Fiat 131 Abarth Rare Find – Drive Safe and Fast

Used Cars

Published on October 9th, 2013 | by Admin

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Fiat 131 Abarth Rare Find

This is the car that won the World Rally Championship 3 times in 4 years, 1977, 1978 and 1980. Fiat’s motorsport division, Abarth, was responsible for engineering this car. To homologate for the series, it needed to build 400 units of road going version. This resulted in the street car we are referring to right here. The 131 Sedan might not be a good starting point for a high performance car. Its boxy body was designed for practicality, its small-capacity pushrod engine emphasized fuel economy, its non-independent rear suspension and 4-speed gearbox excelled only in being basic and simple to use. But it was Fiat’s last and only rear-wheel-drive platform (if you exclude the outdated 124 Spider), and you know, RWD was a must for rallying before the age of 4WD. This was a good enough reason to select the 131 as Fiat’s next generation rally car. 


Of course, a lot of modifications would be necessary. This started from the chassis. The rigid rear axle was replaced by a fully independent suspension with MacPherson struts to improve road holding regardless of bumps and body roll. The engine was replaced by the Lampredi-designed twin-cam unit, now displaced 1995cc and for the first time incorporated a 16-valve cylinder head. This raised its output to 140 horsepower at 6400 rpm. At that time, not many cars in the world had access to 4-valve technology. At the time only the Triumph Dolomite Sprint, Chevrolet Cosworth Vega and Lotus Esprit had that feature. The gearbox was upgraded to 5-speed. Of course, all-wheel disc brakes were employed.

However, the most obvious changes to us was the bodywork with widened wheel arches, big air dam, rear roof and boot spoilers and extra intakes on the bonnet and the sides. The 131 Abarth looked every bit a rally machine. Bertone had successfully turned the dull-looking 131 into a pulse-raising design. To save weight, all body panels except the roof and doors were made of glass-fiber while the side and rear windows were plexiglass. Bertone was responsible for assembling the body panels to the half finished car and then transferred back to Abarth for final assembly.

On the road, the 131 Abarth street version was not as uncompromising as its look suggested. In fact, its 16V engine was tractable at low rev and linear in its delivery. The ride was surprisingly civilized. After all, it was a rally car. The unassisted steering was quick and communicative. The car felt nimble in the twisty. Unusually for a rear-drive machine of its time, lift off the throttle in mid-corner could trigger oversteering. That said, get used to its character and treat it with respect, it could be great fun to drive.

Now looking back, the 131 Abarth was nowhere as spectacular as the later Group B specials or today’s performance cars. The 980kg machine returned a power-to-weight ratio at 143hp per ton, less than a mass production Volkswagen Golf GTI today. It ran from rest to 60 mph in about 7.8 seconds. Top speed was only 118 mph which was mostly due to its boxy shape. Even the racing version with 230bhp will not be that quick today.


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One Response to Fiat 131 Abarth Rare Find

  1. Aleksandr Orlov says:

    A few minnor hints: the street version of the 131 Rally Abarth was nowhere as completely developed as Abarth had wished and in addition to that the bean counters forced some cost cutting measures that severely hampered its useability as a road car.
    The gearbox was the standard five speeder from the series production car (the standard 131 did feature a five speeder in its better equipped versions). in competition cars normally non synchromesh gearboxes are used, and at that time rally homologation rules required that in order to be able to use a non syncro box in competition, all 400 homologation cars were required to have a non syncro box as well. Fiat’s solution to that was to simply omit the synchromesh rings from the otherwise standard gearbox of the bread and butter 131, which made the gearbox extremely unpleasant to use to say the least. The syncro rings were supplied in a plastic bag in the boot, by the way, so the unhappy owner could retrofit them to his car if he wanted. If he did, he would have found out that the gearbox was not up to taking the power of the engine. This did not matter in competition, because for rally cars gearboxed either from Colotti or an Abarth design with CIMA internals were used.
    Further cost cutting saw the 131 Rally Abarth fitted with a brake system using the non ventilated front discs (227 millimetres in diameter) and calipers from the small 127 at all four corners. These of course were not able to properly decelerate the car under anything like fast driving. For competition use the front brake used the much larger ventilated rotors from the large Fiat 130 saloon and aluminium ATE calipers from the Porsche 911, the back used special Brembo discs and again ATE calipers.
    The installation of a single downdraught carburettor on the homologation cars did not release anything close to the engine’s true power potential, which because of the weak gearbox and the hopeless brakes was probably not such a bad idea anyway…

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