Abarth Festival – June 2021

As the number of Abarths on UK roads has continued to increase, then the demand for ever more events around the country shows no sign of slowing. Go back five or six years and a gathering of a hundred cars was a good turn out, but these days, with in excess of 15 Regional and Special Interest Groups all active with their own events program, then it is a fair bet to say that on any given weekend in the summer months, there will be several hundred Abarths gathered together at several locations around the country. So why not try to get them all together? That was the concept that led to the creation of Abarth Festival. There had been sizeable gatherings of the brand, with the three Abarth Days that Abarth UK held at Silverstone in 2016 and Rockingham in 2017 and 2018, and then there was The Big One, that very special weekend in Milan in October 2019 to mark the brand’s 70th anniversary. Still buzzing from the fun that came from that event and the trip associated with it, a number of the UK Groups came together to discuss ideas for doing our own event, and on a big scale. Clearly, lockdown restrictions precluded us from doing this in 2020, but we started planning something for 2021 in the hope that the restrictions would be lifted. Needless to say, there were lots of ideas put forward, and all of them good, but there came a point when the element of democracy needed to give way to some decisions on behalf of the group, which Bertie Bryant, Chair of Abarth Owners Club made on everyone’s behalf. We decided to take advantage of the partnership we had built with the ebullient Ciro Ciampi, owners of the Sharnbrook Hotel and founder of Petrolheadonism, as he had access to the perfect-sized venue in Finedon, which is between Bedford and Kettering, so slap bang in the middle of England. We set a date for the last Saturday in June 2021, optimistic that we would be able to go ahead. And every single Abarth Group backed the plan and committed to helping to make it a success, which was just what we wanted.

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We started to publicise the event in early 2021, when the country was still completely locked down, thinking we could give people something to look forward to, and when the government announced the various dates for the easing of restrictions, our chosen date of the end of June looked somewhat prescient, as this was a few days after what started to be called “Release Day”. Even so we had to plan the event such that everything could be cancelled with no financial penalty and the format we chose made this relatively easy. As well as ticket sales from Abarth owners and, of space permitted, those without an Abarth, we contacted a number of businesses linked to the brand and got several of the major ones to sign up for a trade stand. Initially ticket sales were limited to 300, as we wanted to be sure we could fit cars in and display them so it did not just look like the airport long term car park. Needless to say, we hit the 300 mark quite quickly. With events becoming possible from late Spring, Ciro was using the location for other shows and he verified that we could fit in more cars, so we were able to offer more tickets, eventually cutting the sale off at 500, We sold them all!

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The delay to the proposed final easing of restrictions was – luckily – not a show stopper, as the event was exclusively outdoors, and even with 500 display cars, a few spectators and our trade stands the total number of attendees was under the maximum permitted, so we were still able to go ahead. The start of June will be remembered for its cloudless skies and searing heat but when this abated, we did get a bit nervous about an all-outdoor event, but as the due date got nearer the forecast suggested that the worst we would have to contend with would be a little light drizzle and so it proved. It had rained a lot in the days before hand, but fortunately, drainage of the site is excellent and so the ground was firm on the day. We were ready – or so we hoped!

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THE EVENING BEFORE

Bertie and I had decided that, as we needed to be on site early on the day, we should stay at the Sharnbrook the evening before, and a number of other attendees decided to do the same. So when I arrived at around 8pm on the Friday evening, there were plenty of Abarths in the car park, many of them familiar to me. Mindful of the fact that I would be up early, I did resist the temptation of a late session in the bar, but there was time to enjoy a Ciro Special pizza and a couple of beers with a few friends before adjourning for some sleep.

