Abarths at Millets Farm – November 2021

One of the joys of having a still-growing number of Regional Groups in the Abarth community is that the teams that run them and who organiser their events have a far greater level of local knowledge than anyone who is covering the whole country. So it is no uncommon to see an event posting for somewhere which I’ve never heard of, but which on closer examinations turns out to be the perfect sort of place for cars and their enthusiastic owners to meet up. The event covered in this report is just one such example. Organised by the Abarth Berkshire group that formed earlier in 2021, they selected Millets Farm for an autumn gathering. I’d never heard of the place, though interestingly when I mentioned the destination on a team call at work, several of my work colleagues and a few had even been. It is located a few miles off the A420 road that goes from Swindon to Oxford, or just a few miles west of Abingdon, depending on how you are approaching it. When I turned up, I found the place is well-signed with those brown road signs used for tourist attractions, and that is because it is vast. There’s a huge car park which by late morning was full even on a rather grey October day, though luckily we had been allowed to use an area of the overflow car park, so we could keep the Abarths separate from everything else which was handy for photographic purposes. The core attractions at this time of year are a massive Farm Shop and a large restaurant which serves very tasty breakfasts, but there are plenty of other things to do with a maze among the summer highlights. I understand the site is always busy and in fact booking our parking area had not been easy with many weekends when the organisers had been told “no”. Finally there was a date when we could meet and I arrived at the appointed hour to find a few Abarths already parked up and it was not long before some more arrived. This was largely a day about a group of enthusiasts meeting up and taking photos. A lot of photos, so that is what this report unashamedly contains. You have been warned.

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The majority of the cars here were 500-based models, as you might expect. The first of these cars reached the UK in February 2009 following a global premier at the 2008 Geneva Show. Sales initially were around 100 a month and the car remained a rare sight for the first few years, and these days as those early cars pass their tenth birthday, there tend to be few of them at events, especially as the more recent cars have sold in far larger quantities. So perhaps it should not surprise me that my 2015-registered car was one of the oldest present. 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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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 five years and with Abarth sales on the rise, it was no surprise that they were particularly well represented here.

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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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Many Abarth owners spend a lot of time and money on modifying their cars. Some focus on looks, whilst others are interested in what they can do mechanically to add more power, or other mechanical modifications. There were a number of duly modified cars here, all of which attract lots of attention from everyone present. Whilst some of the changes are not entirely to my taste (I can be something of a purist at times!, there can be no doubting the care and attention (and in many cases money) that has gone into their creation). Three cars present here come in the highly modified category. Paul Hatton’s car has been a feature of the community for some years now, and has continued to evolve as he applies more changes to what he now calls the “Imposto”.

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There were a couple of more recent modified cars here, too, including Mark Rosales’ black Competizione.

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With two of the Berkshire Admin team owning a 124 Spider and them also linking to a Fiat/Abarth 124 Spider Group this model was better represented here than is sometimes the case. 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. Sales ceased during 2019, with around 1800 cars having been brought into the UK, so this is always going to be a rare car, and values are already increasing at a rate reflecting its desirability and the difficulty in finding one.

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Also here was Lee Smith’s Fiat 124 Spider. Announced at the 2015 LA Auto Show and going on sale in mid 2016, concurrently with the Abarth version and having the same short production life, the Fiat version has slightly less power than then Abarth, with 138 bhp from its 1.4 litre MultiAir engine, and is more focused as a comfortable tourer than a sports car. In May 2012, Mazda and Alfa Romeo — at the time a subsidiary of the Fiat Group, now Stellantis — announced a joint venture to manufacture a common rear wheel drive platform. The companies would “develop two differentiated, distinctly styled, iconic and brand specific, lightweight roadsters featuring rear wheel drive”, with the two variants offering proprietary engines unique to each brand. In December 2014, FCA’s Sergio Marchionne determined Alfa Romeos would be manufactured only in Italy, saying “some things belong to a place. Alfa belongs to Italy,” adding “I remain committed to that architecture, with our powertrain. I’m not sure it will be with Alfa. But it will be with one of our brands.” At the time, Alfa Romeos were manufactured only in Italy, while Fiats were manufactured in Italy, but also globally — from Tychy, Poland, to Toluca, Mexico. With their prior agreement in place — for FCA to market a roadster based on the MX-5 to be manufactured by Mazda at its Hiroshima factory — FCA conceived of marketing a Fiat badged variant in lieu of the Alfa Romeo variant. In August 2016, FCA formally announced the Fiat 124 Spider based on the Mazda ND platform. In December 2016, the Detroit News stated “in partnering with Mazda’s MX-5 Miata to resurrect the classic Fiat 124 Spider, Fiat Chrysler not only gained a halo sports car for its struggling Italian brand, but likely saved the most celebrated small sports car of the past 25 years (the MX-5)” — citing the markedly increased cost of developing a new car at the time and “the costliest wave of government regulation since the 1970s.” In January 2019, FCA announced that the Fiat 124 Spider was to be withdrawn from the market in the United Kingdom with immediate effect. The Abarth 124 Spider continued to be sold, but this too was withdrawn from the UK market in April 2019.

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After taking an initial set of photos, we all (with one notable exception) adjourned to the main buildings in quest of coffee and breakfast. They were very busy and there was quite a wait for our foot to arrive, but it was well worth it, with plates stacked with all the treats of a full English breakfast being a welcome sight indeed, and making it obvious why the location is so popular. Fortified by this, we returned to the cars to take more photos, and then started to move them around in various combinations to take yet more pictures. With around 15 cars still left, there were plenty of combinations of cars that we could think of and for the next couple of hours, there was lots of moving cars around, taking photos and then moving them again.

Groups of three cars worked well, as it is easy to get all three into one photo without the cars seeming small or crammed together. Various combinations of 124s was one obvious grouping.

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There were three 595 models here painted in Modena Yellow, so getting these together was another easy decision.

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After getting all three yellow cars together, various other models were swapped in as the third car.

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And then it was the turn of the red ones. There are actually three different shades of red here. Paul Hatton’s car is finished in Pasadoble Red, which was offered right from the outset. Mine is a tri-coat pearlescent called Cordolo Red. Both these colours were deleted when the Series 4 cars came out, replaced by Abarth Red, which is a rather brighter more scarlet-y colour.

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Spotting what was going on, an enthusiastic gent came over to talk to us, and told us that he had an Abarth but was here in his Alfa Romeo Stelvio. We invited him to bring the car over and that features on some of the pictures.

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As a finale, and with some of the cars having now departed, we tried arranging them in a long line, bumper to bumper, though getting a photo to show them all parked up this way proved quite hard.

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This was a very pleasant event. Relatively small by the standards of a lot of things that I go to, but very friendly and the fact that on a rather chilly day almost everyone hung around for quite so long moving cars around shows that it went down well with the other attendees, too. There are plans to return to Millets Farm in 2022, hopefully when it is a little warmer and as the Berkshire group grows, likely with rather more cars in attendance. I look forward to it.

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