I hope I look and run this good when I’m 70!
And it’s an anniversary that should be celebrated! Founded by Italo-Austrian Carlo Abarth (pronounced Ahhh-barth) in 1949, Abarth & C. S.P.A. is an Italian racing car and road-car maker whose iconic logo is a scorpion on a yellow and red shield. But it’s much more famous for the drive experience: This is a two-seat roadster with a reputation for hugging the road and powering through the curves.
To get to know the Abarth 124 Spider for its 70th, Fiat invited me to spend a day with it as well as with the 2019 Fiat 500 Abarth … on a racetrack.
It was an experience I won’t soon forget, if not for the sheer thrill of driving this car the way it was meant to be driven, then for the instruction from Skip Barber Racing School instructors. They taught us to drive this car and helped to boost my confidence on the race track.
Who knew such a small, lightweight car could go so fast or be so much fun to drive?
Celebrating the Legacy of the Abarth – 70 Years in Racing
It’s been 70 years since Carlo Abarth started the company. But in 2018 Fiat won the FIA, or Federation International l’Automobile, R-GT Cup, so they decided to celebrate by producing a limited edition Abarth 124 Rally Tribute Roadster. Of course, only 124 will be built. This limited edition pays homage to the racing cars of yesterday and today and sports the colors of 124 Racing in Costa Brava Red and Turini White versions.
Fiat brought one of the rally cars from their 2018 season to the Texas Motorsport Ranch and treated us to hot laps around the track with a professional driver.
And what a thrill! I felt like I was a part of the celebration of this great vehicle’s victory.
Performance is the Name of the Game for the 2019 Abarth 124 Spider
You might have heard the rumor that the Fiat 124 Spider shares some DNA with the Mazda MX-5 Miata.
Well, it’s true. They are both built in the same factory in Japan and under the skin of the car, they share many of the same components. But the similarities stop there: Fiat’s engine is built in Italy and shipped to the assembly plant, and Fiat has tuned the Spider to its own engine and suspension specifics so it is truly an Abarth. Here are the technical details:
- 170 horsepower
- Maximum torque: 250 lb-ft
- 6-speed manual transmission or automatic with 6-speed steering wheel paddle shifters
- Mechanical limited slip differential, which keeps the wheels from slipping and maintains optimal traction
- Maximum speed: 142 mph
- Fuel economy: Up to 26 city/35 highway
- MSRP starts at $29,290 and tops out at about $38,000
To really feel the mastery of the 124 Spider you’ll want to set the drive mode to Sport. That is when Fiat’s custom engine calibration, acceleration, steering, electronic controls, and transmission settings kick in. It completely changes the feel of the car, giving you more control for the speed and fun you’re about to experience. (When you’re driving to and from the track you might want to choose the default drive mode so you don’t get a ticket.)
Safety and Comfort – Craftsmanship at its Finest
The Abarth 124 Spider has some distinct design details that set it apart from the rest of the 124 fleet. This includes:
- 17″ alloy racing wheels
- Custom tuned Bilstein shock absorbers
- Anti-roll bar + steel safety frame
- Optional Brembo performance brake system
- Leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob
- Heated, leather-wrapped seats with microfiber inserts to minimize slipping
- The option of leather and Alcantara suede Recaro seats are optional
- Aluminum accent sport pedals
- Available manual soft top (but really, isn’t a convertible in this car a MUST???)
- Almost 5 cubic feet of cargo space – pretty good for a two-seat roadster
Technology That Keeps You Entertained When Driving Doesn’t
Remember that “getting to the track” part of the day? That’s when you might be sitting in traffic or just breezing along the highway at the speed limit. That’s when the car’s tech comes in handy:
- 7-inch touchscreen
- Bose 9-speaker audio system
- Bluetooth streaming audio
- Voice command
- GPS navigation
Really, this car lacks nothing when it comes to creature comforts and the technology we’ve come to expect from cars built in the 21st century. All of the important things like cruise control and radio controls are at your fingertips on the steering wheel.
All things the Abarth didn’t have when it made its debut 70 years ago. But certainly, the drive experience and the cabin experience add up to a 70th-anniversary edition that Carlo himself would be proud to call his own.
Disclosure: I was Fiat’s guest for the day at the Texas Motorsport Ranch in Cresson, TX, which included overnight accommodations and a classroom and track course by the Skip Barber Racing School. All opinions are my own.