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I was also able to catch up with Michael Ward, owner of and photographer for Auto Italia magazine, who had stopped by expressly to say “hello” to us, which was a really nice thought. I knew he was there as I arrived as I spotted his special car, the newly completed Fiat 124 Special T in the car park, following a lengthy rebuild. Indeed this was the first time I got to see it in the metal. At the November 1970 Turin Motor Show Fiat introduced a round of updates for the entire saloon and wagon 124 range, as well as a new model variant—the 124 Special T. All models had gained air outlets added to the C-pillar for better ventilation, and a split brake circuit; while some features previously exclusive to the 124 Special such as servo-assisted brakes, back-up light and an alternator were made standard across the range. Berlina and Familiare both had a new grille with alternated chrome and black horizontal bars, and larger bumper over-riders. Additionally the Berlina had large, nearly square tail lamps made up by two stacked rectangular elements. The renewed Special sported a completely redesigned front end. A black, square-mesh radiator grille was crossed by a horizontal bright bar joining the dual headlamps; each of the four round lamps was set in its own square, bright-edged housing. The grille-headlamps assembly was flanked by the turn indicators. Front and rear the bumpers had lost their over-riders, replaced by full-width rubber strips. At the rear the lamps were also new—still horizontal and rectangular in shape unlike the ones used on the standard saloon—and the whole tail panel was surrounded by a chromed profile. Inside there was a new dashboard with imitation wood inserts, carpets instead of rubber mats, and cloth upholstery. The “T” in 124 Special T stood for twin cam, hinting at the car’s 1,438 cc dual overhead camshaft engine, derived from the Sport Coupé and Spider but in a milder state of tune. Coded 124 AC.300, this engine had revised valve timing and fuel system and produced 80 DIN-rated PS at 5,800 rpm and 112 DIN-rated Nm (83 lb/ft) of torque at 4,000 rpm. According to the manufacturer top speed was 160 km/h (99 mph). Externally the Special T was identical to the Special, save for model badging at the rear. There are only a couple of 124 Special T left in the UK, and whilst this one is (quite intentionally) not original any more, it is really rather splendid.

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THE FESTIVAL

One of the things we had decided to do was to present every attendee with a “goodie bag” on arrival. The content of this largely provided by Abarth UK, who were keen to support the event not just in this way but also in person. Their contribution was shipped to Chateau Bertie and he and fiancee Shanon had spent several evenings putting stuff into 500 bags acquired for the purpose. I was spared this task, but I can tell you that 500 bags, even though quite small individually, take quite some transporting! We filled every Abarth that was at the Sharnbrook and heading up early, as well as Bertie’s Tiguan and also borrowed a Corsa Van from the hotel to get them all to the venue. Although these were hard work, they were particularly well received by attendees who had not been expecting them. It did mean that for most of the morning, whilst one of Ciro’s daughters was doing ticket checks, Bertie and I were handing out these bags to the attendees. It meant that between us we got to speak, albeit briefly, to every single attendee, so this was worth doing.

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The stage was already in position on site, but there was a bit of work early on to put up the signage and the banners, whilst Mario Cee, our DJ for the day got his sound system setup, and to ensure the trade stands were in position, right in the heart of the event and the food and drink stalls were in position ready for hungry and thirsty attendees. The traders were kept busy all day long and all the ones I spoke with after the event felt that they got a great return on the investment they made to attend, which was great to learn. Ben Au’s Tuning Art company were rushed off their feet and TMC Motorsport and Billy Mason’s Pista Performance were also busy with lots of interest in what they could offer to owners. Pandora Alarms created a lot of interest – not just because of the fact that sadly these cars are still somewhat attractive to the criminal fraternity, but also also because they came with an array of high end cars and some girls who seemed to attract the camera wherever they went!

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It was not long before the cars started to arrive. A few at a time initially, but it was not long before the convoys brought long lines of cars all at once. We had quite a long run-off area on site so we did not back up onto the main road very much or for very long, and everyone was very well behaved with no excessive noise or other things which could attract the attentions of those who love to complain. 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.

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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, with a roll-back roof which provided the best of open-topped motoring and yet still with the rigidity of the regular body style.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 over four years and with Abarth sales on the rise, it was no surprise that they were particularly well represented here.

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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, was here. There were also some grey-painted models, initially sold in Asia but several of which are now in the UK, and Sam Cottenden owns one of these, which she brought along.

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Peter Dyer brought his 50th Anniversary Edition car. This version was unveiled at the 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show, as a limited production car of which just 299 vehicles would be made commemorating the 50th anniversary of the original Fiat-Abarth 595. As that original car had been badged a Fiat, so was this one, which confused everyone who had been trying to explain how Abarth is a separate company. The UK cars listed at around £29,000 so not cheap, but for that money you got the 180 PS 1.4 T-Jet engine, Abarth Competizione gearbox, 17-inch alloy wheels with 695 Magnesio Grey design embellished and red liner, Brembo 305 mm floating brake discs, fixed four-piston caliper, special shock absorbers, ‘Record Monza’ variable back-pressure dual mode exhaust, matt three-layer white body colour, Xenon headlights with dipped and driving light functions, red leather sports seats with white inserts and red stitching, Abarth logo at black leather steering wheel with red inserts and finder and the kick plate.

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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.

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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 we had one example of, but which annoying my camera failed to record, and the Record Edition being the version that I did photograph. 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.

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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.

