This week’s Throwback Thursday feature is all about that little pocket rocket, the Abarth, that little car based on the Fiat 500 which is fun in buckets loads. But what of it’s origins, we ll let’s step back to the 1950’s when Fiat entrusted Abarth to show the public what a reliable and high-performance car the Nuova 500 was.
After its launch in 1957, sales of the Nuova 500 struggled to take off. Many potential buyers were put off by the scepticism of certain journalists, who believed that the engine on Fiat’s new hatchback was too small and unreliable.
Fiat addressed this issue with help from Abarth, which came up with a special modified version. A few targeted interventions by the Scorpion brand boosted performance by 30%, but the car’s reliability over long distances remained unproven.
Once again, Fiat and Abarth answered the sceptics with facts, organising a demonstration run on the Monza circuit to which the foreign press were invited, including a French journalist who sat in the cockpit together its own testers.
Six drivers set six records in seven days: an unrelenting marathon that proved what the Nuova 500 and its small engine were actually capable of.
In February 1958 on the Monza circuit, six drivers took turns behind the wheel of the Fiat Abarth 500 N: Mario Poltronieri, Mario Guarnieri, Bernard Cahier, Corrado Manfredini, Armando Giuberti and Remo Cattini. First up was French journalist Cahier, who drove for the first five hours. Also participating was Abarth test driver Mario Poltronieri, who a few years later would become a well-known sports journalist and motor racing commentator for RAI, Italy’s public national broadcaster.
Seven days on the banked curves of the high-speed ring, travelling 18,886.44 km at an average speed of 108.252 km/h: the small 500 car set its first international record in Class I (350 to 500 cc) and soon smashed five more, travelling 15,000 km in 139h 16’33” at an average speed of 107.699 km/h; 10,000 miles in 149h 09’29” at an average of 107,894 km/h; and setting records of four, five and six days’ non-stop driving.
These exciting results were reported all over Europe, and not just by the specialist press. It was good publicity that demonstrated, on the one hand, the reliability of the small Fiat and, on the other hand, Abarth’s ability to significantly improve a car’s performance without undermining its strength.