FIAT’S ABARTH 124 SPI­DER

IF YOU’RE AF­TER SPEEDY PER­FOR­MANCE, FUN AND AF­FORD­ABIL­ITY, LOOK NO FUR­THER THAN THE RE­TURN OF AN ITAL­IAN ICON, IN THE FORM OF THE ABARTH 124 SPI­DER.

GQ (Australia) - - INSIDE GQ -

Sim­plis­ti­cally, you can describe Abarth as the per­for­mance arm of Fiat cars. But to un­der­stand the brand, you need to go back to 1949 when cel­e­brated racer and speed en­gi­neer Karl Abarth had a vi­sion that rac­ing needn’t be an elite sport. He started pro­duc­ing per­for­mance car kits and ex­haust sys­tems for the av­er­age Joe via his own com­pany Abarth & C. Then, he em­barked on a rac­ing as­so­ci­a­tion with Fiat in which he would give Fi­ats the Abarth per­for­mance makeover in the quest for podi­ums. (He won the Ital­ian 1100 and For­mula 2 cham­pi­onships with his first build, the 204A Road­ster de­rived from a Fiat 1100.) Break­ing nu­mer­ous rac­ing records over the years, Abarth, along with its scor­pion badge (used be­cause the founder’s as­tro­log­i­cal sign is Scorpio) be­came a sym­bol of power and per­for­mance to Ital­ians in the ’60s. It even en­tered the ver­nac­u­lar in that they would or­der Ar­barth cof­fees when they were af­ter an ex­tra-strong hit. Abarth was ab­sorbed into the Fiat Auto group in the early ’70s, but it wasn’t un­til 2007 when it be­gan lev­er­ag­ing the her­itage and value of the brand to de­liver ac­ces­si­ble speed and per­for­mance to the ev­ery­day man. The re­sult was a re­freshed range of ve­hi­cles with a greater dis­tri­bu­tion net­work. That pretty much an­swers why in sil­hou­ette, the cars look like Fi­ats, but un­der the hood and be­hind the wheel, they drive like a race-car.

Since 2007, the Abarth brand has de­vel­oped a cult fol­low­ing through a num­ber of its mod­els, but mostly through the pop­u­lar Abarth 595, a per­for­mance up­grade from the iconic Fiat 500. En­ter the Abarth 124 Spi­der – a clever rein­car­na­tion of the iconic Fiat 124 Spi­der, par­tic­u­larly the Pin­in­fa­rina-de­signed 1966 orig­i­nal. GQ’S been in­vited to Fuji Speed­way in Ja­pan for an of­fi­cial show­case ahead of its sum­mer re­lease in Aus­tralia. The lo­ca­tion may seem an odd choice for the launch of an Ital­ian road­ster, but Ja­pan, in many ways, helps to un­der­stand both the cult sta­tus of Abarth and how the brand has been able to de­liver the 124 Spi­der with per­for­mance and price to match. The show­case has been well timed with a drive day for pas­sion­ate Ja­panese Abarth own­ers, and there’s a pro­ces­sion of Abarth 595s on dis­play. Hun­dreds in fact. Un­usual that so many Ja­panese would take a day off work, but that speaks of the pas­sion and the cult-like com­mu­nity built around the brand in Ja­pan. Each Abarth 595 is, of course, sim­i­lar in shape, but looks dis­tinc­tive, be­spoke even, to the driver be­hind the wheel, based on colour, de­tail­ing or whether it’s a limited-edi­tion, such as the divine Abarth 695 Maserati, which drips with lux­ury. See­ing them en masse, you could be for­given

