986, 1.9 million cars having been made over 18 years, and having been sold only in the UK for the final months of production.
Needless to say, I enjoyed this one as well. This group clearly all know each other very well, and whilst I did not know more than a handful of those attending, I was made to feel most welcome by all present and almost treated as the “guest of honour” by Salv. If the diary permits, I will certainly be trying to make more of their events during 2020.