Italian-Austrian car maker Karl Abarth started out in the 1950s tuning up road-going models for racing and subsequently produced silencers and special mechanical components, before finally becoming a constructor of limited-edition sports and race cars. In 1971 Fiat acquired Abarth and the Scorpion brand's first creation under its new owner was the A112 Abarth.
Fiat’s presentation of the Autobianchi A112 at the 1969 Turin Motor Show was the perfect riposte to the successful Mini. Larger, more refined and luxurious than its British competitor, the 2-door A112 was a compact front-wheel drive hatchback that instantly became a best-seller, with long waiting times for new cars testifying to its remarkable success. However, an even feistier version was needed to capture market share from the higher-performance Mini Cooper. In 1971, under the stewardship of Carlo Abarth, who had recently strengthened his relationship with the Fiat group, the A112 Abarth was created.
Using techniques that were dear to him, Abarth worked mainly on improving the performance of the car’s four-cylinder engine, increasing its displacement from 903 to 982 cc and modifying several key components. In order to supply the right mix of petrol and air to the engine, the mechanical conversion was completed by adopting a twin-barrel carburettor and modifying the exhaust line. The resulting engine favoured higher torque at low revs, rather than maximum power at the top end, and delivered 58 hp at 6600 rpm.
Major changes were also made to the dashboard, which was enhanced with sporty instruments including a rev counter, ammeter, pressure gauge and oil thermometer, while more supportive seats and a three-spoke aluminium steering wheel with leather crown completed the sporty interior upgrade. Initially, the A112 Abarth was only available in red racing livery with matte black bonnet and a black strip along the lower flanks, with the name Autobianchi Abarth standing out on the front radiator grille.
The official presentation took place at the Turin Motor Show in October 1971, triggering a deluge of orders from the enthusiastic public.
The A112 Abarth immediately proved itself to be an agile and outstanding contender, sometimes even more fuel economical than the regular version, the A112 "Normale". The only downside was its occasional tendency to overheat lubricant oil. To resolve this issue, the engine was fitted with an oil cooler before the second series was launched at the 1973 Geneva Motor Show,complete with new body colours and an interior that featured reclining seats with adjustable headrests. The front end was restyled by substituting the chrome bumper detailing and headlight rims with black plastic materials. The headlights were upgraded with iodine bulbs, while optional extras included alloy wheels and a heated rear windscreen.
The biggest innovation of the third series launched in 1975 was the new 1059 cc engine, which developed 70 hp and was sold alongside the 58 hp version. Subsequent series adopted only the 70 hp engine and few modifications were made to the bodywork, which was altered slightly at the rear to accommodate five seats. The mechanicals remained unchanged, apart from the gearbox being upgraded from four to five gears in the fifth series. Production ended with the seventh series in 1985 after more 121,000 units had been produced in almost 15 years. The scorpion-badged Abarth model was a success within a success, accounting for around 10% of all A112s produced.
The vehicle naturally lent itself to racing, especially in rallies, so much so that the Fiat group decided to create a single-brand championship for aspiring young drivers. The rally conversion with roll bars, safety belts, fire extinguishing system, additional lights and oil pan protection is not very expensive, so many young drivers choose this route to demonstrate their skills. The Trofeo A112, which still takes place within national and international competitions, has proven itself to be a perfect formula for promoting the car and above all a successful way of developing young Italian drivers. Professionals of the calibre of Attilio Bettega, Gianfranco Cunico, Fabrizio Tabaton, Vittorio Caneva, Michele Cinotto and many others have earned their stripes behind the wheel of an A112 Abarth.