TARGA TALES

Fol­low­ing on from the tale of Mike Lowe and his fly­ing Fiat Abarth on the first 10 Targa NZ main events, we take up the story once again, and bring it up to date with the Fiat’s ex­ploits on the 20th an­niver­sary run­ning of Targa NZ

New Zealand Classic Car - - Contents - Edited by Allan Wal­ton Pho­tos Mike Lowe, Groundsky Pho­tog­ra­phy & Allan Wal­ton

MIKE LOWE AND HIS AMAZ­ING FIAT ABARTH COM­PLETE THEIR 20-YEAR TARGA MARATHON — MIKE BRINGS HIS TALE UP TO DATE, AND CON­CLUDES HIS SAGA WITH THE RE­TIRE­MENT OF HIS TRUSTY STEED

The 11th run­ning of Dun­lop Targa New Zealand was a mile­stone for Mike Lowe’s ENZED Abarth team — with Barry KirkBurn­nand re­tir­ing his Lo­tus Cortina, the Fiat be­came the only car to have com­peted in ev­ery Targa. Of course, Barry Kirk-burn­nand didn’t re­tire from Targa, he just shifted mounts to a BMW M3. In­deed, Barry and Mike are the only driv­ers to have com­peted on ev­ery main Targa NZ event since 1995.

2005: “She was try­ing to tell us some­thing!”

The usual team was back for 2005 — Phil Sut­ton co-driv­ing, with Gary Finemore and Dave Jowett on span­ner­ing du­ties.

For the pro­logue stages, the day dawned bright and sunny — the theme all week, with ab­so­lutely amaz­ing weather and not a drop of rain. At least this gave Mike a chance to test out the new Dun­lop tyres they’d use this time around.

Day one saw the Targa field head from Auck­land to New Ply­mouth — a long day with eight spe­cial stages and 370km of tour­ing. The first stage at Glen Mur­ray was a bit of a tester — in­clud­ing the route-book cau­tion for ‘Mike Lowe’s Cor­ner’ — one the Fiat took care­fully! The rest of the day saw the team main­tain a steady pace.

Strik­ing out for Palmer­ston North on day two, the stages in­cluded those with the big jumps that had caused prob­lems for the Fiat in 2004. The con­sen­sus this year was to slow down at ev­ery crest and not risk dam­age. How­ever, at the af­ter­noon ser­vice stop a clunk from the en­gine was di­ag­nosed as a loose fly­wheel. An un­suc­cess­ful at­tempt was made to tighten it up from un­der­neath, but the bolts had sheared — time to pull out the en­gine, again! But the team lost only two stages do­ing the re­pair.

Later, while fol­lowed through a stage by the of­fi­cial cam­era car, Mike man­aged to spin the lit­tle Fiat, and while he fin­ished the stage, it turned out a 41-year-old pin in the throt­tle pedal as­sem­bly had sim­ply worn away. Time for a tow back to Palmer­ston North for re­pairs.

For day three’s trek to Feild­ing, the team hoped for a trou­ble-free run and a chance to claw back time — and at the Tai­hape lunch-stop Gary Finemore once again (un­suc­cess­fully) at­tempted to win the gum­boot­throw­ing ti­tle.

Af­ter that, all seemed well un­til spe­cial stage 24, when the Fiat’s en­gine sim­ply died.

That evening the team found the crank nut had gone, jam­ming the tim­ing chain. Once that had been re­placed, the en­gine fired up.

Mike hoped for a bet­ter time on day four, the trip to Hast­ings. All went well un­til the start of SS29, when he no­ticed that the oil pres­sure light had come on. The car was pushed to the lo­cal Pon­garoa Ser­vice Sta­tion, and work be­gan to se­cure the oil pump bolts, which had loos­ened. With ev­ery­thing seem­ingly fine they set off, but 2.7km from the garage the oil light came on. A nasty noise from the en­gine sig­nalled that the re­place­ment crank­shaft was stuffed!

The ser­vice crew and the team ended up at Pit­stop in Hast­ings where Dave, the owner, greeted them like long-lost friends. They’d lost an­other five stages, but as the mo­tor was re­moved there was a col­lec­tive sigh as ev­ery­one spot­ted the cracks run­ning through the front of the block. No won­der bits were drop­ping off the en­gine — she was try­ing to tell them some­thing. She was of­fi­cially dead, al­though 11 years and some 30,000km of hard flat-out driv­ing wasn’t a record. Time for the 50-buck re­place­ment en­gine … again!

