It’s Fun Fighting With A Mean Little Scorpion
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.”