In the economic and demographic boom years of the 1960s, Fiat kept Italy moving with its 500 and 600 models. Carlo Abarth successfully tuned both cars into manoeuvrable, feisty machines that outclassed the competition on European circuits, creating the myth of the Scorpion brand.
In February 1961, Carlo Abarth produced one of the most successful conversions of his career. Starting from the Fiat 600 D with an inline four-cylinder engine of 767 cc, he increased the displacement to 847 cc by widening the bore to 62.5 mm and extending the stroke to 69 mm. New pistons pushed the compression ratio up to 9.2:1 and output was boosted to 52 hp at 5800 rpm by adding a racier camshaft, a Solex 32 carburettor, a new air filter, a different crankshaft and a sports exhaust. The converted car reached a top speed of 140 km/h, requiring the braking system to be upgraded with discs replacing the drums on the front wheels.
One weaknesses of the 600 D was the location of the water radiator next to the engine in the rear compartment, which was inadequately ventilated despite being equipped with a fixed fan. Abarth began remedying the problem by modifying the sump and inserting an oil radiator into the lubrication circuit, initially positioning it under the passenger compartment but later moving it under the front bumper. This solution ultimately evolved into the distinctive nose of the Abarth 1000, whose front bumper was replaced by a prominent protruding structure that housed a combined oil/water radiator.
By transforming an unassuming family runabout into a manoeuvrable, light and nippy racing thoroughbred, Carlo Abarth had a created a potent weapon for competitions: the Abarth 850 “TC” (standing for Turismo Competizione or “touring competition”).
Fiat supplied the 600s minus certain components and Abarth converted them for racing, while also producing kits for DIY enthusiasts to convert their own 600 by themselves.
Victories on European circuits soon followed. Endurance races best highlighted the performance of the 850 TC and its later incarnations (from the 1000 to the Radiale), as well as showcasing their reliability and the skilful work carried out by Abarth. One notable example was the 1961 500 km race on the legendary Nordschleife of the Nürburgring circuit in Germany. A 1-2 overall victory was secured by Abarth 1000 Bialbero (Twincam) cars 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. Another three Abarth 850 TCs came 12th, 13th, and 14th to take all three podium places in the Touring class.
The model that FCA Heritage is displaying at the 36th edition of Automotoretrò in Turin has a curious backstory. It is a Fiat-Abarth 850 TC that once belonged to the Guardia di Finanza police department, who used it as an unmarked car in anti-smuggling operations. Outwardly identical to the thousands of Fiat 600s on Italian roads at the time, it could easily pass unnoticed, but delivered out-of-the-blue performance when it mattered. The car will be exhibited in its current state of preservation before undergoing careful restoration.