Abarth 124 Rally is too good to (not) be true

Sometimes, car manufacturers’ intentions seem to be confusing or misleading, especially if they decide to ignore the current trends. Or they can appear confusing or misleading to someone like me, because what Fiat seems to be doing makes a lot of sense if you approach it from their (company’s) side. We’ve been silently praying for their return to the World Rally Championship for years (decades?), but our prayers remained unanswered. Fiat has to think thrice over every single step they take, and joining a very popular but also very expensive competition such as WRC probably does not sound very cost effective to them. So we’re left with posting ancient photos of various Fiat and Lancia rally cars, hoping that maybe, one day, Fiat will reach that light at the end of the tunnel (if such light exists) and we may yet see the return of one of their brands. But WRC is one thing and rallying in general is another. It turns out, Fiat does want to get their feet and hands dirty and wet, but they’d rather make money while doing so. Can we blame them? Sure we can(‘t).

Instead of pushing one of their B segment cars into the WRC mill, Fiat decided to take a different, yet equally exciting route. At least it does sound exciting on paper. Their latest car is a potential Miata killer (is this where use of “lol” is appropriate?) slash competitor, and what better way to promote this car and the brand itself than rallying. Maybe I should have used Toyota GT86 instead of Miata because Mazda has no ambitions in rallying, but either way, we’re talking small, lightweight RWD cars with enough power to be engaging and fun in everyday use, but also to serve as a perfect platform for racing and/or rallying. Fiat and Abarth’s intentions are actually quite clear; they want to sell that road car and sell it like crazy. Now comes the fun part – they will use rallying as a marketing tool, which is what manufacturers should be doing anyway. They are not back with some questionable project that sounds iffy from the word go, at least from what I can tell based on my knowledge gut feeling. This new Abarth 124 looks like a proper car, with proper credentials and proper potential, and on top of that car they built a 300 HP RWD purebred Abarth rally monster. Not only did they build it, they want to see it compete, and soon. To me, this all sounds a bit too good to be true.

But maybe they’re not joking and this is not a PR stunt? For rallying’s sake, their press release opens with “Left 4 cut, 30 caution jump, right 5 left 3 close, 100, right 2 don’t cut…” Now, you will not utter those sacred words unless you mean them, right? To say I’d like to see this thing become a real rally car on real rally stages is an understatement. I still think, however, that neither this or any other RWD car should take the main stage and become the only viable WRC platform/machine, but there definitely is room for GT cars in the world of rallying. I mean, we have a whole class dedicated exclusively to them, nevermind that this class is still a bit underrepresented.

Yay to 300 HP RWD rally cars, built on passion and aimed to provide fun to everyone involved. Come on, Fiat, do not let this one slip through your fingers.

By the way, who would you like to see compete in one such car, beside yourself, of course?

Official press release follows below.

The new Abarth 124 Rally

“Left 4 cut, 30 caution jump, right 5 left 3 close, 100, right 2 don’t cut…”

This is the route to challenge yourself, to beat the laws of physics, to write a story made of courage and passion….

Along with the Abarth 124 spider, the first prototype of the 124 rally also has a surprise début. For the first time, the road car and the racing car have been developed and unveiled together.

The new Abarth 124 rally is a combination of pure technology and performance born from the experience of the Abarth Racing Team to bring back the Scorpion to the most glorious and demanding rally tracks, from the sticky sunburnt tarmac to the more slippery ice surfaces.
Forty years after its last official race, the 1976 Monte Carlo Rally, the Abarth 124 Rally is back with the same mission: to test road cars’ technical solutions under extreme conditions and to guarantee all Abarth customers excellent performance and maximum reliability.
It is dedicated to all those who share the brand’s sense of challenge and racing world values.

Under the bonnet, it fits the 1800 cm3 “bialbero” turbocharged direct injection engine. Thanks to the different selectable mappings, it provides power up to 300 HP at 6500 rpm and optimum torque curve, a key element to allow the driver steering and acceleration balance while oversteering. Performance is breath-taking; acceleration is scorching and marked with full, riveting sound. The project was developed to ensure reliability and performance, even in the extreme conditions typical of rallies: ice, dirt, dust, water, heat.