for think­ing the Abarth ob­ses­sion is akin to an adult ver­sion of a col­lectibles craze like Shop­kins or My Lit­tle Pony. Ja­panese cult sta­tus un­der­stood, the Abarth 124 Spi­der rolls off the Mazda MX-5 pro­duc­tion line at the Ja­panese mar­que’s Hiroshima plant, shar­ing the same chas­sis as the famed af­ford­able sports car. Adding the Ital­ian flair and per­for­mance, Abarth ships its four cylin­der 1.4-litre tur­bocharged en­gine with ei­ther a six-speed man­ual or auto, along with the sport-tuned ex­haust, sus­pen­sion and limited-slip dif­fer­en­tial. Notably, just be­fore GQ’S first drive around Mount Fuji, the Abarth 124 Spi­der ar­rives with a purr (which Abarth claims as its own dis­tinc­tive sound­track) through a chrome quad-tip sports ex­haust, as stan­dard. A quick walk around the lit­tle beauty be­fore hop­ping in and you see the cues from the orig­i­nal Fiat Spi­der – the head­light cutouts, grille shape and hood con­tours, which de­liver a sporty, and some say ag­gres­sive, ap­pear­ance. Get­ting into the Abarth 124 Spi­der, you in­stantly feel you’re in a higher per­for­mance ve­hi­cle com­pared to its com­peti­tors, namely the Mazda MX-5 on which it’s built. The in­te­rior boasts leather-and-Al­can­tara sports seats and, tak­ing off, you feel the ad­van­tages of a rear-wheel drive pack­age and an en­gine that pro­pels from 0 to 100km/h in just 6.8 sec­onds. (Note this GQ test pi­lot is no per­for­mance driver, so that ac­cel­er­a­tion’s on paper only.) De­scrib­ing the drive of an Abarth 124 Spi­der, no other word can be used but ‘fun’. It re­ally is a joy. For the av­er­age driver, the han­dling, the agility and the driv­ing feel are fan­tas­tic. Even on Fuji Speed­way where you’re al­lowed to test that abil­ity, you feel that the car will get you around any tight cor­ner safely and down the home straight in fast form. This is due to much of the weight being con­cen­trated be­tween the axles and a weight-to-power ra­tio that Abarth says is best in cat­e­gory. It’s also down to the sus­pen­sion and brak­ing sys­tems, which de­liver both corner­ing sta­bil­ity and great ef­fec­tive­ness when it comes to short brak­ing dis­tances. You may not be able to drive it on a speed­way, but this car will fit per­fectly into the Aus­tralian mar­ket: think top down, along coastal roads for a week­end away – magic. Catch­ing up af­ter a spin around the speed­way with Pres­i­dent and CEO of Fiat Group Ja­pan, Pontus Häggström, the re­sponse to the drive is val­i­dated. “The com­bi­na­tion of low weight and punchy en­gines make Abarths fun to drive,” he says. “It’s cen­tered around the fun-to-drive as­pects, rather than the pure num­bers aim­ing at that par­tic­u­lar torque met­ric, or what­ever, so we play in a unique place.” Häggström is wear­ing a Pan­erai watch, a very Ital­ian brand with Swiss func­tion­al­ity. Af­ter wit­ness­ing the cult sta­tus of Abarth and the mix of Ital­ian flair and Ja­panese know-how, GQ asks whether par­al­lels can be drawn be­tween it and Pan­erai. “Yes,” says Häggström. “Wear­ing a Pan­erai seems to hold a sim­i­lar brand iden­tity. It’s in­di­vid­ual, dis­tinc­tive, un­usual, with a cu­ri­ous de­sign that ap­peals to only a se­lect few. You’ll find a very strong link be­tween cars and watch fa­nat­ics in most coun­tries. Per­haps Pan­erai is the watch that goes with the Abarth.” And what will the 124 Spi­der do for the Abarth brand? “It’s im­por­tant for us to of­fer more cars in the line-up,” ex­plains Häggström. “The Spi­der of­fers an­other choice and body style. I think it’s more like a car for cou­ples. Abarth is a very mas­cu­line brand, like Alfa Romeo, where 95 per cent of buy­ers are men. So hope­fully this will drive a dif­fer­ent con­ver­sa­tion with our con­sumers, where their part­ners or wives will also come in and want this car, too.” The Abarth 124 Spi­der will hit Aus­tralian streets this month with a drive-away price of $43,500 for the six-speed man­ual, $45,500 for the six-speed au­to­matic. We can al­ready say that the com­bi­na­tion of the dis­tinc­tive her­itage brand and the beat­ing Ital­ian heart from its en­gine makes that price al­lur­ing. Ap­par­ently, 80 have al­ready been sold and Aus­tralians’ love of a sporty road­ster will surely take the Spi­der to new lev­els. But what will be the key to more peo­ple fall­ing in love with the mar­que in Aus­tralia? Back to Häggström. “It’s the sound­track to the car. Half the sell is done be­fore peo­ple get in. You crank the en­gine and see peo­ple’s faces go ‘whoa!’, be­cause their ex­pec­ta­tions are blown away. They see this lit­tle car and they will be very, very sur­prised.” To see more of GQ’S Tour of Tokyo in the Abarth 124 Spi­der, go to gq.com.au; fiat.com.au/124spi­der

UN­DER THE HOOD AND BE­HIND THE WHEEL, THE ABARTH DRIVES LIKE A RACE CAR.

CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFT: THE ABARTH 124 SPI­DER; PONTUS HÄGGSTRÖM, PRES­I­DENT AND CEO OF FIAT GROUP JA­PAN; GQ’S NICK SMITH CON­QUERS FUJI SPEED­WAY.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.