The growth in the Abarth community has been well documented on here over the years, with a number of increasingly active Regional Groups emerging to provide a more local focus and a series of events that do not require travel across large parts of the country to attend. UK-wide coverage is still not quite complete, but during 2021 a number of the areas previously unserved, or where there was notionally a Group but it was dormant, have now been formed. One of these is known as B.A.D Abarth South Coast. This stands for Bournemouth and Dorset and has the name because there is already an Abarth Dorset Group but it is one of the inactive ones. This group, run by the enthusiastic Sammy-Jo Stanley and Luca Klimmt fills that part of the south coast west of the SSH (Surrey Sussex Hampshire) Group and east of SWAG (South West Abarth Group). Founded in May 2021, the Group has already reached a decent size and has put on several events, all of which have been well attended. I was keen to show my support, and to meet more of the members, so when I spotted a clear date in my diary, signed up to attend the event that was to be held in Sandbanks, with the aim of staying to watch the sunset, hoping to see the sun drop into the sea.
As is often the case with events, there is more to it than simply going to the venue. It was suggested that for those who were coming from the North, that we could assemble in Shaftesbury, and the convoy down to the main event. As this was absolutely on my route, it seemed like a good plan to say that I would join whoever was at the assembly point – a local hotel with a decent-sized car park. I duly arrived at bang on 1pm, and found precisely one Abarth there. Not that of Rob McCarthy who had arranged this meeting point, but the 595 of Mitch Witts. It was not long before we were joined by two further cars, but, surprisingly no sign of Rob. Wondering whether to wait for him, we then got the message to say he had been called in to work, so was sadly unable to join us.
Google Maps advised that it would take us nearly an hour to get to Sandbanks, so we set off. These were unfamiliar roads to me, and somehow, I ended up as leading the convoy of 4 cars. They were country roads with not too much traffic, so keeping the cars together was not as hard as it can be. It was only when we arrived in Sandbanks that it became apparent that the meeting point we had been given was a bit vague to put it mildly, as there is a long road along the shoreline, and as we drove along, we saw no Abarths at all, and no spaces, as the area was busy. Not quite sure what to do next, we pulled into a side road and found that there was indeed a message from Luca, advising of a rendez-vous point a mile or so inland, up in the hills overlooking the coast. So off we headed and sure enough, we found a long line of Abarths parked on the side of a tree-lined residential road. Sandbanks is one of the most expensive places in the country and a quick glance here showed that these were indeed not cheap properties – huge mansions with large front gardens and where there were cars parked outside, they were all very high end models. Duly arrived, this was a cue to take a closer look at the assembled cars.
All the 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 be 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, with a roll-back roof which provided the best of open-topped motoring and yet still with the rigidity of the regular body style. 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 over four years and with Abarth sales on the rise, it was no surprise that they were particularly well represented here.
Many owners choose to personalise their cars. Some concentrate on mechanical modifications, and others go for visual changes, and of course some cars exemplify both. There were three particularly distinctive cars here. Sam Tomlin’s much modified car shows just how good the Abarth 500 shape would be in orange. We keep suggesting to Abarth that they should offer an orange as a factory colour but to date, the thought has fallen on deaf ears.
Also here were Ben Buckland’s car with a homage to the Alitalia liveries of yesteryear and Cathan Evans’ car.
Whilst we were parked up, a couple more Abarths arrived. Among them was Bailey Abbott in his 695 Tributo Ferrari. This is his daily driver and he has had it for some time, and I have seen this rare car on several occasions, including when he was part of the photo-shoot for the Auto Italia magazine feature a couple of years ago. 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: grey, Abu Dhabi Blue, Scuderia Red and finally Yellow like Bailey’s car. Of these the red and yellow cars were more 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 ended up on another boat, off to right hand drive Asian markets, which is why they are a rare sight these days.
Whilst we were chatting, and taking pictures of the cars, and wondering how long it would be before one of the local residents asked what we were doing or told us to move on (which did not happen, fortunately), a recce was sent down back towards the beach to see if there might be space for us to park, and eventually Ben Buckland messaged the group to say that yes, indeed, there was now a completely clear line of spaces that we could use. Hastily, everyone ran to their cars and we set off in convoy. The area he had found was not actually on the shoreline but one of the roads leading away from it, up hill, but there was a long line. Not quite a long enough line, it turned out, as despite parking the cars nose to tail, there was not quite space to get everyone in, and a couple of cars ended up in a separate area a bit further up the hill. The end result was quite striking, though also quite hard to capture by photo, not least because there was quite of traffic going up and down the hill, but also because a long line nose-to-tail is, well, a long line! Having dealt with car parking charges, we all headed off down towards the beach area.
The clouds were still winning against the sun, and so others were heading off, meaning that the area that had been rammed with cars when we had first arrived in Sandbanks was emptying out. Gradually, every one of us returned to their car and went and moved it from the hill position to what became a growing but not quite contiguous line of Abarths on the shoreline.
It was whilst down here that some of the many exotic and expensive cars that live in the area, as well as plenty of classics became more obvious. Among them was a Porsche 959, but I was not quick enough to get a photo. Indeed the only car I did capture was this Rolls Royce.
As well as seeing lots of interesting machinery drive past, we also spotted another Abarth. A 124 Spider, no less, which was a car as yet unrepresented in our group of the day. It clearly saw us all, and turned round and parked up, but at a discrete distance from the rest of us. Wondering whether this was pure chance or whether the driver and passenger were part of this meet, the only solution was to wander up to their car and have a chat. It turned out they had only just got the car, and had seen the event advertised but did not know anyone. As they were local, they had been intrigued to come and have a look. It was of course good to meet yet more Abarth Owners and also to have a 124 in the event. 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.
Sunset was timed for not far short of 8pm, and it occurred to me that it was going to take me at least two hours to get home. With increasing amount of cloud forming, it was also clear that we were not actually going to see the sun sink into the sea but that it would simply vanish into the cloud, so I took the decision to leave (and many others had already done so) and make the slow if not that distant a trip home. It did indeed take 2 hours to cover just 80 miles, and it was definitely dark long before I got home. But it had been well worth the trip. Abarth Owners are a friendly as well as enthusiastic lot and this new B.A.D.Abarth South Coast Group epitomise that. I look forward to attending more of their events in the coming months.