“Over seven thousand victories!” crow devotees of the small cars bearing the scorpion logo of Carlo Abarth. The expatriate Austrian founded an Italian racing dynasty in the spirit of Modenese neighbor Ferrari, by using racing to prove and promote his products. Unlike his illustrious contemporary, who crafted fabulous thoroughbred automobiles, Abarth’s empire was based on selling speed equipment, conversion kits and complete “Abarthized” Fiat mini-cars to budget-minded performance fanatics.
In 22 years, Abarth created over 200 distinct models. This unparalleled proliferation of cars, predominantly based on Fiat products, reflected a glorious Italian defiance of rational manufacturing discipline. While Abarth’s output was largely “hot-rodded” sedans, only modestly different from their Fiat and Simca siblings, a few world-class racers were brilliantly confected from the same plebian mechanical components to such good effect that Abarth totally dominated international small displacement racing during the 1960s.
One such example, the Abarth Simca series was produced under contract with that French manufacturer to create a performance image. Abarth combined the Fiat-derived Simca 1000’s economy car chassis, suspension and transmission with sleek bodywork and all-Abarth engines to produce a potent GT competitor. First introduced in 1.3 liter form in 1962, the Simca promptly won that class of the World Manufacturers’ Championship. Alas, the two liter version, added in 1963, garnered only frustration as its 192 horsepower regularly destroyed the transmission. Nevertheless, when sprint speed mattered over endurance, the two liter could humble Porsche and Ferrari, as it did in winning the 1964 European Hill Climb Championship. With Chrysler’s acquisition of Simca in late 1964, Abarth’s contract ended, though he continued to build Simca-based racers for some years. In 1971, Abarth sold out to Fiat, who cancelled the racing program in favor of another new subsidiary, Ferrari.
Photos – Peter Harholdt
Most race cars were non-competitive after their first campaign — the 1927 Vauxhall was competitive for 23 years (1927–1950) and you can see it in person. Learn more