Tiny Classic Cars Will Let You Drive On The Limit, Anywhere
Photography by Rosario Liberti
Cars like the Abarth-tuned Fiat 500s are all about having fun at any speed. It’s the sort of car that we might need today in our congested cities: small, agile, great fuel economy, and with a near-promise you’ll always drive within the law—you’re playing with roughly 40 horsepower, after all.
Most contemporary cars will get you in trouble easily, unless you have nice roads or a racing track at hand. The 500 Abarth could be the car of choice of a more practical petrolheads: you’ll always go flatout, enjoy oversteer at 20 mph, and perfect your double clutching and heel and toeing technique. It’s a “legal limit” sportscar, and it’s incredibly practical in everyday use.
It’s also an icon and a collector’s item, like these two original (yet modified) examples, a 1970 Abarth 595 and a 1965 Abarth 695 SS Assetto Corsa.
They have it all: they’re quick, reliable, fun, and highly collectable. These vintage Abarths are, alongside Gianninis, the pinnacle of stylish and pocketable Italian performance. They’re icons of an era where you could take your daily driver to races all across the continent, maybe entering a few events on the way for kicks.
Located in the countryside north of Milan, this garage looked ordinary from the outside. I confess that Rosario and I weren’t expecting to see a complete, clean private shop, with all the tools you need to build and restore vintage 500s.
Through the door, there was literally a room full of cars and spare parts: 850s, Gianninis, Autobianchis, a Formula Monza plus spare engines, complete dashes, wheels…it was like like wandering into Carlo Abarth’s broom closet.
We could have spent all afternoon in that place, but the little beast didn’t leave us many options. We eagerly jumped in for a ride. Soon enough, we were bashing the throttle pedal to the floor, never breaking the law, going sideways at, what, 20mph?
We affectionately dubbed them the bombardone Torinesi aka, “Turin’s bombards” for their ability to wake up entire neighborhoods, scare everyone, and be effective on the field of competition. They’re the ultimate troublemakers for bigger cars, and stand as a testament to Karl Abarth’s philosophy that there’s often more satisfaction in humiliating bigger and more expensive cars with a cheaper and smaller one.
Less is sometimes more, right?