Fi­nally, the car made it to the fin­ish in Hast­ings to the ap­plause of the crowd — 11 from 11 — al­though the 2005 event was an ex­pen­sive one for the ENZED Abarth team.

2006: The Best Year Ever

The most im­por­tant job was to find a new en­gine. The quest proved a long one but, fi­nally, a brand-new crate Abarth en­gine was lo­cated in Ger­many along with a com­plete used en­gine as a spare.

Then a new Targa wrin­kle, the in­cep­tion of the Targa Se­ria Cam­pi­one — a new cham­pi­onship cov­er­ing a se­ries of Targa events cul­mi­nat­ing in the an­nual six-day Dun­lop Targa NZ in Oc­to­ber. The ENZED Abarth Team were de­ter­mined to give it a go

With the new en­gine still en route from Ger­many, the team tack­led Targa Bam­bina with the 50-buck en­gine, sav­ing the new one for the se­cond Se­ria Cam­pi­one round at Ro­torua.

Team ENZED Abarth were back in force for the main Targa, with Gary, Dave and Phil — and thanks to Steve Cox at Taslo En­gi­neer­ing in Ro­torua, the team were able to ser­vice in style from a brand-new Iveco high-top van.

On Targa’s Shake­down Stage, the Fiat went well and, for the first day, Auck­land to New Ply­mouth, wet roads worked to the Abarth’s ad­van­tage. All went swim­mingly un­til the fourth stage, when the en­gine started to mis­fire. Apart from that hic­cup, the car ran strong and fast, with ab­so­lutely no prob­lems.

Cross­ing to Palmer­ston North on day two, more rain was in store. For two years the Fiat hadn’t made it to the end of Targa’s se­cond day without a ma­jor prob­lem — would 2006 see a re­ver­sal of for­tune?

An­other tra­di­tion for Mike is spin­ning whilst be­ing fol­lowed by the event’s cam­era car — this year he did it again, spin­ning off into a ditch. It was good enough to make the na­tional TV news that evening!

Ap­proach­ing the Manawatu, the roads be­came more chal­leng­ing, with the day’s last stage an­other long one, but af­ter only six kilo­me­tres the Fiat’s en­gine let out an almighty bang and the car coasted to a stop. Af­ter a long wait for the ser­vice crew, the car was re­paired and on its way.

On the leg from Palmer­ston. North to Field­ing the field again vis­ited Tai­hape for yet an­other gum­boot­throw­ing com­pe­ti­tion. Af­ter years of failed at­tempts, Gary fi­nally won the gum­boot toss — for him, the rest of the rally was prob­a­bly in­ci­den­tal!

Day four, and on to Hast­ings in warm, dry weather, with the team trav­el­ling past the lit­tle town of Pon­garoa where the old Abarth en­gine had fi­nally cried enough last year. This time, ev­ery­thing went well.

The fi­nal day saw the Fiat’s clutch be­gin to play up, and on one stage it be­came im­pos­si­ble to se­lect a gear at stand­still — though they made it to the next ser­vice stop and the cer­e­mo­nial fin­ish in Hast­ings.

At the fol­low­ing day’s prize-giv­ing, Mike was awarded the inau­gu­ral Peter Brock Memo­rial Tro­phy for the Spirit of Targa, and a well-de­served Best Ser­vice Crew Award for Gary and Dave. As for the Se­ria Cam­pi­one — the ENZED Abarth scored top hon­ours, win­ning the inau­gu­ral cham­pi­onship tro­phy.

2007: Team Abarth Win Again

Prior to the 2007 event, the Fiat un­der­went re­pairs to re­place a snapped sus­pen­sion up­right, and chas­sis dam­age had ne­ces­si­tated a ma­jor rear-end re­build. The car was also kit­ted out with brand-new Cam­pag­nolo wheels shod with Dun­lop ‘squig­glies.’

The Targa or­ga­niz­ers had ar­ranged for the team to make a TV ap­pear­ance and they had a ball with Ge­off Bryant. Mike’s model Abarth and the 2006 Se­ria tro­phy were great props on the in­ter­viewer’s desk.

Pro­logue was not a breeze — the Fiat suf­fered gear­box prob­lems. Af­ter work­ing on it the week­end be­fore, none of the team had greased the in­put shaft when the gear­box was re-in­stalled! The fix meant the en­gine had to come out.

