By Paul Ingrassia
NAPLES, Fl. — For a place devoted to absolute authenticity in classic cars, The Revs Institute has taken some liberties with its rare 1964 Abarth Simca, a super-light, ultra-quick GT.
The fuel tank, which sits directly behind the driver, recently was replaced with a modern one with a puncture-proof, kevlar-reinforced bladder. The original brakes were rebuilt to make them more reliable. The transmission was adjusted so the sixth gear will take longer to reach very high RPMs and put less stress on the engine. And a modern racing-use driver’s seat, which provides better protection in case of an accident, is being installed.
All these things, and more, were done to prepare the Abarth Simca to race on Aug. 19 in the Monterey Motorsports Reunion, sponsored by Rolex, on the Mazda Laguna Seca track. It will be the car’s first race in a decade. The “reunion” races among classic cars are a key part of Monterey Car Week, which culminates on Sunday, Aug. 20 with the Concours d’Elegance at Pebble Beach.
“We are very strict on authenticity and originality,” says Scott George, vice president of Revs. “But when it comes to racing cars at speed, safety comes first.”
Abarth and Simca are names not known to most Americans, including many automotive enthusiasts. An Austrian-born racer and engineer, Abarth moved to Italy and founded his company in 1949, using his astrological sign, the Scorpion, as its logo. He specialized in converting small production cars — mostly Fiats but occasionally others, such as Simcas — into track-worthy racers. In 1971 Abarth sold his company to his Turin neighbor, Fiat.
Simca, a French company, asked Carlo Abarth to build a small-displacement GT car for world championship races in the early 1960s. “The object was to create some performance pixie dust for the mundane Simca 1000 economy car,” explains Miles Collier, founder, and president of Revs.
The 1964 Abarth Simca 2 Mila Corsa 2000 GT — one of three Abarths in the museum’s collection — sports a 1946 cc in-line four-cylinder engine with double overhead camshafts. It generates 204 horsepower in a car that weighs just 1,400 pounds, enough to win second place in the 1964 Schauinsland Hill Climb in Germany.
The car’s design reflected Carlo Abarth’s almost religious conviction that maximizing the weight over the rear drive wheels made it faster by boosting traction and thus acceleration. So the rear-mounted engine sits behind the rear wheels. So does the “dry sump” oil tank, a high-performance system used on racing cars. What’s more, says Collier, “Under the rubric that if some is good, more is better, and too much is just enough, Abarth placed the main fuel tank inside the cabin (!) and behind the seats.” The Abarth Simca, in short, is butt-heavy.
For the Monterey Reunion, the Revs mechanics are replacing the original fuel tank with a modern “safety fuel cell” in which an aluminum box houses a urethane-kevlar bladder that won’t rupture or leak. The Revs workshop team found an off-the-shelf fuel cell that it could retrofit to the car.
Not so with the transmission, which required a custom solution from Crosthwaite & Gardiner of Buxted, England, a shop that specializes in components for historic racing cars. The new gearing will prevent the Abarth Simca from revving too high in its top gear, as it did the last time it raced.
As for the brakes, “they’re the biggest thing because they always get overheated,” says Mike Ellis, a member of the workshop team. The last time the Abarth Simca raced at Laguna Seca the rubber seals in the brake calipers melted. To make the brakes more effective this time, they’re getting a high-tech cryogenic treatment that makes them resistant to severe thermal stress. The workshop team also drilled holes in the brakes’ “rotor hats” to reduce their heat-absorbing surface area, just as Abarth did in the Sixties on several models of its racing cars fitted with the same Girling brakes.
Do these changes make this historic car somewhat less historic? Emphatically not, says Miles Collier. Transmission tweaks, brake-boosting efforts, and other enhancements were “normal procedure” to prepare cars for races back in their heyday, he notes. It’s a fair bet there were no cryogenic treatments back in the Sixties, but other methods — such as adding air scoops and ducts to cool the brakes while the car was running — certainly were employed.
“So in essence,” Collier says, “we’ll be racing a car with the same fundamental flaws it had back in the day: weak tranny and brakes.” He adds: “It is working with the lopsided performance envelope of each model car that makes this stuff fun. Totally fixing the Simca’s weaknesses would be losing sight of the point, which is the idiosyncratic nature of so many cars back in the day.”
And one more thing. Everything done to prepare the Abarth-Simca to run at Laguna Seca will be undone after the car is shipped back to the Revs museum in Naples in late August. As George puts it, “We make sure any changes we make are totally reversible so we can return the car to its authentic condition.”
This article is the second in a series about the Revs cars that will hit the road this year to appear in races, shows and exhibitions. The first article, which appeared last week, was David Burgess-Wise’s account of the Revs Delage’s appearance at the Vintage Revival Montlhery in France. Here’s a link. Click here to read the story or check out the cars page