|The 1940 's
Three names of great repute marked the origin of the company that has a Scorpion as its emblem: Porsche, Cisitalia, Nuvolari. The importance of 1950 and the triumphs of the sixties. One hundred and thirteen international records and over seven thousand victories in the span of two decades. The Abarth-Fiat binomial.
April 15 1949 and July 31 1971 are the historical dates of Abarth & Co., a company engaging in the widest variety of activities: transformation and adaptation of standard vehicles, manufacture of sports and record-breaking cars, as well as mufflers and other mechanical parts. In July '71, the small Turin-based company founded by Carlo Abarth was taken over by Fiat, with which it had been working closely for over twenty years.
The background: at the end of W.W.II, Carlo Abarth had moved from Yugoslavia to Merano, the place of origin of his family, where he started working with Rodolfo Hruska. Ferry Porsche, son of Ferdinand (Ferdy) Porsche, the designer of the Volkswagen (just to mention one of the many significant "works" of the German technician), offered Carlo Abarth, a friend of the family, the agency for Italy of Porsche Konstruktionen of Stuttgart. This job enabled Abarth and Hruska to establish close links with Italy's most important car manufacturers. Abarth and Hruska were also asked to find an Italian manufacturer willing to produce a Formula 1 car (1500 with compressor) designed by Ferdinand Porsche. Like the one devised by Ferdy himself on behalf of Auto Union in 1933, the new single-seater had a rear mounted engine. Four-wheel drive was its most innovative feature.
Tazio Nuvolari, an old Italian friend of Abarth's, paved the way for the new venture by mentioning the project to Piero Dusio, a Turin manufacturer who was the founder and driving force of *Cisitalia, a company whose corporate goals included the construction of racing cars. The collaboration between Cisitalia and Porsche thus got under way. In addition to the new Formula 1 single-seater, they were planning to build a 2000 cc Grand Sport 5-6 seater, an 11 HP universal tractor, and a small turbine.
Soon afterwards, however, Piero Dusio met with serious difficulties and in 1949 moved to Argentina taking the Formula 1 car along with him. As a result, Cisitalia died and Abarth & C came into being. Carlo Abarth, in fact, had decided to start from scratch again, as he had done many times in the past, and take up the business on his own. His partner, and managing director of the newly formed company, was Armando Scagliarini, father of Guido, a highly esteemed Cisitalia driver. The emblem of the new factory, situated at 10 Via Trecate in Turin (1815 sq.m., 32 employees) was the scorpion, Carlo Abarth's zodiac sign.
Abarth & C. began racing using cars developed from Cisitalia 1100 roadsters while simultaneously starting to build original prototypes. The technological understanding and intuition of Carlo Abarth weren't the result of an engineering degree. Abarth is a typical example of a self-made man, a man whose practical experience was built on a gift for mechanical design. A cross-braced frame with large elliptical section tubes, elastic radiator mounting and easily dismantled forecarriage were just some of the salient characteristics of the first vehicles built by Abarth & C. that revealed the intuitive genius of their creator.
The Cisitalia 1100s, modified and prepared by the new Via Trecate workshop, won their first victory in 1949, taking first, second and third place at the Senigallia track in the hands of Taruffi, Macchieraldo and Scagliarini respectively. That year, the first in which Abarth worked under its own banner, ended with the company having notched up a full 18 victories.
It was Abarth himself who led the company into the manufacture of exhaust pipes, an area that was to become one of its main activities, aiming to create a business able to support the burden of the racing and development programme. Launching him on this path came the disastrous performance of his cars (Ic 201) at the 1949 Madrid G.P. Engines at that time were fuelled using alcohol mixtures and Abarth had proved himself to be very skilful in determining the best proportions, but the 204s were significantly slower than the Simcas and Oscas right from the first test lap onwards. The same thing happened in the race.
This totally unexpected setback was attributed to a possible deterioration in the fuel while it was being transported from Italy to Spain. The repercussions were immediate. Many customers who had booked 204s cancelled their contracts. The moment had come to create another source of income.
