Abarth creates an agile, lightweight, powerful coupé, destined to dominate the racing world. And it does so using the Fiat 850 chassis: it is the Scorpion brand's winning response to the proliferation of upgraded versions produced directly by the big manufacturers.
The mid-1960s was a period of strategic change for Abarth: the big manufacturers also began to occupy the market for upgraded versions of their cars, thus competing directly with Abarth's conversions. The company with headquarters in Corso Marche then focused more and more on the production of racing cars: a niche in which Abarth could excel by exploiting the vast experience it had gained over the years.
At the same time, its relations with the French company Simca came to an end: Fiat sold its shares in its transalpine subsidiary to the American company Chrysler, and Abarth, which until then had also built cars on Simca bases, now decided to concentrate solely on Fiat. An attempt to reach an agreement with Alfa Romeo had already been made in the previous decade, with the creation of the Alfa Romeo Abarth 1000: it had not been successful, but on the other hand Abarth had improved its engineering skills by hiring Mario Colucci. Having left Alfa for Abarth, Colucci became the father, together with Carlo Abarth, of the Scorpion brand’s winning cars.
It was in this context that the Fiat Abarth OT 1300 was created in 1965. The body is made from the pressed sheet metal of the Fiat 850, with which the load-bearing structure is constructed. As on the Fiat from which it derives, the engine is located at the rear, beyond the wheels, in the design favoured by Carlo Abarth.
Since the early 1960s, the OT acronym has identified the Abarth 'Omologate Turismo’ or approved touring cars: both road tuned and racing cars that are the result of a more or less thorough transformation of serial production vehicles. The chassis of these cars is created using the boxed sheet metal of serial production cars, initially the Fiat 600, in this case the Fiat 850. Those same years saw the birth of the other family of vehicles, characterised by the initials SP, 'Sport Prototype': cars uniquely created for racing that, with the contribution of Mario Colucci, were built with a tubular chassis, such as the Fiat Abarth 1000 SP.
The engine of the Fiat Abarth OT 1300 is an evolution of the one that powered the Abarth Simca 1300. In the new configuration the sophisticated Abarth dry-sump twin-cam engine (marked 237) with a 1,298-cc displacement develops 147 hp at 8,800 rpm. A five-speed gearbox and self-locking differential, independent suspension and four disc brakes complete the highly refined mechanicals.
The streamlined coupé bodywork is characterised by large, lightweight bonnets, made entirely of resin, which enclose the front and rear: hinged at the ends of the chassis, they can open fully to make working on the mechanicals and chassis a swift operation. The rest of the bodywork is mainly made of reinforced polyester resin, with only a few parts in aluminium or sheet steel. Overall, the coupé tips the scales at just 655 kg, allowing a top speed of 245 km/h. The coupé's exterior appearance is in no way reminiscent of the saloon and coupé versions of its ‘donor’, the Fiat 850.
The vehicle proved successful on the race track even before it was approved, while the resin bodywork demonstrated the ease with which it could be modified. The multiple racing successes of the Fiat Abarth OT 1300 consolidated the Scorpion brand's poll position among manufacturers of racing cars.
As stated in the FIA's 'Fiche d'homologation', production officially began on 15 May 1965, while approval in Group 4 was achieved on 15 April 1966, after 50 compliant examples had been built and tested on 30 March 1966.
However, its racing debut came much earlier: the Abarth team fielded three new OT 1300s at the Nürburgring 500 km on 5 September 1965. Since they had not yet been approved, the cars were entered in the Prototype category: the class that races for overall victory and is notoriously full of cars that, on paper, are far more powerful. On the treacherous and winding German track, the light Fiat Abarth OT 1300s immediately put up a fight for the top positions and demonstrated their excellent qualities by racing alongside the many other Abarth cars entered. At the end as many as seven Abarth prototypes were among the first ten cars to cross the finish line.
The vehicle’s most striking success arrived just before its approval: on 25 April 1966 at the 1000 km race in Monza. Still entered as Prototypes, three Fiat Abarth OT 1300s scored a glorious class hat-trick: first Fischhaber/Furtmayr/Baghetti; second Ortner/Steinmetz and third the privateers Morando/Varese. This success, together with the others, triggered the orders of the private drivers, who shortly afterwards achieved their first victories, in all the races, especially the uphill ones.
The official apotheosis also occurred at the Nürburgring 500 km, in the 1966 edition, a golden year for Abarth. The difficult German track once again highlighted the agility of the coupé from Corso Marche: the official Fiat Abarth OT 1300 driven by Ernst Furtmayr, now entered in Group 4, not only won the class but also came first overall; third were team-mates Müller/Steinmetz and fifth the other official OT 1300 driven by Siegfried Dau, who preceded two other Fiat Abarth OT 1300s driven by privateers Morando and Hans-Dieter Dechen.
The intensive use of the vehicle in racing led to the need to alleviate the excessive heat that developed in the cockpit. For this reason, first an air intake was created on the window on the right, then a more structured 'periscope' was added at the end of the roof to channel some fresh air into the cockpit: this would become one of the car’s distinguishing elements.
The resin bodywork lent itself to easier replacements and transformations than steel or aluminium sheet metal. Thus, even after they had been sold, some important parts of the Fiat Abarth OT 1300 could be modified. In particular, the front bonnet air intake took on various different shapes, while at the rear the original bonnet, flat in the central part and raised in the truncated tail, was replaced by a more rounded cover with transparent plexiglass.
During the first months of 1967 the most substantial changes were made, also involving the mechanics: the wheel tracks were widened to improve cornering stability and the engine now reached 157 hp. The new vehicle set-up required a higher and more rounded front bonnet, and the headlamp covers were also enlarged. Under the doors, near the rear mudguards, two oval air intakes appeared, designed to channel fresh air to the brakes and gearbox. While retaining the characteristic periscope on the roof, these modifications would later qualify the cars that adopted them as 'second series'.
The Fiat Abarth OT 1300 continued winning on the track until the 1970s, contributing significantly to the recognition of Abarth as a racing car manufacturer. In particular, 1966 was a special year for the Scorpion company, which finished the season with over 900 victories overall, also thanks to the excellent Fiat Abarth OT 1300. Results that consolidated, precisely through its successes on the race track, that concept of direct advertising so dear to Carlo Abarth.