Reader Submissions: It’s Fun Fighting With A Mean Little Scorpion

It’s Fun Fighting With A Mean Little Scorpion

By Petrolicious Productions
June 25, 2015

Story & Photography by Davide Cironi

How in the world could only 70 hp be so much fun to drive?

In my beautiful country, this small bully of a car is a real legend. On the way to Tolfa, an ancient village north of Rome, I can’t wait to meet Giancarlo, its owner, and our common friend Gian Pietro, talented designer with whom I’m building a Countach Turbo V6 (a story for another day).

Giancarlo is a former driver from the ’70s, and he raced a lot of Italian “muscle cars” back in the days. He kept in his heart this little one, despite having a “Group A” mentality, just to have a clearer memory behind the wheel

I ask: why does an ex-racer who has driven many beasts over forty years keep only an Autobianchi A112 Abarth in his garage? I will find an answer.

Here’s the car, waiting for me with that teasing smile and black hood. Giancarlo and Gian Pietro are talking about the car as they were teenagers, walking around it like they never saw one. I’m supposed to be the excited one here, I say to myself. We have a good coffee, we start chatting without pleasantries about the A112, and Giancarlo wants me to drive it first of all. He has a typical “old driver” sight on me; he’s both so sure and amused.

I’m 6’2” and the Abarth is a tiny box for me, but I can say I feel at home inside. My first car was a 500 L and I grew up in it, so it makes me smile.

Then, I turn the key and my face drops. Its engine sound is so incisive, nervy. This example is a 1975 third series car, so 1,049-cc and no 5th gear yet. With 70 horsepower, it promises 100 mph, but its actual strength is cornering. Revs go up and down quickly, the needle whips over 7,000 rpm…and I must drive it.

It’s easy, very intuitive if you’re used to hatchbacks, and truly sincere. Its gearbox and shift knob in the hand seem to be unfriendly at a first touch, but you only have to understand how they want to be treated. The leverage is quite deep, and shifting move has to be definite until the end, but delicate at the same time.

The tiny engine pushes incredibly well, thanks to its ridiculous 1,521 lbs (690 kg) weight. It’s amusing, but leaves you the time to enjoy everything, every single part of the driving, and every move I have to make. This is sort of the slow food of motoring, and so tasty.

Climbing the Tolfa hills with its exhaust screaming—and never lifting my right foot from the pedal—I can brush corners with tiny tyres. Giving it throttle in the middle of a turn shows it’s glued to the road, but if you’re on the bad mood you can slip its back by lifting the accelerator.

Putting it on three wheels is also an entertaining option.

I can now see why many old drivers started in the A112 championship, this is car a real driving teacher.

Its suspension is sophisticated, in a mechanical way, with no help from electronic devices, only a good design I can appreciate forty years after. Also, the brakes are forty years old. Not the same good sensation for those, though. Maybe the 5th gear was necessary, since engine revs so fast that car’s limit comes in a few meters.

The A112 has tons of personality, character, and a bit of a petrol scent. Imagine the drama: you just bought a brand new Mercedes-Benz in the ‘70s…and then some young boy in a red box is flooding your mirrors no matter which road you take home.

Every time I spend a day, so to speak, in those years it’s always melancholic. The steel, the scents, and training my eyes on low dashboard lights—without leds all around. I have the feeling of almost more response than requested from its mechanical parts because. In this car, you feel every single minimal movement the car does after the driver’s input.

Back to Giancarlo and Gian Pietro, still talking tirelessly with childlike enthusiasm, I can’t lose the opportunity to be on the passenger seat with the former driver. “Take me around the hills?” I ask. I love, LOVE, seeing a senior kicking a car like this.

After all, Carlo Abarth himself said: “It’s so much fun to humiliate bigger and more expensive cars with a modest hatchback.”

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5 years ago

I remember fondly these hot little hatches during my time I lived in Italy in the late 70’s early 80’s.
Unfortunately they never sold here in Australia but I managed to find a nicely restored FIAT 128 sedan with a 1.3 3p engine so power wise similar to the A112 and I have to say they are a bag of fun, it’s not necessarily what it does but how it does it, great little high revving motors with a great exhaust snarl, these little buzz boxes are the best bang for your bucks 👍😎

Jeffrey Hamilton
Jeffrey Hamilton
8 years ago

A wonderful article and a wonderful video….personally, I would have liked to see more photos in order to flesh out the story….interior, engine, different angles and details… etc…..cheers….JeffH

Ali G
Ali G
8 years ago

As an American I consider myself fortunate to have driven one of these in anger. Amazing little car and the visceral progenitor of the modern 500 Abarth.

Robert Hiermeier
Robert Hiermeier
8 years ago

I remember that back in 1992 my wife and I were vacationing in Italy. I had rented from what I recall a ford fiesta.
One day we were driving in this two lane road and as we approached a tiny village a car exactly like this one passed me, the driver did a heel and toe downshift as he was taking a turn through the village and I could hear the engine scream as the sound echoed from the walls of the houses.
The sound and sight I will never forget, it was so cool. Only a car nut can appreciate such nonsense, haha…..

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger
8 years ago

The very epitome of the age old adage popularized by Leno ; “Its better to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow ”

And as to the hot hatch quote from Carlo Abarth back in the day ? Trust me . Blowing by an F40 in an R5 Turbo Evolution in the Maritimes ? Priceless . A Porsche 935 in a grey market R5 Turbo over Trailridge road ? Beyond compare . Sticking it to a C4 in a Colt Turbo 8 speed in the twisties ? Ahhhh . Now there’s some memories to start the weekend off on the right foot with 🙂

Brian Garrity
Brian Garrity
8 years ago

Little, fun, “underdog,” cars like this are the reason I vow to one day own a classic. It’s almost impossible to replicate that connection between man, machine, and road or have that much fun at “normal,” street legal speeds in a modern car. Great write-up about a fun, little car!