Tubular treillis chassis and central engine or sheet metal body and rear overhang engine?... This was the Eternal technical bone of contention between car designer Mario Colucci and businessman Carlo Abarth, but it would never compromise the professional relationship between the two founded on sincere, mutual trust
Designer Mario Colucci came to Abarth in 1958, from Alfa Romeo. The engineer was temporarily transferred to Turin when the two companies signed an agreement to work on creating a new racing car: the Alfa Romeo Abarth 1000. The design would feature innovative technical solutions for Abarth brought by the technician from the Portello plant, in particular the tubular trellis chassis. Unfortunately, the coupé presented on the Bertone stand at the Turin Motor Show remained a prototype but, at the time, Carlo Abarth sensed how useful Colucci’s engineering approach could be for his company. He therefore convinced him to leave Alfa Romeo by promising him an important new role in Abarth, as its technical director.
Abarth and Colucci’s relationship was built on strong mutual respect, despite their differing approaches to the technical aspects of design. Abarth, who was attached to the Porsche set-up, favored vehicles with a square steel body and rear overhang engine. Instead, Colucci preferred vehicles with a tubular trellis chassis, and the engine in the centre of the car. The reasons behind Abarth’s different vision were also economic: he believed that his solution was cheaper and therefore more profitable for his company.
As a result, two different concepts of the racing car originated in Abarth: one was the vehicle with tubular trellis chassis and engine in the centre, and the other, made of stamped sheet metal, featured a rear overhang engine. The alternating development of both solutions became the leitmotiv of Abarth’s designs throughout the sixties. And even the test drivers, whose opinions were equally as divided, depending on their own personal views, rooted for one of the two solutions, making it impossible to determine which architecture was superior.
The first task Abarth assigned to Colucci, in 1960, was that of designing a Sport Prototype - a lightweight and powerful closed-wheel racing car with a two-seater spider body - in which the engineer could let his creativity run wild. The result was the first Fiat Abarth Sport Spider, with steel tubular trellis chassis and central engine. Engines with different displacements coupled with various gears were tried out in the same chassis, including some made by Fiat and others by French manufacturer Simca, with which Carlo Abarth had ongoing technical and commercial relations.
After a series of ups and downs, the turning point arrived in 1966 with design SE04, for the Fiat Abarth 1000 SP, where 1000 indicated the displacement in cubic centimetres and SP stood for Sport Prototype. Carlo Abarth acknowledged Colucci’s bravura in designing the vehicle using simple and cheap solutions that would make it a manageable option for gentleman drivers, to whom the 1000 SP was mainly targeted.
The new 1000 SP took to the racetrack with the official Abarth Racing team and the many excellent results it achieved in prestigious races proved to be the best possible advertising means for promoting the vehicle to gentleman drivers
The Sport Prototype was driven by the umpteenth evolution of the Abarth twin-cam engine built on the Fiat 600 base. The unit, located behind the driver, achieved a power output of 105 HP at 8,000 rpm. Considering its displacement of under a litre (982 cm3) the engine would have had a specific power in excess of 100 HP/litre. This value was considerably high for that period, also bearing in mind that the 1000 SP was designed to excel both in short uphill races and in long, hard, endurance races.
Its lightweight chassis and body in polyurethane and fibreglass held the 480 kg dry kerb weight of the vehicle, providing a maximum speed of over 220 km/h. Its simple, low, streamlined lines, especially at the front, were possible thanks to the fact that the radiator motor was located on the sides. A solution which, in a very low-lying vehicle, offered better protection for the radiator hoses. This resulted in the typical rounded shape of the rear mudguards, which were preceded by powerful air vents. The vehicle was characterised by a large panoramic glass windscreen, a prerequisite for obtaining homologation as a Sport vehicle in Group 4.
To enable the first specimens of the 1000 SP to race, Abarth had to register the vehicles in the category in which Formula and one-off vehicles competed: the gap between the Abarth proposal and the competition could easily have proved insurmountable, but this was not the case. The first important success was achieved at the gruelling 500 km race on the Nürburgring track, on 4 September 1966: the Abarth 1000 SP, driven by Müller and Steinmetz, won the 1000 category outright and came third overall. The race was won by Ernst Furtmayr - expert uphill racer and winner of the Mountain Championships in Germany and Austria - in an Abarth OT 1300.
The echo of that victory again reverberated just a few days later in Valle d’Aosta: at the Aosta-Pila uphill race, which counted towards the Italian Mountain Championship, Italian driver Leo Cella won the 1000 category, masterfully driving the new Abarth creation to victory. Word of these two surprising successes began to get around and Abarth soon began receiving its first orders for the vehicle. After producing 50 cars, in March 1968, Abarth was able to obtain Group 4 Sport/ Class 1000 homologation.
