Racing Fiat Of Old Won Championship Thrice


Today’s generation of enthusiasts may not be aware of it, but Fiat was once a world power in World Championship rallying. One of the company’s greatest creations was the diminutive 131 Abarth. It was based on the 131 sedan introduced in 1974. However, Abarth versions of competition Fiats were radically different and the 131 Abarth was no exception. Built as a homologation special, around 400 examples were built. From these 400, an initial 40 were selected to become works rally cars, with another 10 built up at a later date.

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As opposed to the live axle rear suspension of the 131 Mirafiori from which it was based, the works 131 Abarth featured an independent rear suspension damped by Macpherson struts front and rear. The engine was also radically different, being a DOHC 2-liter featuring Kugelfischer mechanical fuel injection, dry sump lubrication and electronic ignition. Output was 215 horsepower.

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The body was clad with lightweight body panels, but due to differing tarmac and gravel specs plus continued development, body weight varied from 980 kilos for tarmac to 1030 kg for gravel. Fully laden and with driver and navigator on board, weight distribution was 50/50. It’s worthy to note that a third Safari-specific body spec was also built. At the time the Safari was part of the rally calendar, all the major competitors had versions just for that rally. It was that kind of race.

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If we compare the power-to-weigh ratio using our favorite horsepower calculator, its modern-day equivalent would be that of a Lotus Elise R or a Lancer Evo 8. Not too shabby for the day then. In fact, it was a terrific combination that allowed it to win three World Rally Championships. Today, the newest Fiat to wear the Abarth name is the 500. It’s a far, far cry from the glory days when European makers pulled out all the stops for rally championship glory.

Inspiration for this post here.

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