Unsung Precursor

by James Kraus

If I asked a group of automotive enthusiasts to name a rear-engined car with colourful body-side graphics, staggered-width wheels, large rear fender flares and a ducktail spoiler; a deafening chorus of Porsche 2.7 RS would likely ring out.

Porsche

Porsche 911 Carrera 2.7 RS – (M 471 type)

That is a good answer, but not the only answer. In fact all these features came together seven years earlier

Over the winter of 1964-1965, Carlo Abarth finalized development of his Fiat Abarth OT 1600. It consisted of a Fiat 850 Berlina body and chassis with a 1600 Abarth inline four-cylinder engine featuring dual overhead camshafts, dual ignition, dual twin-choke side-draft Weber carburettors and a 9-liter dry-sump lubrication system. Output was 154 hp at 7,600 rpm. Girling disc brakes were fitted all around and a ZF limited slip differential was installed. Its Campagnolo cast magnesium wheels were 6″ wide in front and 7″ wide in the rear, the same size as the Fuchs forged aluminium wheels of the Porsche 2.7 RS. On the rear deck lid was a moulded fibreglass ducktail spoiler.

Fiat A

Fiat Abarth OT 1600

The intention was to sell 1000 of these potent sedans to secure homologation as a Touring Car under FIA regulations. It was a similar motive at Porsche, who initially planned to construct only the 500 cars that they were required to build for homologation in FIA Group 4. However, demand for the 2.7 RS was such that Porsche eventually built 1500. Regrettably, fate was not so kind to the Abarth; it is rumoured that possibly only three or four of the OT 1600’s were actually built.

Fiat

Italian race driver Piero Taruffi (winner of the 1957 Mille Miglia) and Frenchman Bernard Cahier (winner of the GT category in the 1967 Targa Florio and dean of motor sport photojournalism) flash ear-to-ear grins after test driving the OT 1600

Press reviews of the day reported that the car was quite entertaining, if not a bit scary to drive. Independent road tests recorded 0-60 times as low as 7.2 seconds and speeds as high as 213 kph (132 mph) on the Autostrada.

Rear

Rear view of ducktail spoiler

It is unfortunate that more of these were not manufactured. Abarth had a lot going on in this era; it was the peak period for the competition success of their 1000 TC Corsa which won the European Touring Car Challenge Division 1 in 1965, 1966 and 1967, and the Abarth Simca 1300 which won the GT 1.3 category in those same years. Perhaps they decided to focus their attentions elsewhere.

Upgraded instrumentation and Abarth steering wheel

Full instrumentation and Abarth wood-rim steering wheel

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10 thoughts on “Unsung Precursor

  1. Fantastic article !!

    It would seem that even in these uncertain economic times the Abarth marque is undergoing much scrutiny and somewhat of a revival.

    About a month ago I visited the collection of Engelbert Moell to take a look at one of the three original OT 1600 cars. It is undergoing a complete restoration, after it was found abandoned in a “chicken coop.” It literally had chickens nesting in it. Unfortunately the car did not have its original engine, so the hunt is on to find the parts to restore it. I also have two customers who are seriously making an effort to build “replica” versions of the very same car. One is already well underway with all of the chassis metal work almost being completed.

    I can imagine that Taruffi might have been quite correct about it being a “handful” to drive. For a car that weighed less than 2000 lbs it had impressive horsepower. Abarth was not quite finished with such cars, as he also constructed a 2 litre version of the 850 fastback coupe called the OT2000 America and a single example of the “MOSTRA”, which was the OT1600 with a 230HP 2000cc motor installed. It was said at the time that the MOSTRA was absolutely diabolical in terms of handling and car control. The MOSTRA now resides in a museum in Japan.

    Only last night I had a phone call from a customer in England who had just acquired one of the four Abarth SE 027 sports racers to be made. This car was interesting in that it actually had one of the rare 6 cylinder Abarth engines. These had a terrrible vibration problem and eventually Abarth sold the whole engine development to Holbay in England. Holbay did eventually solve the problem by incorporating a specially designed flywheel with integral damper.

    On the other side of the world another customer had just acquired all of the remaining assets of Mr. Alfred Cosentino. Yes, you would not believe it, but this also included an example of an SE 027, amongst other notables such as the only SE 030 and one of the few “stradale” Abarth Simca 2000’s.

    Even here in the USA there is much activity with many a replica of the very successful Abarth 1000TC being constructed for historic racing.

    Perhaps we will see a flashback to the heyday of small displacement sports car racing in historic racing in years to come. I certainly hope so.

  2. For a short period of time, I owned the car now in the Swiss collection mentioned by Paul Vanderheidjen. It was missing almost everything but the instruments and grille. I sold it to a West Coast collector in the late eighties to get the funds to finish my ex LeMans Beccaris bodied Abarth Bialbero. The 1600 is the only car I have ever regretted selling, but at the time, the price of an engine in pieces was $60,000.00–completely out of reach on my budget. It’s too bad they were never built.