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A top of the range 595 Esseesse model was added in early 2019. These cars have only sold in quite small numbers, so you don’t see them that often, but there were some here, including Tristan Fudge’s example, which is black. This makes it unusual as the majority of these cars seem to be Campovolo Grey, and indeed there was a grey one here as well. The most obvious change externally is the adoption of the neat white painted 17inch multi-spoke alloy wheels that are an Esseesse trademark, while elsewhere it gets the same recently reprofiled bumpers as the standard 595. Inside, there’s a pair of bespoke figure-hugging Sabelt high-backed seats with a carbonfibre shell and some natty red stitching, while carbonfibre trim also covers the pedals and the dashboard. Under the bonnet is the familiar 178bhp turbocharged 1.4-litre engine, but here it breathes in through a BMC filter and exhales from a switchable carbonfibre-tipped Akrapovič twin exit exhaust. There’s no more power than the old Competizione, but the Esseesse gets that model’s Brembo callipers for its 305mm front discs, plus a limited-slip differential. The suspension is largely carried over, including Koni’s frequency selective dampers. All this comes at a price though, and so this has remained a relatively rare sighting compared to the Competizione which many still feel offers rather better value for money.

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The 695 Anniversario was launched at the brand’s 70th anniversary celebrations in Milan in October 2019, and deliveries of which started around the turn of the year. The Anniversario is in a choice of 5 colours: White, Black, Podium Blue, Grey and 1958 Green, and there were examples of some but not all of these here, including a couple of cars in the 1958 Green which was selected to evoke memories of the 1958 record-breaking 500, though I can advise that the two shades of green are quite different, the older car being much lighter. Online verdicts of the new car at launch were not entirely positive, with many challenging the appearance, others the spec and yet more the price (£29,995 in the UK), but in the metal, it looks far better than those first web pictures portrayed, and there is no doubt that the 1949 buyers of the car are getting something quite distinctive, with the Campovolo Grey accents around the wheelarches and lower body skirts. What they aren’t 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. Advantage was taken of the fact that there were examples of all 4 of the colours made available to the UK, by getting the cars all together for a special photo shoot.

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Abarth announced two limited edition models in the autumn of 2020 and one of these was here, the 595 Scorpioneoro. Another model which takes its inspiration from a history which few in the Uk will be familiar with, there will be just 2000 units of this distinctive model available globally. The 595 Scorpioneoro was born to continue the legacy of the famous A112 Abarth “Gold Ring” of 1979, better known as the A112 Abarth “Targa Oro”, of which only 150 models produced and, as with the new Abarth 595 Scorpioneoro, what made it so special were its stylistic details. These details included black livery, gold-coloured decorative line contouring the bodywork and the alloy wheels, also painted in the distinctive gold colour. This car is liveried in the same way, marked out by its black livery, decorative gold bodywork lining and gold-painted alloy wheels. It also boasts a matt black chessboard roof and grey finish on the door handles and mirror caps. And to mirror the ‘Gold Scorpion’ name, the car is adorned with gold scorpions on the bonnet and the wheel centres. Inside the cabin of this new exciting new model, you’ll be greeted with a black dashboard which is home to the new gold finished 500 logo. Leather detailing on the seats introduces the original “scorpionflage”. The seats are further embellished with dedicated stitching and personalised headrests with the word “Scorpioneoro”, the Italian flag and Abarth embroidered on them. An additional touch of exclusivity comes from the numbered, gold coloured plaque, available solely on this model. The Scorpioneoro also comes with Abarth’s top-of-the-range seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system, complete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as a Beats Audio sound system. Mechanically, there is nothing new, as the car has the 165 bhp version of the familiar T-Jet engine and the other features you get in the regular production Trofeo cars.

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Abarth announced some changes to the 2021 range, and examples of these were on show thanks to a 3-car display brought along by Abarth UK. Among the changes was the introduction of a new colour, called Rally Blue, and this was the first time I have seen one so painted. Higher spec models are now also offered with an alcantara dash, and this does look rather good – and finally banishes the 500 logo from the passenger side! As well as the 595 Competizione model in Rally Blue, there was also a Pista model here, a mid-range car.

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Of course, the rebirth of the modern Abarth started with the Punto, but with a relatively short production life and limited numbers produced the cars is quite a rare sighting in the UK. Around 750 of them came to the UK but some of these are no longer with us and it is believed that around 680 remain. So to get no fewer than 51 of them at this event, in other words 10% of the cars present was nothing short of incredible. Credit for that must go to Steve Miller, who chairs the Punto Collective, and he has done much over the years to retain a fantastic community of owners for this car. Many of them arrived together in one large convoy which made it easier to park them in one large group at one side of the event, which made for a particularly impressive sight.

