With over half a century between them, you would think a 1965 Fiat 500 would be no match for a brand new turbo-charged 2016 Fiat 500 Abarth. Well, you’d be absolutely right. Although they share a name, they couldn’t be any more different!
The 2016 Fiat 500 Abarth convertible is one hell of a cool car. The first thing you notice about the Abarth 500 is how sporty it looks, with its rather quirky design that looks like a bubble waiting to pop. Despite its incredible popularity in Europe, the 500 has never hit those kinds of heights here in South Africa, mostly due to parts and the exchange rate. The 500 looks like it was perfectly designed for a young girl as her first car, while the Abarth looks like a car you wouldn’t want your daughter to get into.
The bumpers aggressive front end and sporty wheels do absolutely nothing to hide what may be underneath the bonnet. In red, the Abarth looks like a firecracker waiting to explode. It has a powerful 1.4-litre engine packed into its small Fiat body - and feels like an explosion every time you hit the accelerator. Thrust back into your seat; you instantly get the sensation that you’re behind the wheel of a go-kart. Every bit of the 118 kW and 230 Nm of torque are put to use whenever you drive this car.
“When you open this Italian Sports car up and hear the clear roar of the engine with the top down, it’s a real symphony for the ears.”
The 1.4-litre turbo engine has twin intercoolers that create a higher density of cooler air, which gives the Abarth more power. More power requires a lot more technology to keep it on the road, and this is where Fiat has gone above and beyond. The Abarth has a track calibre braking system and KONI front shock absorbers, which deliver maximum grip. This all ensures that regardless of the conditions under the wheels, the 500 will remain stable and accurate, especially through cornering.
The cockpit itself is incredibly well laid out and is designed specifically with performance in mind. With high-back sport bucket seats trimmed in leather, aluminium pedal covers, and a turboboost gauge, the Abarth 500 convertible is as commanding inside as it is out. Why it has back seats is still a mystery, although they did prove to be a useful storage place for our golf clubs. Most six-foot drivers of the convertible will find it rather humorous when your head peaks out of the top, but having the roof off and the wind blowing through the cabin creates the ultimate driving experience. When you open this Italian Sports car up and hear the clear roar of the engine with the top down, it’s a real symphony for the ears.
Standing on its own, the 1965 Fiat 500 performs well. Compared to the Abarth, it’s slow, almost stationary and it’s ever so slightly cumbersome to drive. With an engine that’s only half a litre, you can imagine this isn’t a car to take to the races. But for everything this car lacks in performance, it more than makes up for in design and uniqueness.
Trevor Woolfson, owner of FUEL Customs in Wynberg, was kind enough to let us get an inside look at his operation and his pride and joy, the 1965 Fiat 500. The FUEL Customs operation is like something out of a Discovery Channel reality show. There are heaps of rust everywhere, masquerading as cars; waiting for someone to apply the Midas touch and turn them from nothing into something. Because everything FUEL does is 100% genuine, all the parts for the 500s are imported from Italy. This means a restoration takes time. Like all good things in life, the end result is very much worth the wait. The end product isn’t only one of the most beautiful cars you will ever see, but also very different. Although the top comes down, it’s not quite a convertible. The interior has been refitted to a better than factory spec, and with a completely rebuilt engine, Luigi (as this 500 is affectionately known) is the perfect example of a classic rebuild.
We have driven the best sports cars on the planet, yet little has turned as many heads as Luigi did. So whether your heart is set on something old or new, don’t worry for one second what anyone else thinks of the car you drive. Sometimes let your heart guide you and if it tells you to get a classic Fiat or Alfa, look up FUEL Customs on Facebook. It’s a slick operation, and their products are out of this world.
onRoute took a driver safety and skills course with Yokohama Driving Dynamics. Here are some interesting facts they shared: