The original Fiat 131 Abarth debuted two years earlier as a family sedan, but the rally makeover is the version that permeated into the world’s consciousness. The race engine produced up to 237 bhp in 1980, and was driven in the 1978 FIA Cup by Markku Alen, as well as the 1980 World Championship by Walter Röhrl. Indeed, between 1976 and 1981, the 131 Rally Abarth won 20 WRC events, being driven by illustrious names from the circuit such as Sandro Munari, Timo Salonen, Attilio Bettega and Michèle Mouton.
Such is the legacy the car has, it has already featured in eSports titles, but even the very latest releases are set to have it as a playable vehicle. Dirt 5 is one of the launch titles for the brand new PlayStation 5 console, and the Abarth 131 Rally appears as part of the roster. It is not the only classic Italian car to feature on the game either: the Lancia 037 Evo 2 and the classic Lancia Stratos are both included.
Another Italian car to feature on Codemasters’ flagship title is the Fiat Abarth 124 Rally, whilst there will be more added after the launch. If the previous instalment of the series is anything to go by, then the downloadable content might see the Lancia Delta HF Integrale added, a four-wheel drive, 2.0-litre rally legend. The previous release also featured the Lancia Delta S4, Lancia Fulvia HF and the Lancia Delta S4 Rallycross (1987), which could all reappear in the coming months on the latest game. It is exciting for rally fans and those of Italian cars in particular.
It is also exciting for fans of racing games that the next generation of consoles will have such a standout launch title. Racing games have their roots way back in the days of coin-operated arcade machines, many years prior to real car models being recreated and brought back to life. One of the earliest gaming titles that made the jump across to home entertainment was Outrun, but many followed which used similar mechanics and themes. A feature on video games by Foxy Games discusses how if you owned an 8-bit machine such as a Commodore 64, or one of the first home consoles such as a Sega Mega Drive, you’re likely to recognise some of the early computer games which have gone to inspire not only the next generation of games such as Need For Speed but also other genres, like online slot titles such as Neon Rush Splitz. Even away from the racing genre, classic games such as Tomb Raider and Grand Theft Auto have spawned online slot equivalents, as well as home console imitations. The early days of video games might feel very limited and basic now, but those innovative and experimental titles form the basis of the huge video and online gaming industry we see today.
Whilst imagery and themes from car racing can transfer across to online games, mini-games within third-person shooters and a host of other types of media, there is no substitute for the gut-wrenching speed a good racing game can induce. Codemasters, the developers behind the hugely popular Colin McRae Rally series, have a great tradition of producing top-notch games that capture both the realism and fun of rally cross, amongst other racing genres.
That means that the future of the Fiat Abarth, a car long-since mothballed and consigned to collections across the world, will be in good hands as it once again tackles the courses and challenges the world of rally has to offer, even if it is virtual.