Once again, day one meant a long haul from Auck­land to New Ply­mouth, with the Fiat start­ing out fairly con­ser­va­tively. Back as ser­vice crew, once again, were Gary and Dave.

All went well un­til the Abarth was fly­ing along the edge of a har­bour­side road and sud­denly lost throt­tle. They pulled over mid-stage to check — the throt­tle link­age had ap­par­ently bro­ken at the pedal end. They fit­ted the spare ca­ble to the carbs and ran it into the cock­pit, where Phil be­came Mike’s throt­tle-man. This meant se­ri­ously scary progress for the re­main­ing 10km of the stage. Meet­ing up with the ser­vice crew solved the prob­lem.

Day two was a short day with only four stages — al­though two were 39km each and ran to and from Whang­amomona along State High­way 43, the ‘For­got­ten High­way.’ Ac­cord­ing to Mike, this was the best Targa stage ever.

Into the third day, with Feild­ing beck­on­ing, the first stage was the in­fa­mous In­gle­wood 2 and its se­ries of four jumps. Not tempted to push the Fiat, Mike had a rel­a­tively drama-free day, with the fi­nal stage be­ing a blast around the track at Man­feild.

Day four — Feild­ing to Hast­ings — lots of fast stages, lots of rain and lots of wind, with the first stage through Windmill Al­ley, the wind farm on the ranges out­side Feild­ing. Al­though the Fiat ex­pe­ri­enced a few close calls dur­ing the day — es­pe­cially with wind that soon blew gale force — the team ar­rived safely at Have­lock Do­main at day’s end.

De­spite a mis­fir­ing en­gine, the Abarth com­pleted all the fi­nal day’s stages, cruis­ing back into Have­lock North for the fin­ish.

At the prize-giv­ing, Team ENZED Abarth gained Targa plates for fin­ish­ing ev­ery stage, and win­ning the His­toric Cat­e­gory for the se­cond year in a row.

2008: Three in a Row

With the usual team on hand and the Abarth ready to go, all was set for an­other Targa, run un­der new own­er­ship af­ter Peter Martin took over from founder, Mike John.

Day one, and the big tour down to New Ply­mouth, with ev­ery­thing pro­ceed­ing well un­til the team came upon a huge traf­fic jam on a one-lane bridge af­ter an­other en­trant had spun, and be­come jammed side­ways be­tween the Armco, ef­fec­tively halt­ing ev­ery­one’s progress.

Once go­ing again the Fiat be­gan play­ing up, but the lit­tle beast kept on motoring. At the fi­nal ser­vice, a prob­lem with the car’s We­ber car­bu­ret­tors was rec­og­nized and sorted.

Day two and, like the pre­vi­ous year, the main stage was the trip to and from Whang­amomona. Rain started to fall, giv­ing Mike the chance to try out a new wind­screen wiper set-up — but then the wipers slowed, and the cabin filled with chok­ing black smoke. For­tu­nately there was no fire, and a spare length of ca­ble re­placed the burnt-out wires. At ser­vice their fears were con­firmed — the Fiat’s wiring was stuffed and an auto elec­tri­cian was re­quired: that would have to wait un­til the end of the day. That evening, Lionel at New Ply­mouth Auto Elec­tri­cal toiled for al­most three hours rewiring the car — only tak­ing $50 for his trou­bles.

Day three, New Ply­mouth to Wan­ganui and an­other long one.

Apart from a close call on Stage 15 — home of the in­fa­mous ‘Cop’s Cor­ner’, where a few years ago a cop car went off into the creek — the day flew by with no prob­lems at all, bod­ing well for the fourth day and the trip down to Welling­ton.

Af­ter a few days of dry weather, the heav­ens re­ally opened up for the last day with gale-force winds and driv­ing rain. The morn­ing stages in­cluded Paekakariki Hill. The roads were slip­pery and the day’s last stage, the run around the har­bour­side at Shel­ley Bay, was can­celled as the sea was so rough waves were break­ing over the road.

The cruise to the fin­ish at Welling­ton’s Taranaki Wharf ended the event, and at prize-giv­ing the fol­low­ing day, the team once again won Targa plates for fin­ish­ing ev­ery stage, and the His­toric Cat­e­gory for the third year in a row.

