Abarths in Wiltshire – August 2022

In recent years, as the number of Abarths on UK roads has increased, so a series of Regional Groups have been formed, some with stronger links to the main Abarth Owners Club than others. Most of the country is well covered, but even now with more than 20 such Groups in existence, there are some gaps and some parts of the country where the Regional Group covers a very large geography indeed. Slightly surprisingly, perhaps, the area close to where I live is one of these, with no Club officially covering Bristol and Wiltshire. There was an attempt to form something around five years ago, but it never really got any momentum but the enthusiastic owner who created it sold his car in favour of something else, and although he found someone to whom he could pass on what was still a Group in its infancy, a succession of people who took over prove equally short-lived. With no-one happy to spend the time it takes to run a Group, I suggested that it be included into the South West Abarth Group, SWAG, which covers the deep South West from Cornwall and Devon to Somerset, a massive territory. Not surprisingly, Wiltshire being at the extremity of this territory did not really get much focus. Looking east, the Berkshire Group seemed to be another way of covering the Wiltshire area, but when two keen Abarth Owners who live in Swindon, Courtney Giles-Buchanan and Larissa Desciscio decided that they had time to run their own Group rather than be part of the Berkshire team, so it looked like Wiltshire could finally get its own Club. A few discussions online helped them to understand what was entailed and so preparations were made to launch what would be called Abarth Club Wiltshire and Avon. A date for an inaugural meeting, to act as a formal launch, and the meeting place was agreed, as the Pewsham Inn, in the village of Pewsham, just outside Chippenham and right next door to an Abarth dealership that has supplied some of the members’ cars. Needless to say, I went along.

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The selected day was one of the glorious sunny days that has characterised the summer of 2022. Indeed, it was plain hot, but with cloudless skies, it was also going to be good for photos so we were hopeful of being able to combine some outdoor chat over food and drinks with the joy of our Abarths. I was the first to arrive, and had a few minutes to take some pictures of my own car whilst waiting for everyone else.
As is well documented here, this is one of the first of the 180 bhp Competizione cars, and is also referred to as a Series 3 model in the long running history of the 500/595 family of cars. 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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It was not long before everyone else appeared, almost in convoy mode. Oldest of the cars, though only an expert would know this, and certainly from the condition in which it is presented, as it still looks immaculate, is the Scorpion Black 500 of Charlotte Hathaway. The 500-based models 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.

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Most numerous among the other cars were what are known as Series 4 cars, with both Courtney Giles-Buchanan and Hope Moody’s car being of this type, as is the slightly later model owned by Rob McCarthy. The Series 4 version of the familiar 595 first reached the markets in the middle of 2016. After rumours had circulated all winter following the launch of the facelifted Fiat 500 in 2015, 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. Pleasingly for the photographer, the three cars here were all different colours.

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Larissa Descicsio has a 695 Rivale, which is affectionately known as Rita Abarth. The 695 Rivale is 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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And so with the cars parked up in a neat line, we headed for the shade for the pub garden to order food and drink. We’d been there for a quite a while when one of us looked over at the cars to see that there was another Abarth in the parking area, finished in Podium Blue. It was not part of our Group and we did wonder to whom it belonged. We then noticed that there was a couple wandering around cars having a good look, so I decided to go over and say “hello”. It turned out that the couple had owned their Abarth for several years and although they were big car and bike fans had not realised that there might be a couple for the car, so were quite excited to hear that there was, and that we were all local. The only slight challenge with encouraging them to sign up was that they said that they lived in a Facebook-free world. We did get their email address and promised we would try to remember to send the details of future events.

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There were plenty of other cars in the pub car park, of course. most of them of no particular note, but this Renault Twizy was worth a photo.

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With food consumed, discussion turned to where else we could go, and the Savernake Forest was suggested as a good photo location. We set off, though the combination of very bright sunshine and tress casting long shadows proved something of a challenge, even before we factored in the rather dusty track down which we headed. There was a certain amount of shuffling of cars around as we tried come up with some varied shots.

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Also nearby, is another spot well known by locals as a photographic backdrop. This is Cadley Garage. Having never been here before, I did not know much about it, but it certainly has potential, though it would be better in the morning as the photos we wanted to take were pointing into the sun by the time we were there in late afternoon.

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And so a most enjoyable few hours of Abarth-ness came to an end. Not every event needs to be a on a large scale to be enjoyable, as this one proved. An initial meeting place, with a table reservation at a Pub and a gathering of a few (Abarth) friends is all it took to get this one underway, and then the rest followed in a delightfully unplanned way. It was an auspicious start to Abarth Club Wiltshire and Avon and I look forward to many more fun days with this Group with the added benefit of not needing to travel so far to get there.

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