I Got Stung by the Fiat 124 Abarth Rally Car and I Liked It
The rally car version of Fiat’s two-seater is part regular 124 Spider Abarth, part Alfa Romeo 4C, and 100 percent fun.
Earlier this month, Fiat invited me out to the Motorsport Ranch in Cresson, Texas to drive its 500 and 124 Spider Abarth performance models under the expert guidance of Skip Barber Racing School instructors. It brought plenty of both cars and my colleagues and I spent hours driving them through the cones of an autocross course and around the track. All of us got the 124 Spider a little sideways on the skidpad. (You can read about how the 500 Abarth performed in the first part of my coverage of the event and learn more about the 124 Spider Abarth’s capabilities in part two.)
One 124 Abarth at the event stood out from all of the rest. It had the same basic lines as the other 124s around it, but not much else. It wasn’t even a convertible. Its roof was fixed and covered a roll cage. Metal pins and a massive red scorpion logo hinted at the power underneath the hood. It was a full-on race car: the Fiat Abarth 124 Rally. Abarth vehicle engineer Dan Fry took the time to show me some of its highlights as I shot video for my channel There Will Be Cars, which I’m sharing here on Team Speed.
According to Fry, the 124 Abarth Rally is an FIA-spec machine available to privateer racers. The Bernini Rally Team has been winning races with it, its most recent victory being the Rallye Sanremo.
Fry popped the hood to give me a look at the turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine underneath. He told me: “The engine itself is very similar to the unit in the Alfa Romeo 4C.” There’s a big difference, though. The 124 Abarth Rally generates a lot more power – 308 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque, to be exact. A six-speed sequential gearbox helps put that to the pavement…or gravel.
Each time my [driving instructor] pulled back on the giant right shift paddle, the sequential transmission banged off an upshift. It was ruthlessly efficient and had no patience for pretending to be gentle or refined.
The interior was a landscape of exposed metal and composites, cables, and plugs. An array of multi-colored buttons covered the panel between the two seats. Fry explained some of them to me. “Selectable traction control, boost level, anti-lag system. This has all the tricks and all the toys.”
Earlier that day, one of Skip Barber’s lead instructors, Jean-Sebastien Sauriol, showed me just what some of those tricks were. We both put on our helmets, then I jumped into the shotgun seat for a couple of hot laps around the 1.7-mile course’s 11 turns. Sauriol is an F2000 racing champion so I was in good hands…and in for a good time. Sauriol launched us down the first straightaway. The grass on both sides of us turned into a blur. No matter how fast Sauriol went, the smell of the 124 Abarth Rally’s leaded race gas still made it to my nose. I felt as if I were riding the world’s fastest lawnmower.
Each time Sauriol pulled back on the giant right shift paddle, the sequential transmission banged off an upshift. It was ruthlessly efficient and had no patience for pretending to be gentle or refined.
Sauriol made dozens of tiny corrections to the steering wheel to get his line just right, save an inch here, cut a millisecond there. Where he could, he went hard on the power. When he had to, he went just as hard on the brakes. My body slumped forward against my skin-tight racing harness. The more it pressed against me, the wider I smiled.
Once our blast around the track came to an end, I emerged from the 124 Abarth Rally thrilled and impressed. At the time, I couldn’t quite find the words to describe what I had just experienced. A few hours later, Fry unknowingly did it for me. “It goes. It goes like stink.”