Fiat Abarth 500 Berlina Record: to relaunch the 500

Sunday, february 10, 2019

Today, one has a hard time imagining, how the Nuova 500 made the hearts of collectors’ quiver, but the beginnings of the little Fiat, wasn’t really easy. One need the wizard, Carlo Abarth to intervene and show the reliability of the model, with no less than 6 international records, beaten at Monza. Here is the story of the 500 Berlina Record, the first 500 prepared by Abarth.

On the 4th of July 1957, Fiat presented its little one, which was to replace the 500 Topolino, the Nuova 500, sure about easily conquering the Italian hearts but also the Europeans in general. However, against all expectations, success didn’t come along immediately. Despite an affordable price, its little two-cylinders of only 13 horsepower, its fabric roof (for the sake of saving steel, more than the pleasure of driving with the hair in the wind) and its Spartan interior, didn’t advocate the latter. Many clients preferred heading towards a 600, which was more reassuring and opulent.

A painstaking beginning for 500

Hardly three months after its launching, Fiat adjusted tactics with an economic version (identical to the first Nuova 500) and a normal version with an engine force which went up to 15 horsepower, better equipped and sheet metal roof. But one had to also show that such an engine could be long lasting, despite its small size. Those days and despite an attractive rate, buying a car meant a significant investment.

This is how Carlo Abarth stepped in. Supported by Fiat (500 economic version was withdrawn from the production assembly), he prepared the little car to suit his style, and created a prize pig: the engine cylinder was the same (478cc), Abarth re-worked the entire environment to double the power and achieve 26 hp. The car is lightened by its seats’ removal (except the one of the driver) and its bumpers.

The aim was to head towards Monza and establish a maximum of records. From the 13th until the 20th February 1958, 6 racers (including one French journalist) took turns to beat distance records over 4, 5, 6 and 7 days but also beat the one of time for 15 000 km and 10 000 miles. For each of these records, the car was driven between 107 and almost 109 km/h on an average (keeping in mind that the top speed of the 500 Berlina Record was only 118 km/h).

Carlo Abarth to the rescue

This series of records made an international impact, allowing the 500 to become the icon, that it is today. The history of this 500 is unusual compared to others, and this doesn’t just stop here. Preserved by Carlo Abarth, she joined the Fiat museum in 1971 after taking over the Abarth firm. The 500 economic was re-configured and exhibited to the public, as one of the first 500 produced.

However, in the archives, one has preserved quite a lot of memories of this auto. Early 2018, the teams of Fiat Heritage and Gianfranco Gentile, head of communication, decided to give back the very special 500, its original Abarth dressing and colors. The little Fiat was repainted, but its license plate hid its original hue and the Abarth lettering. This way, the restoration could begin, in order to be ready to celebrate the 70 years of Abarth, in 2019.

This little Fiat is exhibited at the Retromobile Fair, on the FCA group stand. It allowed the 500 to take off but it gave an idea of a range, namely 500 bearing the Abarth initials, the 595, 595 SS, 695 et 695 SS. Without the latter, the automobile world, might have been different.

Pictures : FCA Héritage

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