2009: How to Make the Plays of the Week

This year marked the 15th An­niver­sary of Targa NZ, and the Abarth per­formed fine over the pro­logue stages, hope­fully au­gur­ing well for day one, the jour­ney down to Taupo. On the way there the Targa cars went for hot laps at Pukekohe and the newly-opened Hamp­ton Downs cir­cuit.

The se­cond day, Taupo to New Ply­mouth, started with a long tour and a bumpy first stage, with even more fab­u­lous stages af­ter lunch, in­clud­ing the fa­mous Kawhia Har­bour.

Two days of hard driv­ing meant a ma­jor ‘all wheels off’ ser­vice was un­der­taken that night — some­thing you have to do when run­ning an old car. As Mike puts it, “This is what the guys run­ning mod­ern cars don’t quite get: this is part of Targa! We beat the hell out of our old cars, and then fix them ready to do it again the next day. And we en­joy it!”

Day three and back to Whang­amomona be­fore ar­riv­ing for the overnight stop at Wan­ganui — and the day af­ter it was all on for the trip to Palmer­ston North, ac­com­pa­nied by lots of rain and cold, slip­pery roads. By the time the team ar­rived for ser­vice at the sub-alpine

town­ship of Waiouru it was snow­ing. Need­less to say, the Fiat tippy-toed around the next stage, and at Tai­hape for lunch, Gary once again went all-out to win the gum­boot throw­ing — alas, he was well beaten this time.

As the day wore on the weather im­proved, and the Targa field closed in on Cop’s Cor­ner. As there are al­ways plenty of cam­eras there, Mike planned to get the Fiat up on two wheels — al­low­ing time for ev­ery­one to take pho­tos. A good plan un­til, at about 46 de­grees of an­gle on two wheels, it be­came ap­par­ent that the Fiat wouldn’t come back down the way she went up — the en­su­ing roll was caught on cam­era, pro­vid­ing Groundsky Pho­tog­ra­phy with an award-win­ning shot. For­tu­nately no se­ri­ous dam­age was done, and the car was quickly righted with the help of spec­ta­tors and was soon back on its way.

Fol­low­ing an­other tour around the track at Man­feild, the day ended in Palmer­ston North’s main square.

The next day saw the Targa cars wend their way to Welling­ton, with the Fiat chas­ing an un­rea­son­ably rapid Ford Anglia for his­toric hon­ours.

The fi­nal day, with only 90km of spe­cial stages, started and fin­ished with runs through Shel­ley Bay and, at the lunch stop, came news that the Anglia had stopped with a blown head-gas­ket. At the prize-giv­ing — as well as win­ning Targa plates again — the team won the His­toric Cat­e­gory for the fourth year in a row, plus the cov­eted In­dex of Per­for­mance tro­phy.

2010: Sweet Six­teen

This year’s pro­logue took place at Hamp­ton Downs, a huge-power cir­cuit that’s rather dull for small cars like the Fiat.

In pre­vi­ous years the first day — Auck­land to New Ply­mouth — had seen poor weather as­sist the Fiat’s progress, but the fore­cast this year was for sun­shine and dry roads. The day ended without mishap ready for the se­cond one, and the pop­u­lar stage to Whang­amomona.

Un­for­tu­nately the boys for­got to re­fit the dip­stick spring at ser­vice — at 8000rpm, the en­gine pumped out a bit of oil onto the ex­haust that oc­ca­sion­ally filled the cock­pit with smoke. In ad­di­tion, the Fiat’s clutch was play­ing up. A new clutch ca­ble was fit­ted at Whang­amomona and the re­turn jour­ney was com­pleted a shade faster.

An­other big day beck­oned with the leg from New Ply­mouth to Palmer­ston North. With driz­zle on the first stage, it be­came ap­par­ent that not all was well with the Fiat’s cool­ing sys­tem. In des­per­ate need of wa­ter, and 20km away from the next ser­vice stop, they luck­ily met up with the newly elected Mayor of New Ply­mouth and ex-min­is­ter of Trans­port, Harry Duyn­hoven. Harry drove off, re­turn­ing min­utes later with a huge bucket of wa­ter and a siphon hose from his prop­erty just up the road.

By the time the Fiat ar­rived at Wan­ganui, clouds of steam were emit­ting from the ex­haust. Luck­ily, a new head gas­ket was all that was re­quired.