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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 12th birthdays, and some have amassed relatively big mileages, but they are still a car for the cognoscenti.

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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.

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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. Production ceased in 2019 and around 1800 examples came to the UK, so this will always be a rare car. You might not have though so on the evidence of this event, though. As well as plenty of the standard car, there were a number of examples of the GT.

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A large number of Abarth owners modify their cars, in the quest of extracting more power or simply because they want to personalise them in some way. Over the years a vast amount of knowledge, expertise and experience has been amassed and there is a very active group called Modified Abarth which is the focal point for this topic. As well as supporting the event, a number of the well known modified cars were on display here.

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Most of the modified cars are 500-based, but there are some distinctive Punto and 124 models as well. Among these is Ben Waite’s striking bright blue Punto Evo, which even to my purist eyes, I think looks really good, with the Esseesse white wheels setting it off very nicely indeed.

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It would have been nice to get more “Classic” Abarths here, but the reality is there are only a few of them in the UK and most of them are happy on a race track than being driven a distance on the road, so we had to content ourself with just one example, a 595SS. 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.

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Following Fiat’s acquisition of the Abarth company in 1971, the brand disappeared, being confined to its role as the Groups motorsport arm. But it was no dead and the Abarth name was applied to a number of sporting versions of regular Fiat models. Sole example of this at this event was this Stilo Abarth. 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.

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To provide added interest to the day, we conceived a number of Prize Categories. Choosing must have been almost impossible, so we gave the job to the various event sponsors. Each winner was asked to drive their car up onto the stage and be presented with their trophy as well as a gift bag of other things ranging from posters to cleaning materials. All the winners seemed to surprised to have been selected, but all were delighted. Emily Abarth claimed the prize for best wheels and Georgina Taylor was taken aback to be called up for her very special looking car in its distinctive burnt orange colour.

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Overall winner, for Best in Show, went to Dan Dyer whose immaculately presented 500-based car has had time and money lavished on it on a scale that he has never been quite brave enough to declare back home!

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There was also a prize of £500 for the Regional Group with the largest number of attendees. None of the Groups knew in advance how they were doing relative to each other, but in fact that there had been a clear leader from early on, and they remained well clear of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th placed Clubs, who had 40, 39 and 38 cars respectively. Cue North West Abarth who amassed an incredible total of 64 cars – an impressive achievement especially considering the distance that many of them had to travel. The prize was handed over in the form of a massive cheque, and the entire group was called together for photos.

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After the prizes had been presented, a lot of people headed off back from whence they had come (long journeys for many of them), but the site remained open for a while and we made the stage available for anyone who wanted to drive their car onto it and to take photos, This was very popular and there was soon a very long queue of people wanting to do just that.

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There was plenty of other movement on site as people re-arranged cars to get some different shots. This trio of cars were selected because of their colour, to remind us of the Italian flag.

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AFTER THE EVENT

A number of attendees had booked into Ciro’s Sharnbrook Hotel for the Saturday evening, me included, and a good plan that turned out to be, as I was pretty tired at the end of the day having been on the go for 10 hours, without sitting down or even grabbing much more than a mid-afternoon burger! By the time I got back to the Sharnbrook, there were a number of Abarths in the car park, with their owners mostly sat either outside or in the bar with a welcome beer in hand. I was delighted to be able to join them!

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Leaving early the following morning, I was able to grab some more photos of the cars that had overnight-ed at the hotel.

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There were cars other than Abarth there, too, though the only one which my camera recorded was this rather nice Honda Integra.

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In the eleven years that I’ve owned an Abarth and been associated with the Owners Club community, I’ve been to a large number of events, at a wide variety of locations in the UK, as well as that amazing Milan trip, and I’ve met literally thousands of owners and brand enthusiasts, many of whom have become good friends. There are so many great memories and lots of highlights. No question, this event is right up there as among the very best things we’ve ever done. No-one, including Bertie and I, were quite sure what would transpire as we conceived and prepared this event, but it is fair to say that everything we hoped for, and more, is what we got on the day. As well as the spectacle of seeing 520 Abarths in one place, all day long we saw big smiles and groups of people happily chatting, swapping stories, sharing their experience of their cars and planning what they will do next. The atmosphere was just incredible and – much to our delight – there were no negative comments at all from anyone at the time or in the massive number of social media posts that followed. The proverbial spot, it was clear, had been well and truly hit, or in modern parlance “we smashed it”! Needless to say, interest from those in the community who did not come was massive and it is clear that there is demand not just to repeat the event in 2022 but to make it even bigger. The planning has already started.

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