The Abarth 124 Rally returns to the track

The story of its racing achievements

Forty years after last competing in the 1976 Monte Carlo Rally, the Abarth 124 Rally returns to set the pulses of rallying enthusiasts racing once more.

The car made its rallying debut in 1969, when several private drivers entered national races with the first-series Fiat 124 Sport Spider, still with its 1438-cc engine. Its overriding strength was its combination of robustness and excellent road holding due to optimal weight distribution, despite a power output of less than 100 hp. The results prompted Fiat's unofficial entry into rallying. This is how the 1600 version was developed, which proved to be a winning car and won the 1970 Italian Championship with Alcide Paganelli and Ninni Russo.

Fiat came out into the open with its official team in 1971: the merger with Abarth was completed and it became a separate racing division. Both the 125 S sedan and 124 Sport Spider were used in races, for which specialised foreign drivers such as Swede Hakan Lindberg were drafted in. Luciano Trombotto confirmed the Spider’s competitiveness in the narrow, winding streets on the island of Elba, winning the race for two consecutive years. One triumph quickly followed another, especially in the 1972 season, when Lele (Raffaele) Pinto and co-driver Gino Macaluso crossed the finish line in the Costa Brava Rally with a 124 Sport Spider that was 90 kg lighter.

By this time it had been renamed as the Fiat 124 Abarth Rally and was approved for Group 4 at the end of 1972. The car had been further advanced and the engine displacement increased to 1800 (1756 cm3) with a peak output of 128 hp at 6200 rpm, which was pushed up to 170 hp for Group 4. Instead of the rigid rear axle, the car featured new independent suspension and a ZF self-locking differential. Even the exterior had a racing car look: it had no bumpers and there were plastic wheelarch trims, roll bars and racing seats. It made its racing debut in the 1973 Monte Carlo Rally, where Pinto and co-driver Arnaldo Bernacchini finished behind the contingent of Alpines but in front of the Lancia Fulvia HF of Källström-Billstam. At Sanremo in 1973, Verini-Torriani took second place on the podium surrounded by two Alpine crews, with Bisulli-Zanuccoli, Barbasio-Scavini and Paganelli-Russo occupying 4th, 5th and 6th places ahead of the official HFs of Pregliasco and Lampinen.

Production of the Fiat 124 Abarth Rally officially began in 1972 and by the end of that year, the target of 500 cars required for Group 4 approval had been achieved. Production ended in 1975 after 995 cars had rolled off the production line at the Abarth workshops on Corso Marche, Turin.

The 1974 season arrived with the engine boosted to 16 valves and output increased to 200 hp. The Fiat 124 Abarth Rally debuted with a hat-trick in the TAP Rallye de Portugal that saw Pinto-Bernacchini finish ahead of teammates Paganelli-Russo and the young Finn Markku Alen, navigated by Kikki Kivimaki. But to win the World Championship, it was necessary to compete in all the races and for the first time, the spiders were also prepared to take on Safaris: with reinforced suspension, additional air filters and front bars to protect the radiator from collisions with roaming animals.

The Fiat 124 Abarth Rally continued to evolve and for the 1975 season, the car was fitted with a new bonnet with air intakes and two additional inset headlamps, while the rear fenders featured an air intake for the brakes. The engine output was further increased: thanks to Kugelfisher injection, it now had 215 hp. The great wins of the season came with the Rally de Portugal, in which Alen Kivimaki took first place followed by the other official 124 Abarth driven by Hannu Mikkola (with Jean Todt), while Maurizio Verini won the European Rally Championship.

It was the age of the Lancia Stratos when the Fiat 124 Abarth Rally appeared in the 1976 Monte Carlo Rally sporting the new blue-yellow colours of sponsors OlioFiat. Alen came in sixth place overall. Subsequently, just as in the early days, the spider was driven successfully by many private drivers, thanks to its legendary reliability. They included Turin native Livio Lorenzelli, who achieved an excellent 6th place overall in the 1976 Sanremo Rally.

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