With ev­ery­thing hope­fully sorted overnight, it was on to Welling­ton for day four and, de­spite ev­ery­thing, the Abarth was go­ing well, get­ting to the fi­nal ser­vice stop in Mart­in­bor­ough.

Day five and the Fiat’s brakes acted up dur­ing a tour­ing stage — pump­ing the pedal gave some re­prieve, but down­hill sec­tions were taken gin­gerly. At the lunch stop at Maid­stone Park, the brakes were bled.

On the run through Moon­shine, Mike and Phil were pre­sented with the most amaz­ing sight they had ex­pe­ri­enced in all the 16 years of Targa — a to­tally naked girl cheer­ing them from the side of the road!

As well as win­ning Targa plates, Team ENZED won the His­toric Cat­e­gory for the fifth year in a row and, fol­low­ing In­dex of Per­for­mance wins at Targa Bam­bina and Targa Ro­torua, they also won that tro­phy again!

(photo on page 68)

2011: What a Week

Long-time event spon­sor, Dun­lop, left the Targa fold, and there were two other ma­jor changes to Targa NZ this year. For the first time ever, the cars trav­elled north of Auck­land for two days — and there were no pro­logue stages.

Day one and new ter­ri­tory as the cars headed to­wards Whangarei. Alas, all was not well with the Fiat; its en­gine was mis­be­hav­ing. The team at­tempted to chase this is­sue down all week to no avail. And last year’s brake prob­lems re­turned, along with a gear­box oil leak. Luck­ily, by the third stage the brakes were com­ing good, but the oil leak was con­sis­tent and needed check­ing and top­ping-up twice a day.

For day two, the cars re­turned to Auck­land, with the first stage be­ing the long­est. De­spite the oil leak the team re­turned safely to Auck­land, with the next day fea­tur­ing a more tra­di­tional Targa des­ti­na­tion — Taupo. The day went well for the Fiat team, de­spite head­light woes and a panic run to ac­quire more gear­box oil.

The fol­low­ing day the cars tack­led the Desert Road, but as the Fiat drew into Waiouru the brakes went again — then across the road they spot­ted a fel­low Fiat en­trant’s 124. This team ac­tu­ally had Mike’s spare brake master cylin­der! He re­claimed the unit, and the 124’s ser­vice crew bolted it into place.

De­spite a rash of elec­tri­cal prob­lems, the team made it to the day’s fin­ish at a very wet Palmer­ston North Square — time to top up the gear­box oil again.

For the fi­nal day the weather had cleared, and most of the stages were fast — putting the lit­tle Fiat at some­thing of a dis­ad­van­tage. The car ap­peared to be down on power, and trou­ble loomed on the third-to-last stage of the event when the Fiat’s en­gine dropped to three, some­times only two cylin­ders mid­way through the stage. They limped to the fin­ish and, at the ser­vice stop, found a blown head gas­ket be­tween num­ber two and three cylin­ders. With only two stages left, there was no time to swap the en­gine over, or even check the head.

Any­way, hav­ing de­cided they must still make Have­lock North for the fin­ish, the car was towed to the end of the last stage for the fi­nal five-kilo­me­tre tour to the fin­ish.

They crossed the line on two cylin­ders, but af­ter drop­ping two stages the team couldn’t claim Targa plates for fin­ish­ing ev­ery stage. How­ever, they still man­aged se­cond place in the his­toric cat­e­gory, only beaten by an Alfa Romeo. Even bet­ter, the team won the In­dex of Per­for­mance ti­tle for the sixth time in a row!

2012: “At least we made it to the fin­ish!”

With no pro­logue stages, it was right into doc­u­men­ta­tion — and im­me­di­ately the Fiat had a mi­nor prob­lem with a leak­ing wa­ter hose. If the team hoped it’d be good to get their bad luck out of the way early, that thought was soon proved wrong!

So, into day one and the long trek to New Ply­mouth. Over the years the ENZED Abarth has had some pretty dire first days on Targa, and this time around things also looked grim when the car’s en­gine dropped to three cylin­ders dur­ing the se­cond stage. It was time to with­draw and make a bee­line to the work­shop of fel­low Fiat man, Mau­rice Thom­son.

Penalty times were ap­plied this year for missed stages, so the team sim­ply swapped to the spare en­gine to save time, and were back in the fray at stage six.

All seemed fine un­til the day’s fi­nal stage when the spare en­gine be­gan knock­ing, then re­fused to start af­ter be­ing stopped at Con­trol. Even­tu­ally they made it to New Ply­mouth, but it was clear they had a long night ahead.

