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Fiat-Abarth 850 TC & Fiat-Abarth 1000 Berlina

Abarth conversions of the Fiat 600

From mufflers for the Fiat 600 to tuning kits, the House of the Scorpion went on to mass-produce cars based on the Fiat 600, a model that popularise the brand by writing chapters in the history of motor racing: the Fiat-Abarth 850 TC and the 1000 Berlina.

After successes with Cisitalia-Abarth cars, especially the memorable victory in the Palermo-Montepellegrino hill climb in 1950 with the ace Tazio Nuvolari at the wheel in the last race of his legendary career, Karl Abarth dedicated himself to the production of mechanical components for the development of production cars. The company that bears the emblem of the Scorpion, the eclectic Austrian having been born under the sign of the zodiac Scorpio, started to establish itself and became known for the production of mufflers for the Fiat 500 “Topolino” that offered a few more horsepower, giving an unmistakable sound to the small car from Turin. 

Mufflers to upgrade the Fiat 600
Abarth’s ambition was to become a true manufacturer of cars with a strong sporting as well as racing attitude but needed to fund his own company to realise the project. The opportunity came with the launch of the Fiat 600 in 1955, a car that offered decent opportunities for tuning. The company was presented to the public as “Abarth & C. Torino – Applicazioni speciali per auto” (‘Abarth & Co, Turin – Special applications for cars’). For the 600, he immediately produced three packs: Fiat 600, Tipo Sport and Tipo Competizione. Depending on level, these mufflers with dual exhaust terminals were equipped with special manifolds to improve engine performance.

From tuning kits to the first Fiat-Abarth 750 models
The name Abarth began to become synonymous with professional tuning. The result was the creation of a series of components: from ground crankshafts and more ‘supercharged’ camshafts to pistons that increased the compression ratio and oversized carburettors. A long list consisting of about 50 tuning accessories that were sold as the “Abarth tuning kit for the Fiat 600”. Once again, different packs were available according to the extent the customer wanted their car to be tuned up by a mechanic or tuner they trusted. The upshot was the first tune-ups that took the name of Fiat-Abarth 750, given the increased displacement.

The small car evolved with the launch of the Fiat 600 D, the displacement of which also rose. Over the years, the relationship with Abarth was strengthened; as well as selling kits, it finally managed to produce and market its own Fiat-Abarth: the Turin-based manufacturer supplied the 600s with certain components missing, then Abarth completed them with his tune-ups.

1961: the first Fiat-Abarth 850 TC 
As a result, the Fiat-Abarth 850 TC was created, in February 1961. Again, the name was based on the increased displacement (from 767 to 847 cc), with the acronym “TC” summing up the car's vocation: Turismo Competizione (‘Competition Touring’). The aesthetic differences from the Fiat were minimal: in the middle of the grille, instead of the round “600” emblem, there was a larger shield featuring the Abarth logo. Conversely, the mechanical changes were notable and began with the components of the tuning kits: as well as the increase in displacement, the compression ratio also rose to 9.2:1; the new camshaft that controlled the valves increased performance and maximum speed; the Solex 32PBC carburettor and a different air filter improved the power supply; an eye-catching oversized sump and a later oil cooler ensured proper lubrication. The Abarth 850 thus delivered 52 hp at 5,800 rpm (compared to the 600 D’s 29 hp at 4,800 rpm) and its different rear axle ratio took the car to a top speed of 140 km/h, as much as 30 km/h faster than the Fiat. Girling disc brakes were fitted to the front, with drum brakes initially installed in the rear.

It received type approval to race in the Group 1 Touring Car class on 18 July 1961. The distinct sporting ambitions for use on the track and in uphill races were immediately noticeable in the six different rear axle ratios appearing in the tech specs: 8/43, 8/41, 8/39, 9/41, 9/39 and 10/39, very useful to adapting the car to different tracks but rarely seen in the specifications of “production-derived” cars. Between 1962 and 1963, a wide range of changes were made, including the adoption of a rear “bonnet lifter” structure; several five-speed gearboxes; a new Solex 34PBIC carburettor; disc brakes, including in the rear; stabiliser bars; 12" wheels with larger channels to fit wider tyres.

1962: The 850 TC is joined by the Fiat-Abarth 1000 Berlina
In July 1962, the new Fiat-Abarth 1000 Berlina made its debut. The engine block of the 600 D, already souped up to 850, allowed no further increases in the bore (piston diameter) to increase the displacement. To do so, Abarth asked Fiat if he could reuse the crankcase moulds from the first 600, which by that point was no longer in production, but curiously enabled an increase in bore from 60 to 65 mm. With a new crankshaft, the stroke could rise to 74 mm, taking the four-cylinder to 982 cc. These crankcases were recognisable for their “pastiglione”, a protuberance that was used in the first 600 to attach the oil filter and was then seen in subsequent engines, although the original mould continued to be used for the new unit that initially delivered 60 hp at 6,200 rpm. 

The external appearance, excluding the lettering, remained the same as the 850 TC, from which it inherited most of the changes compared to its 'donor’, the 600 D. Other points in common included the most popular optional extras for racing: a modified dashboard with three circular instruments and the large Jaeger tachometer in the middle; three-spoke aluminium sports steering wheel with black rim; Amadori & Campagnolo light alloy wheels.