Even the transmission was designed to enhance performance: the engine is coupled to a quick 6-speed sequential gearbox with shift paddles and traction is assured by the mechanical limited slip differential.

Racing, for Abarth, is not only adrenaline, but also testing grounds to experiment with solutions that guarantee performance and excitement. To enhance the 124 rally’s competitiveness, the Abarth Racing Team’s engineers have worked with precise objectives: first of all, weight reduction and overall balance. For this reason, the engine is mounted behind the front axle; for the cockpit and the engine compartment, light, resistant materials were used, while the soft top was replaced by a fixed composite hard top. With these features, weight distribution leans slightly towards the rear axle, ensuring maximum traction even in low grip conditions. The centre of gravity was further lowered as compared to the road car to the advantage of road grip and straightforward performance.

The new Abarth 124 spider was born light and agile, and the rally edition was further refined to star in competitions. Homologation in the FIA R-GT category has required structural reinforcements to guarantee even greater stress resistance and the highest safety standards for the crew, and the body now has a safety roll cage. The whole design has been engineered for maximum efficiency and ergonomics, to ensure driver and co-driver not only superior performance, but also attention to every minute detail, such as the arrangement of interior controls and available space in the cockpit.

Rally cars undergo extreme stress; this is why the superb mechanical layout of the standard production car has been further developed: the high front-end double wishbone suspension and multi-link rear suspension have specific kinematic features with metal joints for maximum steering precision, ample control on corners, greater excursion for handling different road surfaces and adjustable dampers settings guarantee always superior grip in every situation.

In conclusion the project code, SE139, has a great deal of history that goes back directly to Karl Abarth. The SE stands for “Sports” and “Esperimental”, a direct link to the Abarth values of craftsmanship and Technical Upgrade. While the 139 progressive number exemplifies that in 67 years of history, Abarth has managed to develop an average of two racing projects per year. A great accomplishment that only a few other car manufactures can be proud of.

A great team to bring back Abarth on the rally stage

Team Abarth has worked very hard to select best in class technical partners and sponsors.

Among these, Petronas Selenia that has always been at the forefront in developing technologically advanced and high performance lubricants and it has contributed in the engine development. While Adler Pelzer Group was greatly involved in making crafting composite components for the car and Michelin is the technical partner for tires development.
The Abarth 124 rally project is also a great showcase for a number of Italian companies which have been involved in racing for many years. As is the case for Sabelt, one of the most well-known brand in motorsport, which contributes with its bucket-seats, seatbelts and other safety equipment, and also for Kappa, the leading sportswear brand worn by the entire “Abarth Squadra Corse”. For what concerns the mechanics of the car, LM Gianetti, a company born some 40 years ago and witnessed the development of the first Abarth 124 Rally, has closely worked with Abarth’s Technical Team to reengineer completely the bodywork and the suspensions scheme. Whilst, EXT SHOX has contributed with its specific know-how in the development of 4-way adjustable dampers used for the first time in a Rally car.

BMC has supported the team in developing the air-intake system of the car, which it is crucial to allow constant and reliable engine performance. The lightweight, but at the same time robust racing wheels, have been developed and crafted by OZ, the legend in motorsport.

In conclusion, as for the road-going model, Alcantara® has completely revamped the interior of the car starting from the dashboard to the seats trimming, with 100% “Made in Italy” technology contributing to saving weight and reduce sun reflections towards the interior of the car, allowing no interferences for the driver enhancing the driver grip on the steering wheel.

The team has worked with great passion to revamp a rally icon as the Abarth 124 rally, a rear wheel drive transmission is synonym of great fun for the drivers, but also for the public. Surely, people will queue up to see pass by the new 124 Abarth rally and see it powerslide, which have become very rare today.
The new 124 rally developed with the best of technology available today, contributes to bring back sweet memories from the past of rallying in the 70’s were competitions were more engaging and gathering massive crowds.
After the Geneva MotorShow unveiling, Abarth opens the pre-booking phase to prepare your début in the 2017 rally season.