With the en­gine out yet again, they found that num­ber two had ei­ther run a main bear­ing, or bent a rod. Luck­ily, they now had enough bits to make one en­gine from two — the race bot­tom end with the spare cylin­der head.

For day two’s tour to Taupo, the car was go­ing re­ally well and the weather was spec­tac­u­lar. And then there was the clas­sic Whang­amomona stage — a real Targa favourite. Less well liked was the sub­se­quent 20km tour on gravel to the start of the next stage, the first of many rough gravel roads en­coun­tered this year.

There was a de­lay to fix a loose throt­tle link­age, while a sud­denly non-func­tional trip­me­ter meant Phil had to re­vert to men­tal arith­metic.

The third day was rel­a­tively short, with stages that in­cluded two runs through Mar­ton, home of the in­fa­mous Cop’s Cor­ner. De­spite hav­ing to re­place an al­ter­na­tor belt, the Fiat got to Palmer­ston North for the overnight stop.

With only six stages on day four, the trip to Have­lock North with one of the high­lights be­ing the Gen­tle An­nie — the road from Tai­hape to Napier — but en route the Abarth left a pool of oil at the Tai­hape ser­vice stop, not spot­ted by Mike or Phil. As they were cruis­ing up State High­way 1 to­wards the stage start, the oil light came on. Only when they’d stopped was the trail of oil spot­ted. A quick look be­low con­firmed the com­plete ab­sence of a sump plug! When the ser­vice crew caught up, a re­place­ment plug was in­stalled and with fresh oil all seemed fine on start-up and dur­ing the Gen­tle An­nie stage, un­til the clutch ca­ble broke, forc­ing them to fin­ish the stage in fourth gear.

Re­pairs were ef­fected, but by the time the Fiat drew into Have­lock North, the car’s gear­box was slowly be­com­ing a prob­lem.

The fi­nal day, and an­other per­fect one weather-wise, but the Abarth’s throt­tle prob­lems re­turned — they’d bro­ken an­other throt­tle pedal, mean­ing that the weld­ing ma­chine had to be sparked into ac­tion.

Then, dur­ing a tour­ing sec­tion, the Fiat’s wind­screen was bro­ken by a stone flicked up by a slow-mov­ing en­trant in a BMW. Amaz­ingly, the team had a spare — in­deed, it’d been in the ser­vice van for 18 years!

It was with a sigh of re­lief that the lit­tle Fiat crossed the fin­ish line. De­spite all the penal­ties and missed stages, the team man­aged to fin­ish 45th out­right, 21st in the clas­sic cat­e­gory, and first un­der-1400cc home. Even bet­ter, the team’s span­ner­men, Dave Jowett and Nigel Der­byshire, de­servedly scored the pres­ti­gious Best Ser­vice Crew award.

2013: A Well-de­served Tro­phy

Af­ter last year’s en­gine dra­mas, a de­ci­sion was made to build a new race en­gine — an ex­per­i­men­tal 1170cc ‘stro­ker’ unit. Built by Jamie Ais­la­bie of Ro­torua Tun­ing Ser­vices, the fin­ished en­gine showed a big in­crease in power and torque over the Fiat’s old en­gine. As well, the old mo­tor was re­built yet again so it could act as a spare.

On day one, no sooner had the Fiat left the start than it splut­tered to a stop with a dead fuel pump. A quick re­pair got the pump pump­ing again, and they reached the start of the first stage. By the time they hit the se­cond stage, the car was go­ing well and Mike was be­gin­ning to en­joy the new en­gine’s ad­di­tional torque.

Then on the long tour­ing stage across Auck­land and down south the en­gine started to run rough, fi­nally drop­ping onto three cylin­ders. Time to call in the cav­alry — and they found that a cou­ple of pushrods had popped out from un­der the rock­ers. The tap­pets were re­set and the en­gine was again run­ning fine — for 20 kilo­me­tres!

At Mercer, the Fiat was parked up and the spare en­gine was bolted into place. It took a cou­ple of hours to com­plete the job, but with 160km of tour­ing to go a call was made to trailer the car to New Ply­mouth and start afresh the fol­low­ing day.