The two siblings were both available at list prices, although higher costs to buy and run it made the 850 TC more appealing than the 1000 Berlina for the few who used them as an everyday car. It was a different story for most customers, who bought them to be raced. Especially in the early years, they were chosen by different people: the 850 TC by “track drivers”, whereas the 1000 Berlina was preferred for use in rallies. In both fields, they outperformed the competition.

The Fiat-Abarth 1000 Berlina was type-approved for Group 1 on 30 January 1963. Apart from the engine, the specifications were inherited from the 850 TC, but the evolution required even more attention on the constant increase in power. Two details more than any others: the drive shafts were equipped with universal joints, a more robust and reliable solution, but also the oil cooler, initially fitted under the body, reached the grille and was enlarged to improve lubricant cooling. Over the years, the water and oil radiators became specific to the nose of both cars, added as part of an aerodynamic metallic-coloured structure that only vaguely resembled a conventional bumper.

In 1963, both were offered in the “Corsa” version: disc brakes in the rear as well as the front and, for the 1000 Berlina, differing compression ratios. Some of the latter were so high that they could not even be registered to be driven on the road and could only compete on the track and in hill climbs. For this speciality, requiring less effort over time, the compression ratio increased to up to 12.8:1, compared to 9.6:1, the ‘standard’ value that was also used in rally cars.

In 1966, Abarth bolstered its presence in competitions by taking to the track with the renewed official team, specially sporting a new livery: black and white chequered roof, red side strips and the entire body in a new grey-blue. The colours differed from the Fiat palette and therefore only seemed to be a well-chosen distinction, but as always at Abarth, the decision was made for purely practical and functional reasons. To properly reinforce the bodies of the cars to be added to the roster, Abarth did not ask Fiat for the usual semi-fitted 600 D but only for the bare bodies, which were duly reinforced with extensive use of welded "handkerchiefs". For the paintwork, a special enamel for machine tools was chosen; purchased in large quantities, it was the cheapest solution and simultaneously more resistant than conventional car paints.

During the season, new technical solutions were tested on the official cars, including the suspension as well as the constant improvement in engine performance. One year later, the most significant changes were made available to customers, to whom they were offered as a reward or with special discounts, which also depended on the results obtained. On 1 July 1967, after producing the thousandth unit, both Abarths were type approved in Group 2 Special Touring, meaning further modifications could then be made from the original cars. The Abarth 1000 Berlina Corsa Gruppo 2/67 with new Weber carburettor and various improvements managed to reach 85 hp at 7,600 rpm. As well as the stabiliser bars, the efficiency of the transmission was also raised by adopting a self-locking differential. Its top speed was 188 km/h.

The most powerful model: Fiat-Abarth 1000 Berlina TCR
The greatest transformation based on the Fiat 600 came with the adoption of the radial head, using the new Abarth engine created in 1965 for the 1000 OTR, a racing car derived from the Fiat 850 coupé. It was fitted with a special cylinder head with hemispherical combustion chambers that housed the two valves, improving combustion and exhaust. Two double-barrel carburettors were connected to the four intake manifolds. The geometry of the rear axle was completely redesigned, with the longitudinal engine positioned lower to accommodate the original “cow's tail” exhaust: with the bonnet kept open by the then-conventional frame, the 4-in-1 manifold was connected to the silencer-free exhaust, which protruded directly from the large opening. The fenders were widened to accommodate even broader wheels. Tests in competitions began in 1968 with special cars type-approved for Group 5, although the official presentation took place in 1970: 118 hp at 9,200 rpm, with a top speed of almost 200 km/h. This more powerful version was known as the Fiat-Abarth 1000 Saloon TCR, standing for “Turismo Competizione Radiale” (‘Radial Competition Touring’).

Sporting successes
The cars raked in so many racing victories that it took an entire book to cover them all. We limit ourselves to the early harbingers of success, such as when Domenico Ogna’s Fiat-Abarth 750 took part in the 1956 Mille Miglia, winning the GT750 class. Of the numerous wins on the track, we have selected the memorable 500 km in 1961, raced in Germany on the deadly Nordschleife at the Nürburgringcircuit. A 1-2 overall victory was secured by the Abarth 1000 Bialbero (‘twin-cam’) coupés entered in the GT1000 class, which were followed by two more Fiat-Abarth 1000s in 5th and 6th place, while a rare Abarth 700 Bialbero coupé won the GT700 class, finishing 8th overall. The icing on the cake: three Fiat-Abarth 850 TCs came 12th, 13th and 14th, taking all three podium placings in the Touring class. After that class victory, certain Fiat-Abarth 850 TC models came to be named after Nürburgring.

Their dominance in endurance races, as well as in rallies, showed how Abarth could transform placid Fiat 600 family cars into fast and robust racers. The economic starting point and the considerable number of cars produced also made it possible for many aspiring drivers to approach competitions with lower investments than had previously been needed: new talents therefore came to light alongside the gentleman drivers who until then had been the main customers of the Scorpion’s exclusive racing cars. 

Successes in competitions and the many records broken by Abarths over the years raised the profile of the brand’s shield, the renown of which spread from Italy to Europe and then all over the world. It is no coincidence that the greatest collectors of the Scorpion’s little beasts are now in Japan, where most of the Abarths from the 1950s and ’60s are lovingly kept, having been preserved or recovered and restored over the years.

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