Collection in action: Wayne’s Fiat 600D

Mike Monk gets caught with the yellow peril…

FMM Curator Wayne Harley is, amongst other interests, a Fiat fundi, especially of the Abarth variety, and has been quietly building a hot replica of one of the Italian pairing’s smaller pocket rockets, a Fugazi Abarth 850TC, which was developed to compete in sub-1 000 cc European saloon car racing.  Fugazi? New York Italian street slang for ‘fake’, as quoted in the movie Donny Brasco

First, though, a little background to Abarth. After leaving Cisitalia in 1948, Austrian-born engineer Carlo Abarth set himself up as an independent in Turin, the home of the Italian auto industry. From producing induction and exhaust systems, Abarth branched out into selling performance kits for (mainly Fiat) production cars, later building a highly successful series of sports prototypes and limited-series production cars.

Possibly the best known out of all of Abarth’s creations is the series of high-performance adaptations of the Fiat 600 saloon, whose giant-killing exploits were one of the most entertaining aspects of saloon car racing in the 1960s. In creating his ‘TC’ (Turismo Competizione) racers, Abarth stretched Fiat’s ‘D’-block, four-cylinder, overhead-valve engine to 750, 850 and finally 1000 cc. The quoted maximum power output for the 850TC in Group 2 specification was 76 bhp (57 kW) at 8 000 r/min, quite an exceptional output for a production-based pushrod engine of this capacity. Ed Swart, Giancarlo Baghetti, Willi Kauhsen and ‘Pam’ all claimed European Touring Car Championships for Abarth during the ’60s, underlying the Italian manufacturer’s almost total dominance of small-capacity saloon car racing. Various states of tune were available and, when the intermediate 55 bhp (41 kW) version won the arduous Nürburgring 500 km race in 1963 driven by Hans Herrmann and Teddy Pilette, the German circuit henceforth gave its name to cars of that specification.

Wayne’s car is based on a stock 1961 Fiat 600D, and has a normally-aspirated  period special 843 cc engine, which in standard form made 35 hp (26 kW), but with the appropriate Abarth cam now makes 42 hp (31 kW) at 4 500 r/min. Hey, that is a 19% improvement…! The car is still using the standard 600D four-speed transmission but runs on 13 inch x 5J Cromodora alloys rather than the original 12-inch rims, which affects the gearing. This, combined with the increase in horsepower, gives more at the top end. Wayne’s wonder has been clocked at 137 km/h…

This yellow peril certainly stands out in a crowd. The top-hinged rear engine cover is permanently held partially open on two thin rods to help cooling while at the front, a giant radiator box sits where a bumper would normally be located. The ‘suicide doors’ give easy access to the two-tone interior. Being long-legged, I was grateful that I could find a driving position that did not involve kneecaps around my ears, but ankle angles over the close-set pedals was less comfortable.

The punchy little motor fires up with an enthusiastic exhaust beat and demands to be revved to deliver of its best. The thick-rimmed three-spoke Abarth wheel gives good feel of the unassisted steering and the 600 is naturally quite wieldy. The gear shift requires care, though. The 1-2 and 3-4 planes are set very close together and avoiding hooking up the dog-leg into reverse takes care, especially when racing through the gears. But pressing on in a buzz-bomb like this is grin-inducing fun.

Stopping is not a problem as the car only weighs 600 kg and has been upgraded with 9-inch disc brakes from a Fiat 124 up front. The standard 600D drums are at the rear.

Wayne’s Fiat is a characterful – and eye-catching – street racer and none the worse for being a ‘fugazi’, unlike the fake diamond ring Lefty Ruggiero (Al Pacino) tried to pass off to ‘Don da Jeweler’ (Johnny Depp) in the movie…