If you do decide to take my advice and plonk down $2000 for a ride on a creaky Alitalia 767-400 to Rome’s Autoricambi d’Epoca Giolitti, turn around and walk across Termini Station. There, on the opposite side, you’ll find a bookstore, nestled between two gleaming bank branches, that specializes in automotive literature. A bookseller that stocks nothing but car (and motorcycle) books? How deliciously absurd! But a major percentage of English-language books, many that have gone out of print, ranging from SR400 service manuals and Paul Newman biographies to a field spotter’s guide of Italian-built earthmoving equipment, George Barris retrospectives, and the unofficial fan guide to the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series will have you spoiled for the miserable half-rack “automotive” section at Borders, nestled between Teen Literature, Accounting, and special editions of The Secret. It’s an especially handy place if you need to tune your Laverda.
And it’s where I was able to pick up this lovely Fiat Abarth brochure, which can rightfully be considered a period piece.
“What is the Fiat 600 derivation Abarth 750?” Glad you asked, dear reader. If you wrote the right checks back in 1956, Abarth could transform your mundane (but still cool!) Fiat 600 by stuffing in there a 747cc engine, ready to take on the world and add to the 50 victories that similarly-engined Abarths racked up in merely one year. A whole host of engines were available, from mild-mannered Grand Touring engines to Mille Miglia engines with 9.8:1 compression ratios, to hillclimb and short-circuit specials with 47 horsepower that were wink-wink fast rather than overt spec-sheet braggadocio. Abarth even commissioned Pininfarina to rebody their 600 chassis for the sole purpose of setting land speed records—the result were 15 international records in Abarth’s name, achieved by a stunning flying-saucer-shaped vehicle light-years ahead of anything Fiat could hope for themselves. That, and the beautiful, race-winning 750 Zagato coupe meant that this brochure’s sales pitch must have had its job cut out.
If all that was too much for the sporting man of the 1950s, he could have all that Abarth goodness in his 600 Multipla, one of the more toaster-shaped cars in motordom, transformed into a slightly angrier toaster with the similar engine and tuning options as the regular 600.
And since this was from a far simpler age, when real men were expected to perform complex engine modifications with a band saw and a bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, the brochure also contains information on gear ratios, “thermostatic control of water temperature,” and how to bore out the engine yourself if you just can’t be bothered with “authorised workshops.” You can even install the asbestos-lined copper exhaust gasket yourself!
After a few years of dormancy, Abarth is back on their feet and ready to rock, as evidenced by the packages available for 3 of Fiat’s small cars: the Punto Abarth Evo, the Panda 100HP, and the eagerly-anticipated 500 Abarth, whose mere mention gets North American car enthusiasts in the sort of tizzy normally displayed by Justin Bieber fans. Today, Abarth’s shtick is that one giant wooden crate features all the parts needed to transform an already-cool 500 Abarth into an esseesse, which features similar go-fast goodies as in the 1950s, while conveniently avoiding all pesky World War II connotations by spelling it out instead:
This time around, however, don’t count on the brochure to teach you how to mill the intake ports.