Sun­shine was the or­der for day two, and the favourite Whang­amomona stage. The team’s prob­lems con­tin­ued — the Fiat was shed­ding drive­shaft bolts, the clutch was play­ing up, and by stage 12 the en­gine re­fused to start. For the se­cond time in two days, it had to come out. Re­pairs were made and the car was trail­ered to the overnight stop at Palmer­ston North.

Hav­ing now gained sev­eral time penal­ties, the team set­tled down to busi­ness for the day-three trek to Have­lock North — they had an im­pos­si­ble task to re­cover those lost min­utes, but still sought a good plac­ing. For­tu­nately, ev­ery­thing hung to­gether, and the team reached Have­lock North without fur­ther drama.

Day four and the jour­ney to Taupo once again took in Gen­tle An­nie. Without the ‘monster’ en­gine, this fast stage didn’t suit the Abarth. How­ever, the Fiat made it to the fi­nal stage — a three-lap strop around the cir­cuit at Taupo.

All the penal­ties gained on the first day knocked the team out of class-win­ning hon­ours, but the fi­nal re­sults — even with those penal­ties — still showed that a 49-year old, 1000cc car can run with the pack. And for the se­cond time they were awarded the Peter Brock Memo­rial Tro­phy as the team that had dis­played the best Spirit of Targa.

2014: 20 from 20 — Time for a Rest

With last year’s ‘monster’ en­gine fet­tled and fit­ted to the Abarth, all was ready for the first South Is­land Targa event.

Af­ter last year’s Targa, Mike threw down a chal­lenge for an­other un­der-1400cc car to come and beat the Fiat — and, along with a cash prize, he also do­nated a per­pet­ual Team ENZED Abarth tro­phy de­signed and built by Paul Lyons.

Trav­el­ling in con­voy to Welling­ton, the team took the In­ter­is­lander over to the South Is­land and were soon on their way to the Targa start-line in Christchurch. Once there, the team were awarded with a cer­tifi­cate and watches to cel­e­brate their 20th Targa start.

Day one dawned for the drive to Dunedin, and out on the stages the Fiat team quickly re­al­ized their worst fears — no cor­ners, and too fast! The poor lit­tle car was be­ing thrashed from the out­set — and both front king­pins were bro­ken by the end of the day. Just to keep the team on their toes, gear-chang­ing woes also ap­peared, putting even more pres­sure on the fresh en­gine.

For­tu­nately the fol­low­ing day proved less event­ful, al­though the roads con­tin­ued to be fast and flow­ing.

The trek to In­ver­cargill on day three in­volved some mas­sive tours be­tween stages, and in­cluded a few stages around Dunedin and an­other over the bumpy, tight and twisty road to Lar­nach Cas­tle. The last stage of the day was at Tere­tonga, where the boys had fun chas­ing Corvettes through the chi­canes.

Day four started with a very long tour. The Fiat was run­ning fine un­til they got to Stage 25, Moa Flat, when the en­gine cried enough! The crank­shaft had bro­ken. Time for that spare en­gine … again.

One day to go, and the first stage was the fa­mous Crown Range up to Cardrona — start­ing with a very steep hill climb. The ‘monster’ en­gine would have been nice, but they got to the top fine. From there to High­lands Park, a fast and chal­leng­ing race track, it was time for the last two stages along the lake-edge road from Queenstown to Glenorchy, run as an in-and-out stage.

Reach­ing the fin­ish was a truly emo­tional time for the ENZED Abarth Team, with its amaz­ing record of 20 Targa starts and 20 fin­ishes in the same car over two decades.

The team missed out on a class win, beaten into se­cond place by Clyde Wal­ters and his 1400cc Ford Anglia. Mike awarded Clyde the Team ENZED Abarth tro­phy for the first un­der 1400cc car home.

The team had one more im­por­tant task to ac­com­plish — af­ter two decades of hard com­pe­ti­tion life, their fa­mous Fiat — ‘Bar­tie’ — was tak­ing a rest, with Mike proud to ac­cept an in­vi­ta­tion to re­tire the Abarth to the Na­tional Motorsport Mu­seum at High­lands Park in Cromwell. The car was de­liv­ered as it fin­ished the event — dirty, and with no clutch!

And ENZED Team Abarth? Well, they’ll be back in 2015 with a brand-new car — Bar­tie 2: The Se­quel — a fully fac­tory-built Abarth 500R3T that will carry iden­ti­cal liv­ery to the team’s iconic 1964 Abarth.

Here’s to an­other 20 years of Targa!

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