Many different animals have adorned car badges over the years. One stands out from the rest, if only because it isn't a svelte or powerful beast; but rather an arachnid. It's no less iconic, however, this scorpion becoming Fiat's performance stamp. This is Abarth.
Legend has it that Carlo Abarth chose the Scorpion logo for his badge not so much because it was his birth sign, but because it would be hard to imitate. It was indeed his zodiac sign, Scorpio from the very start and it has adorned some legendary cars from the beginning, right up until today's range of Abarth 595 models.
While the scorpion represents Fiat's performane brand today, Abarth's roots actually start on two wheels. What never waivered was Mr. Abarth's single obsession: going faster.
Karl Abarth was born in Austria and by age 11 was already covering the wooden wheels of his scooter with leather belts so that he could go faster and beat the older children in his neighbourhood. First he was a motorcyclist and always up for a challenge. He famously raced against The Orient Express in a motorcycle and sidecar combination, beating the train over 850 miles from Ostend to Vienna.
Such was his speed on two wheels that competitors alleged he was tampering with his bikes when setting the fastest times in practice for sporting events. Not to be outdone, Abarth changed machines and promptly achieved pole position during qualifying for the same event. He was an astonishing talent, both at competing and - coincidentally - at tuning and making go-faster bits in the pursuit of performance.
So where did Carlo come from? Well, he moved to Italy and so immersed himself in the Italian culture that he changed his name. He founded Abarth & C with Guido Scagliarini in 1949, the duo building their first car, the Abarth 204A based on the Fiat 1100. It immediately won the 1100 Sport Championship and Formula 2 and began a powerful - although not exclusive - association with Fiat. Alongside racing, the company manufactured tuning kits to improve the power and performance of standard vehicles and soon, Abarth employed 375 people producing over 300,000 exhaust systems a year.
Initially, Abarth's brand was only the scorpion logo, but the shield was added in 1954. The yellow and red colours were a tribute to Merano, the city where Carlo's father was born. The scorpion existed in various artistic impressions and the Italian flag embedded Abarth as an Italian manufacturer, the Austrian roots a distant past.
Abarth's association with Fiat became legendary during the 1960s with a string of modifications and motorsport successes with two of the manufacturer's iconic small cars: the 500 and 600. In various modifcations and states of tune, Abarth 500s and 595s - the fastest of which, were essesse models still seen today - and 750, 850TC and 1000 TC and TCR models lead some to draw the analogy that the rear-engined pocket rockets had their sting in the tail, just like the scorpion that adorned them.
Fiat acquired Abarth in 1971 and the brand continued to create motorsport successes, not least on the rally stage with the 124 and 131 series and on the race track with sports proprotypes. In 2007, Abarth got a new lease on life and more focused attention, creating official Abarth models of the Fiat Grande Punto. It has gone on to rekindle Abarth mythology in various 500 models and the return of the 124.
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