The Mighty Name Of Abarth Saved The Life Of This Fiat 2300 S
Photography by Máté Boér
It’s not hard to see how the 2300 Coupé was the top-of-the-line Fiat in the early ’60s, what with its beautiful Ghia-styled body providing the looks that in those days earned the big Italian coupes the fitting nickname, “Poor Man’s Ferrari.” These cars have since gone on to become sought-after classics, and, looking at their prices today, it might be appropriate to update that old moniker to “The Rich Man’s Fiat.”
Getting back to the history though, the concept model of the early Coupé was the crown jewel of Carozzeria Ghia’s stand at the 1960 Turin Motor Show, and attracted so much attention that Fiat commissioned Ghia’s Sergio Sartorelli to refine the car for a production model, which would be based on the 1800B and 2300 sedans. The big Fiat coupe debuted a year later in Genf and joined the Pininfarina-designed 4-door sedan and 5-door station wagon to fill out the 2300 series’ range. Due to Ghia’s limited supply volumes the production of the luxurious coupe was handed off to Officine Stampaggi Industriali, or OSI, an Italian coachbuilder founded by former Ghia president Luigi Segre.
If you wanted to step up from the base 2300 Coupés, a more powerful “S” model was available, and these cars were optimized by the legendary Abarth workshop before leaving Fiat’s factory. The ’60s were a golden decade for Carlo Abarth: his name became synonymous with speed and performance, and his masterpieces struck fear into his racetrack rivals all across Europe.
Upon its launch, the Fiat 2300 S was among the fastest touring cars of the day. The 2279cc six-cylinder engine of the 2300 series was designed by Aurelio Lampredi of previous Ferrari F1 engine fame, and as previously mentioned Abarth would then add finishing touches to the S models’ motors. Thanks to an increased compression ratio, a more aggressive camshaft, and two twin-choke Weber carburetors the power increased from the standard model’s 117hp to 150hp. Besides the engine tuning, all S models were also equipped with 4-wheel disk brakes.
“I went to see the car in a yard, because I thought the big Fiat would be a good car for me to compete with races in Hungary, Austria, and Germany. My Alfa Romeo GT Junior is a bit too tight, if you drive it the whole day this cramped feeling adds up. The Fiat was in a very poor condition when I got it; almost every part was missing, but when I read the six letters of A-B-A-R-T-H on the oil sump I decided to save her,” says Tamás, the current owner, as he recounts the story of his early days with the 2300 S. After the sandblasting almost nothing of the car remained, and a process which was originally supposed to be a restoration turned into a recreation.
In August of 1963, a year after the models’ sales to the public, Abarth went a step further in the development of the 2300 S and created three cars for competition purposes. Sources do not fully agree on the final setup of these 2300 S “Corse” race cars, and there is practically no conclusive information about them that exists today. Apparently the engine was bored to 2322 cc, fitted with three Weber 40 DCOE twin-choke carburetors, plus custom-made camshafts and exhaust system. These modifications led to around 190 hp and a top speed over 130 mph. The most memorable racing result of the Corse models is the class win and overall 2nd place at the Nürburgring 12-hour with Paul Frѐre and Lucien Bianchi at the wheel. Sadly though, only one of the three cars survived.
Tamás recounts that he “didn’t know much about the car’s history until we displayed the restored chassis at a show and a young man appeared at our booth. After a few questions he told us that the originally blue Fiat was brought to Hungary by his grandfather in 1974, where it was driven until 1979. The owner would go on to give the car to his then eleven-year-old grandson, but the family refused to store it in the garden until he reached driving age. The car was then sold and its known history ends at that point.”
“The two-year-long restoration of this 2300 S into Corse spec provided numerous invaluable lessons for my team. We had to rebuild most of the body panels, collect all the parts, and custom build some of the specific “Corse” engine elements usually based on photos alone, which upon recreation we also produced extras and sold to Italian customers. I remember how long I wandered at the Auto e Moto d’Epoca in Padova until I found the Ferrari 330 GT-derived front indicator lamps for the car. A lot of walking and talking, but totally worth it for the correct pieces! The Belgian Abarth museum helped us with all the data they had about the car as the historical files are incomplete about the 2300 S Corse. On one hand this made the process even harder and slower, but it also gave me a little freedom to add my subtle touches to the car and specify it not only to the FIA’s requirements, but also to mine.”
The reborn Abarth race car parks proudly next to Tamás’s Renault 17 Gordini historic rally car, and will be accompanied soon by his next project, a Fiat 124 Sport Coupé in a period-correct café racer style so keep your eyes open for that special car as well!