The first exhaust pipe built by Carlo Abarth dates back to 1928 when he was involved in motorcycle racing. The second was made in 1949. Designed for the most popular models of the period, including those of foreign manufacturers, Abarth's exhaust pipes met with a favourable reception, but just 50 were made in the first year (production began in December). They were soon joined by manifolds, valves and valve springs as well as gearboxes with the shift located under the steering wheel following the fashion launched by the Americans.
Testifying to the importance of exhaust pipes for Abarth, one need simply mention that up to 31 July 1971 three and a half million were built for 345 different types of cars.
204 A Berlinetta Corsa (1950)
The second year in the company's history, 1950, was a particularly important one. The Turin Motor Show that year saw the presentation of the 204 Berlinetta with a 4-cylinder 1090 cc overhead valve engine (based on a Fiat design) featuring overhead valves, magneto ignition and two carburettors with a special manifold. Abarth incorporated some of the most advanced Porsche ideas - such as torsion bar suspension - in this vehicle, which was capable of reaching 90 kilometres per hour. Tazio Nuvolari won his last victory at the Palermo-Monte Pellegrino hill climb with a 204 roadster in 1950.
The 204 opened the way for another important activity in Abarth's history: the refinement and conversion of mass-produced cars, but Carlo Abarth vigorously rejected the appellations "tweaker" and "speed wizard" with which the sports press had begun to acclaim him. He preferred his merits to be seen in an ability to obtain qualities and performance from engines that couldn't be achieved by mass production, often increasing their displacement. There was no magic and no miracles to it, only skilful work refining and tuning. In 1952, following on from the 205, the luxury version of the 204 (with bodywork by Vignale), Abarth created the two-seater 1500, basing its mechanical design on the Fiat 1400. The body, designed by Scaglione, was considered one of the first aerodynamic designs of the post-war years.
With its initial difficulties behind it, Abarth's activity was consolidated from 1955 onwards, diversifying into four separate lines: special versions of mass-produced models, record cars, sports cars designed and built entirely by the company and the manufacture of exhaust pipes.
205 A Berlinetta GT (1951)
Commissioning many different body designers (Pininfarina, Ghia, Zagato, Bertone, Boano, Allemano, Viotti and the designer Scaglione), Abarth built cars developed from Fiat vehicles on a small scale (sometimes just one single model). The exceptions were an Alfa Romeo coupé with the mechanical systems of the Super, a Porsche Carrera (1960) and subsequently, (between 1963 and '64), the Simca 1500 and 1300.
In 1955 Fiat began manufacturing the 600 and Abarth made it his centrepiece, developing the engine and taking its displacement to 747 cc. It became the fashion car of those who aspired to a vehicle with sports performance but at an accessible price, and there were thousands of them. This project led to the 850 TC through a special agreement with Fiat, who undertook to provide Abarth with vehicles that were no longer complete, supplying them without a number of parts (front brakes, crankshaft, carburettor, exhaust pipes), namely those that formed the basis of the "conversion". A subsequent development project resulted in the 1000. These two models obtained countless victories on race tracks around the world and won a number of European Challenges in the touring class. They were followed by the Fiat-Abarth 595 and 695 which successfully competed in many national and international competitions.
The 113 international and 5 world records won by Abarth represent a separate chapter. This specific activity (which began in 1956 with a car powered by a 750 cc engine developed from the 600) also finds the names of Fiat and Abarth inseparably linked. Indeed, only two records (the quarter mile and 500 m for class "E" up to 2000 cc) were obtained using entirely original cars. The excellent profiles of the bodies, built by Pininfarina on some occasions, by Bertone on others and in some cases directly, also played their part in enabling outstanding results to be achieved. One need simply mention the 24 hour record for class G (from 751 to 1100 cc) which was taken to 167.722 km/h from 136.460 and then to 186.687 km/h).