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Fiat 500 - but not as we know it

2012-01-13 09:04

QUICK LITTLE BRICK: Hot wheels and a turbocharged 14 engine… the Abarth name harks back through more than 60 years of tuning know-how.


Dynamite does indeed come in small packages. If you thought the Abarth version of Fiat’s diminutive 500, first seen in the 1950’s, consisted just a few body stripes, a yellow and red scorpion logo and a big, fat exhaust to justify the additional asking price then think again.

Check our 23-image gallery!

It’s far more than the sum of its parts, Abarth now has its own dedicated factory in Italy (though the Fiat 500 is built in Poland, incidentally) where three models are produced - the first of which to arrive in South Africa is the 500 range:  Abarth 500, Abarth 500C and the flagship and very exclusive 695 Tributo Ferrari version that sells for R550 000!


Coming back down to earth, pries for this trio of Abarths start at R230 000, rising to R255 000 for the 500C.

The creator of the marque back in the early 1950’s was Carlo Abarth, a useful but not too successful motorcycle racer who nevertheless went to extraordinary lengths to prepare his race bike. Exhaust systems were his special forte – he tuned them to the max.

Alas, this didn’t really pay the bills so he decided to use his expertise in the car world with, among others, race-car developer Cisitalia, Porsche and AutoBianchi taking advantage of his considerable know-how.

Fast forward to 1971 and Abarth’s company was absorbed into the Fiat Group as a by now standalone engine and chassis tuning specialist company much in the mould of Mercedes’ AMG or BMW’s ‘M’ motorsport division. Interestingly, the scorpion logo that has adorned all Abarth cars down the years simply denotes Abarth’s astrology birth sign - and it works well too!

Under the bonnet of the latest Abarth 500 range is a common-to-all-three 1.4, quad-valve, turbocharged T-Jet engine. True to the company’s pedigree, there’s an after-market, bolt-on package available called the “essesee” (pronounced SS) that offers customers 99kW, 118kW or 132kW levels of performance.

ONE ENGINE FITS ALL: Under the bonnet of the latest Abarth 500 range is a common-to-all 1.4, quad-valve, turbocharged T-Jet engine.

The hectic top speed potential is now about 220km/h but the fun really starts when you consider the 0-100  sprint time of 7.5 seconds though the halo model can even better the hallowed seven second mark!

Naturally, the brakes and suspension receive serious attention to cope with the above, such as a set of ventilated front discs (284mm x 22mm), perforated rear discs (240mm x 11mm) and high performance disc pads. Then factor in revised spring and shock-absorber settings (Koni) to compensate for the cars’ lower ride - all to be found in the ‘essesse’ box of tricks along with a set of customized alloy rims, of course!

As the scorpion badge suggests, the reward for ownership is a real “sting in the tail”. With more than 1000 standard Fiat 500 sales recorded in 2011 - mostly to the fairer sex, suggests CEO of Fiat Group Automobiles South Africa, Oscar Rivoli, that it’s time for the guys to finally have some fun.

He also added that Fiat is offering buyers a chance to use their Abarth for 20 000km (or 12 months) to decide if they’d like to have the optional performance kit retro-fitted.


On a short ride and drive from the Hyde Park dealership it was easy to see why the Abarth 500 could easily become very popular in SA. It’s compact, quick, beautifully built… and something completely different.

We headed to the Zwartkop racetrack to sample the flagship 695 Tributo - every inch the performer it claims to be. A track-day car of note! Yes, it does have a hefty price tag but only 25 of these derivatives are destined to reach our shores and most are spoken for already!

Right now there’s just the one Abarth showroom and that’s to be found in Johannesburg.  Others are planned for Cape Town and Durban sometime soon - watch this space!

Abarth 500 - R230 000
Essesee body kit - R37 000
Abarth 500C - R255 000
Essesee body kit - R37 000
Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari - R550 000

Standard specifications:
Engine: Four-cylinder 1368cc (turbo)
Max power: 99kW
Max torque: 206Nm
0-100km/h: 7,9 sec
Gearbox: Five-speed manual
Suspension: Front Macpherson struts, rear torsion beam
Brakes: Front 284mm disc, rear 240mm disc
Listed urban fuel consumption: 8,5 litres/100 km
CO2 Emissions: 155g/km
Wheels: 16” alloy, 195/R16



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