Alright; so the title is a little ‘Mills and Boonish’ but nevertheless; when I was young (a couple of years ago) there happened to be a Fiat 124 in our neighbourhood that I yearned after. Dressed in blue, this Italian designed (2+2) convertible was a stand out vehicle amongst the relatively bland and cars that filled my local streets (it gave the horse and carts a bit of a scare too).
The original Fiat 124 first rolled off the production line in 1966. Designed and manufactured by Carrozzeria Pininfarina, this front engined, rear wheel drive, affordable sports car made quite the spectacle. Later, in 1971 and with Abarth’s assistance the 124 Spider (as it was then called) began preparation for the WRC and motorsport in general. Although the 124 Abarth received only limited success on the track, its good looks and styling made a big impression on the road faring public. Skip forward to today and the car that I had coveted as a child was now on my driveway.
The style and pizzazz of the new 124 spider is the result of the continued special care and attention from Officine Abarth in Turin; Italy – although it’s remarkably similar to the car of the 70’s. Its chiseled good looks emit an air of ‘swagger worthy’ confidence with a strong shoulder line that raises over the door to meet a staunch almost aggressive rear end. The model I tested was in Costa Brava 1972 red that when sitting on 17” Gun Metal alloy wheels that give the spider a sinister undercurrent as do the quad pipes out the back.
Keyless entry is a plus, but it feels like the type of car that if I was younger I would simply jump on in without bothering to open the doors – way cooler. Anyway; sitting snuggly in the Abarth’s black leather sporty driver’s seat your vision is drawn to both the red/yellow scorpion Abarth motif at the centre of the leather steering wheel and the huge red rev counter at the centre of the instrument panel behind it. Things like speed, fuel and engine temp all take the backseat (if there was one), revs are where this car is at. Incidentally, on the subject of speed, if you’re a stickler for staying exactly at 100kph on the highway you may have a bit of an issue, the speedo’s bold lettering jumps from 90-120 with limited distance and denominations between them, so not the easiest to monitor – there is cruise control though if you REALLY want it.
The tour of the cabin doesn’t take too long, after all it’s not that big. There is a respectable amount of red stitching, seats and dash, leather wrapped gear knob and a lockable cubby hole that is surprisingly deep. The 7” touchscreen infotainment system takes up a large percentage of the dashboard, with Bose sounds, navigation and rearview camera.
Push button start to begin the fun. Under its long sculptured bonnet, is an Abarth 1.4L Multi Air Turbo engine that is a peach. With class leading 125kWs and 250Nm to play with, It takes the sports car from 0-100kph in 6.8 seconds and up to a top speed of 232kph. The 6 speed gearbox is mint too, very tight; with a gait that is a mere fingertip length apart; making changing effortless and quick.
At 1,060kgs and an even 50/50 weight distribution the Abarth was always going to be fun around the tight bends of northern Auckland, it (and I) had a ton of giggles engaging the sport mode and testing out the mechanical limited slip diff and Bilstein shocks. The 4 caliper Brembos ensure stopping is not an issue too.
Being a soft top, the engine note from the sports exhaust can be heard at any speed but it’s particularly pleasurable with the needle on the rev counter around the 5-6,000 (if you listen carefully you can hear the turbo whine on the way there too). There is a hint of turbo lag early on but it makes up for it when you’re on the move. If I’m completely honest, the power isn’t as aggressive as I would have hoped/expected from an Abarth but it’s still very fulfilling and what it lacks in back of the seat pushing acceleration it makes up for with a thrilling and engaging ride. Corners can be approached with speed (and revs), downshifting is very driver friendly and that joyous sound from the sports exhaust.
I asked my six year old son what he liked about the Abarth, he replied ‘the roof can come off and the engine growls a lot’.
With its immediately appealing Italian styling, the 124 Abarth Spider still stands out in a crowd. It’s great to drive and its ‘feel’ and sound is brings out the real sports car enthusiast in you. On a sunny day the Abarth is in its element but the double skinned roof keeps you more than simply dry. I hope in a few decades from now; kids from around my neighbourhood will recall seeing this affordable red 2 seater Italian sports car with the same sense of desire that I did – of course they will probably be in autonomous flying machines by then.
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