  3. I’m sorry I didn’t know about you sooner J Kraus. You are so adept at wringing the smallest detail from all of my favorite vehicles produced in Europe during, what I consider, the “Golden Age” of European dominance in motorsports racing and manufacturing.

    I’ll bet you’d make a great radio talk show host.

    I look forward to your next post with anticipation.

    Curtis V.

  4. I owned one of the OT 1600’s that you refered to.This was the one featured in the March 1965 issue of Road & Track driven by Klaus Steinmetz and Bernard Cahier. I purchased it in the summer of 1969 from Al Cosentino @ FAZA. My purchase price was $2550 USD less engine and gearbox. I subsequently purchased a 1300 (real) Abarth Twincam (not a Fiat engine) for installation but Cosentino sat on the project and never finished it for me. Cosnetino was not exactly the most ethical guy in the world and my experience – as a kid of 17 when buying this – pretty much proved that point. I wound up taking it to Jim McGee’s Eastern Engineering in Watermill, NY for finishing. Jim was the ex-team Roosevelt crew chief and probably forgot more about Abarth’s than anyone knew at the time. As the car was missing some key components to complete – like a bell housing and some suspension pieces – I couldn’t quite locate all and finally gave up – selling it to Walter Hagstrom of Oyster Bay, NY- who – from accounts – installed a Porsche 924 engine in it. It wound up in the San Francisco area where I tracked it down a number of years ago but since lost touch of it. There were 2 other cars – one like mine sold to a guy in the Carolina’s – who had a similar experience to me with Al (not good) and Al was going to keep one that had even larger flares and another wider set of wheels – if I remember rear only.

    The car was pretty neat – I would have loved to finish it. Understand that at this time -late 60’s early 70’s – all my friends were buying muscle cars and they all thought I was crazy to buy this seemingly homely thing. But I always liked “Q-ship” cars and this was exactly the case for this thing.

    I hope the guy who is doing the restoration gets it done – I’d love to see it someday. I understand that the Cosentino car went to Japan, where it still might be.

    • Mike, I cannot believe that I was thinking about you (and Pat), typed your name in, and came up with the Fiat “Roller” story!

  5. My understanding is that Cosentino had a couple of the cars but took the engines for his competition projects and sold the cars without engines. I spoke to the gentleman from North Carolina who ended up with one that had a 1300 push rod motor but said it would never work well because the Webers were directly above the exhaust headers. It is my understanding that the one mentioned above with the larger rear fender flares was destined to have a 2000 cc motor but was never completed by the factory and some how Cosentino ended up with that one as well. Yes, I did a replica (with a lot of help from my friends) for vintage racing. It has a slightly tuned 1608cc 124 twin cam motor, twin Webers and Fiat disc brakes on all four corners complete with the 4 shocks on the rear suspension as the original. Parts are difficult to obtain and the engineering challenges were many. But the finished car draws a lot of attention. Competing with Datsun 510’s and BMW 2002’s with years of factory development puts one at a disadvantage, but that’s not really what vintage racing is all about anyway so…enjoy the ride.

  6. I am building an OT 1600 replica. It is a fairly loose replica as my wallet is having a big say in what goes into it, but it will certainly look like the real thing.

    One thing I have noticed, and which has worried me a lot, is that on the whole internet there are no pictures or videos of one of these cars in action – apart from Bernard Cahier’s original road test and one other French one.

    I wonder if this means they are so scary that people who build replicas only drive them once. I hope not.

    Just today I found a picture of one sent by Shinji Onoda on the Berni Motori website. I don’t know if it’s a real one or not but it’s the first new pic I have seen in the last two years of working on mine.

    Paul Van Der Heijden kindly sent me some details of how to build the rear flares, and I followed the same steps but did them in fibreglass.

    If anyone has detail pics of an original car or a finished replica I would love to see them.

    A friend of mine in Victoria told me about one that he built in the 1980s with a Fiat 1438 motor, which he said was an understeer monster.

    All advice and help gratefully received.

    Regards
    Philip Blake, Tasmania, Australia

  7. Philip-

    I don’t have any pictures of the OT while I owned it- which was from the summer of 1969 to the summer of 1974. I sold it to a Walter Hagstrom III who at the time was a resident of Oyster Bay, NY and worked for Young & Rubicam in NYC. He also owned a Porsche 910 at the time among other notable things.

    The car also was owned by Don Wisehart in the San Francisco area- who is also a known Abarth collector. No contact info available on either- you might Google them.

    • Thanks Mike.
      My speed of responding is about on a par with the speed I am building the ‘OT’. The (Fiat 1608) engine is nearly finished, the suspension is just about there, the rust is all gone, the (Renault 16) gearbox is in position; no doubt there will be people who don’t approve of it but it’s only supposed to be a fun car to drive in Targa Tasmania and I have no intention of passing it off as anything other than my version of a car that made a big impression on my when I was of a certain age…I’ll have a look for Don Wisehart.

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