Abarth without Mr. Abarth
When Fiat took over Abarth in 1971 its team faced a major change from Carlo Abarth management style. Abarth was subjected to strict corporate planning and had to fit into the Fiat sales strategy. Aurelio Lampredi, who became the manager of Abarth as FIAT sports division had what it takes to do the impossible: combine the Abarth corporate culture dominated by drive to win races with the budget-minded corporate culture of the FIAT corporation.
Instead of multiple projects every year Abarth concentrated on Fiat objective to boost its sales through building a successful rally Gr.4 car.
Between 1971 and 1983 Abarth produced aseveral Abarth rally versions of stock models including Abarth versions of Fiats 124, 125, 126, 126p, 128, 131, X-1/9 as well as Abarth versions of Pinifarina Coupe (known as Lancia SE 037) and Lancia Delta (known as SE 038). (Note: Lancia Stratos was never an Abarth poroject).
Lancia Delta SE 038
Lampredi concentrated on two car models: the 124 and 131. He trusted that the Fiat DOHC engine he designed had the performance potential for major professional tuning. The 124 Abarth rally (based on 1800cc DOHC) and 131 Abarth Rally (based on the 2000cc DOHC) were to become flagship rally cars of the Fiat auto conglomerate.
Abarth was very well known and respected since the 50's. It was a star of countless Italian and international races, but it was also known for small engine cars, that had little chance competing out of its cc classes. It was not until Fiat heavily invested its motor sports and turned it into a World Rally Champion that Fiat Abarths became mega stars of international motor sports. Fiat investment in motor sports at that time was as big as Ferrari spending on F-1. Some say it was many times as much.
Between 1973 and 1981 Fiat Abarths won a total of 21 WRC rallies. While Lancia Stratos made a contribution to this success the 131 Abarth rally was the clearly the most successful performance Fiat ever. Despite being up to 30 HP less powerful than its major opponent Ford Escort RS 2000 the 131 had its other advantages. 131 Abarth was comparably durable, but far more stable and predictable in handling. This allowed Fiat drivers to drive it on verge of losing control without actually losing control of the car. It was unbeatable on corners just flying through them as if they needed no traction. The 131 Abarth won for Fiat three Manufacturers' titles in 1977,1978 and 1980.
The was the most successful Abarth period since Carlo Abarth set up his "Squadra Carlo Abarth" in 1951.
By 1981 the 131 Abarth competitors were too strong to continue its world success. With introduction of 4x4 technology into rallying and introduction of Audi Quatro the 131 Abarth became technologically obsolete and needed a successor. It was replaced by Abarth designed Lancia 037 and Lancia Delta 038. But these cars despite very good design and solid construction were not able to compete with the same success as the 131 Abarth, especially without the level of financial investment Fiat made in 131 Abarth.
In the mid 90's Fiat abandoned sports as its strategic marketing tool. Abarth sports division aware of financial cuts offered a prototype of a new 131 Abarth Rally street version with a standard 2000cc and 8 valve engine. Fiat decided against the project.
In the 80's Abarth name was seen by Fiat only as a tool to stress performance of some models: (like Ritmo Abarth 130 TC). During the 1990's Fiat practically abandoned technical development by Abarth and dropped Abarth as Fiat top brand name. In early 2000's Abarth was just a trim (like on Stilo).
Between 1952 and 1998 ABARTH & Co produced total of Abarth 172 models. Most of the Abarth cars were Fiat engine and or Fiat chassis based. All Fiat models from had its role in Abarth - Fiat relationship. Fiats 500, 600, 750, 850, 1100, 1300, 1500, 1600, 2000, 2300, 2800 and 3200 had its Abarth versions or their engines were modified and used in Abarth cars.
In 1998 Abarth prepared a beautiful prototype of Stola Abarth Monotipo. Fiat did not offer financial support for this project.
In 2007 Fiat Automobiles Sp.A. re-launched the Abarth brand with Grande Punto Abarth and Grande Punto Abarth S2000 and Fiat 500 Abarth.
In 2016 Fiat reintroduced Abarth 124 Spider - a younger brother of the WRC champion.
The Abarth brand name was returned to its proper position in Fiat marketing. For many a Fiat without Abarth was just another unimaginative auto maker. Abarth brings back to Fiat the flair, imagination, temperament and sporty feeling many grew to associate with Fiat ever since Carl Abarth started modifying Fiats in mid 1950's. Many Fiat lovers missed this Abarth flair for almost three dacades when Abarth was not a part of Fiat strategy.
After decades of cars designed by bookkeepers Abarth and few other car makers return to designer cars proving that a car can be on object of pure artistic expression, imagination and temperament which bringing back the true sporty feeling to automotive industry.
Currently, for the first time in many decades, FIAT shows its commitment to over a century of car building tradition. The official website of the company, which for many years forgot about its rally tradition, now proudly presents the FIAT 124 and 131 Abarth Rally achievements in WRC.