And the 1000 SP kept on racking up successes, even in the hands of gentleman drivers. Veneto-born driver Lado took home the first victory in the new category, winning the Stallavena-Bosco Chiesanuova uphill race on the roads of his home territory, while other gentleman drivers also contended in the endurance competitions. The Palazzoli/Bottalla and Pasotto/Grano teams won the class at the 1000 Km in Monza on 25 April 1968. Benefiting from numerous developments and transformations, the vehicle continued racing for over a decade, gratifying many gentleman drivers, some of whom would happily wait a long time to receive their vehicles ordered from Abarth.
In this way, Carlo Abarth fulfilled his entrepreneurial goal of selling his customers a trump card, and Colucci experienced the satisfaction of having designed a vehicle according to his own beliefs that also won the favour of his boss. However, their bone of contention regarding the two technical solutions would never be buried. One vehicle that could be considered a Solomonic blend of their two diverging visions was the 1967/68 Abarth 2000 Sport Tipo SE010. Built on a lightweight tubular “Colucci-style” chassis, it was fitted with a rear overhang engine, as favoured by Carlo Abarth. The relationship between the two men would continue to be built on mutual trust and support, and Colucci would continue contributing to the destiny of Abarth with his technical ingenuity for many years to come.
Our car: The only 1000SP raced in the 24 hours of Le Mans.
The Abarth 1000 SP chassis #SE04*0047 took the start of the mythical Le Mans 24 Hours race in 1969. This edition was won by 24-year-old Jacky Ickx (author of the famous start walk) associated with Jackie Oliver in the Ford GT 40.
It is the only Abarth 1000SP to take part in the 24h race.
Of the 109 cars entered for the 1969 Le Mans 24 Hours, only 45 managed to qualify Among them was number 51: the Abarth 1000 SP entered by Ecurie Fiat-Abarth France for Italian drivers Maurizio Zanetti and Ugo Locatelli, and only 14 saw the finish line. In the prototype class up to 1150 cc, the little Abarth's main competitor was the Alpine Renault A210 of Serpaggi-Ethuin, which finished in 12th place.Despite promising tests, the adventure in Le Mans turned out to be short-lived for #SE04*0047, due to a faulty distributor, causing an early withdrawal on the ninth lap. Apart from this unfortunate participation Zanetti and Locatelli shared the cockpit throughout the 1969 season. Starting with the 1000 km of Monza, the first race in which their 1000 SP (in the colours of the Jolly Club team) finished 14th and won the Gr. 6 prototype class up to 1000 cc. The two gentlemen drivers then tackled the Targa Florio (44th OA), then the hill-climbing races... Trieste-Opicina, Trento-Bondone, Cesana-Sestriere, Malegno-Borno.
At international level, in addition to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Zanetti drove our Abarth in the Nürburgring 500 km (13th OA) and the Coupe du Salon (2nd OA), while Locatelli took part in the 1000 km of Paris (14th OA).
In 1970, #SE04*0047 changed hands, bought by Renzo Ruspa and Pier Giorgio Pelegrin. Among the most important races are again the Targa Florio (16th OA) and the "Circuito Mugello". During this period, the bodywork underwent some modifications. The most obvious one is at the rear to improve aerodynamics, facilitate the cooling of the engine and to save a few precious kilos, a new short bonnet was fitted to our Abarth.
At the next change of hands, the car crossed the border to France, bought by the racing driver Jean-Marie Lemerle. He registered #SE04*0047 as #SE04*0043 and changed the chassis number, thus avoiding the payment of customs duties. Lemerle will enter his new acquisition in many hill-climbing races and road circuits, circuit of Soisson, Course de Cote d'Autun etc...
In Retromobile 2008, our Abarth was on Christophe Pund's stand at the Galerie des Damiers.
The same year, it was back on the Le Mans track where it made a comeback during the Le Mans Classic in the hands of Wolfi Zweifler, a great collector and driver of Italian cars.
Sometime later, it joined the team of Pierre Mellinger, great Ferrari collector who once again entered the little Abarth on the Le Mans track before handing it over to its current owner, who will give it a special place in his private museum.
Today, in its 1969 Le Mans configuration, the car is in an incredible state of preservation having benefited from a careful restoration by GPS Classic making it perfectly fit to shine at historic races such as Le Mans Classic. An extensive file accompanies the car as does its second "short" bonnet from the 1970 season.