1959 Abarth 750
In the 1950s, Fiat’s small, humble and rugged automobiles helped put Italy - and much of the rest of Europe - back on wheels. Fiats of the post war period were excellent basic transportation, and while the company had an illustrious record in motorsports prior to WWII, they were long done with factory supported racing. But in 1952, the Austrian-born Italian transplant Carlo (née Karl) Abarth came along to unlock the hidden potential within those tiny Fiats. A skilled engineer and former European championship-winning motorbike sidecar racer, Abarth offered tuning kits before moving on to modified production cars and eventually his own, bespoke racing machines. Carlo Abarth would work his magic on numerous cars throughout his career including Lancia, Simca and even Porsche, but it is the relationship with Fiat that cemented his firm’s reputation and brought them the overwhelming majority of their competition success.
1956 witnessed the introduction of the Fiat 600-based Abarth 750. Built to contest the highly competitive 750 cc classes at events like the Mille Miglia and Targa Florio, Abarth used the basic 600 chassis and suspension architecture, but essentially scrapped everything else in the name of lightness and power. Fiat’s four-cylinder water-cooled engine was punched out to 767 cc and upgraded with new intake, a reworked cylinder head, and free flowing exhaust. Oil capacity was increased via a larger sump which served to keep things cool and prevent starvation during hard cornering. Different coachbuilders were contracted to build bodies, but it is the work of Zagato that is most often associated with the classic Abarths of the 1950s and 1960s. Zagato’s rounded shape helped cheat the wind, and the roof featured a pair of humps to allow a bit of extra head room for helmeted drivers - earning the car the nickname “Double-Bubble”. The rear engine lid featured twin scoops that mimicked the roofline and fed additional cooling air to the engine at speed. Light weight and devastatingly effective, the Abarth 750 Zagato satisfied Carlo Abarth’s expectation for a smallbore G.T. car that could not only dominate its own class, but run at the sharp end of the field against cars twice its capacity.
This 1959 Fiat Abarth 750 Zagato is a proven and wonderfully-presented example of the desirable, pint-sized racer for the road. It is in excellent condition throughout, benefitting from sympathetic restoration work and expert care. This car, chassis number 558327, was built in road-going trim and is equipped with bumperettes front and rear, as well as a smattering of additional trim to thinly disguise its purposeful, race-bred roots. The Zagato-built coachwork is in excellent condition; the alloy panels being very straight and clean, and exhibiting very good fit. The bright red paintwork shows in fine order throughout, having mellowed slightly since its restoration. Other features include covered headlamps, correct wheels with chrome hubcaps, and badges that proudly proclaim Abarth’s past success in 750 Gran Turismo racing.
The signature Italian pushbutton handles open the featherweight door to reveal a surprisingly spacious interior that belies the tiny outside proportions. Taller drivers will appreciate Zagato’s signature roofline as well as the rear-engine layout that affords plenty of leg room. The seats are trimmed in biscuit tan leather with black piping, along with black carpeting and tan panels. The interior was refreshed in approximately 2004 and it remains in excellent condition today, the seats having just taken on a broken-in character that suits the car well. For road rally duty, a roll bar has been integrated behind the seats. The dash features a full complement of original Jaeger gauges and the wood-rimmed, period Nardi wheel has been refinished to a high standard.
While the interior certainly feels special on its own, the excitement really comes once the gutsy little four-cylinder engine is fired up. This car is powered by a later 903 c.c. 850-series engine, but it retains many important and correct Abarth components such as twin 34-mm exhausts and the high-capacity finned-alloy sump. Fiat were masters of efficient packaging, and while the tiny engine bay is tight, all major components are surprisingly easy to access for service and the engine on this example is very well presented with correct fittings and hardware. The lively little engine runs strong and this car has proven itself on events such as the challenging California Mille in 2010.
Paired with that wonderful engine is a sublime chassis with delicate steering, four wheel independent suspension and powerful drum brakes. Tipping the scales at just 1180 pounds, the Abarth 750 Zagato is a true featherweight. Small but mighty, the Double Bubble Abarth can easily hang with Porsche 356s and Alfa Romeos of twice its displacement – and there is no shortage of drivers who have experienced the surprise of being passed by one!
While there is no doubt that this Abarth 750 Zagato is a desirable collector piece, it is also one of the most charming and enthralling driver’s cars of the era. Sure to bring great pleasure to its next owner, this wonderfully presented example is eligible for numerous rallies, tours and track events worldwide.