Red Abarth 595 parked
Beth Twigg

Beth Twigg

Beth is our Content and Paid Media Specialist, tasked with creating great articles to keep you both entertained and informed. She has two years previous experience, but has been writing and scribbling for much longer.

Read time of 6 minutes.

Abarth is a brand synonymous with high performance, sporty appeal, and unique exhaust sound.

With a long history and decades of racing experience, Abarth are known now for their 595 - a slightly wacky take on the classic Fiat 500 but with a sporty feel, more powerful engine, and upgraded styling - along with the 695 and iconic 124 Spider.

But Abarth are more than just a loud, sporty Fiat 500. The heart and soul of the Italian brand has always been their founder, Carlo Abarth, whose passion for high-performance and boundary pushing motoring was apparent from a young age. He had a vision for a company that was built on high performance and power, and to this day Abarth still produces cars that are small in stature but mighty in execution.

Abarth logo and steering wheel

Where did Abarth begin?

In 1947 Carlo Abarth was the sporting director of the Cisitalia factory racing team. An illustrious racing career was already under his belt; he had won his first race on a James Cycle motorbike in Salzburg in 1928 when he was only 20, and continued to make headlines throughout his career. In 1949, after the unfortunate financial downfall of Cisitalia, Carlo Abarth founded Abarth & C. in Bologna along with his friend and fellow racer Guido Scagliarini. 

A legacy had begun.

Abarth adopted the Scorpion, the symbol of Carlo's zodiac sign Scorpio, as its badge. The Scorpion highlighted Carlo's philosophy of 'small and mean', a philosophy that is still apparent today, with the 595, 695 and 124 Spider all being small cars that pack a mean punch.

Abarth really exploded onto the racing circuit in the 1950 Palermo-Montepellegrino hill climb, where, in the Cisitalia-Abarth 204a, Tazio Nuvolari competed in and won the last race of his long career. The enduring legend of the Scorpion had begun, and Abarth became a real player on the racing circuit.

To keep up with the financial demands of funding the racing team, Abarth soon began producing mechanical components for the mass market, allowing people to tune their mass-produced cars to add more personality and power. Producing components for these cars, including valves and steering-column gear levers, led to Abarth developing a range of car exhaust systems, including an unusual racing exhaust lined with glass wool that debuted at the 1950 Turin Motor Show. There were only 50 of these exhausts produced for the Topolino, but the idea became popular with enthusiasts, and so Abarth began to expand their production.

White Abarth 595 parked

Abarth was a runaway success by the beginning of the 1960s.

Not only had the company grown, having sold over 4,500 exhaust systems by the end of the 1950s, but the racing division was also creating waves. One of Carlo's key motives was continually challenging the company in motorsports, and so Abarth set out to conquer new international records - and more than succeeded.

Their run of records began in 1956 with the Fiat Abarth 750, when drivers Remo Cattini, Umberto Maglioni, Mario Poltronieri and Alfonso Thiele broke the record for distance travelled in 24 hours, after achieving 3,743km with an average speed of 155.985 km/h. The successes continued throughout the next decade, with Abarth breaking 113 records by 1966.

The legend of Abarth was hugely popular with its fans.

Not only did they love Abarth for the successes it was seeing on the racing circuit, but Abarth's dedicated approach to its work, trying to better itself time and time again, as well as their ability to fine-tune mass-produced cars into something more powerful and sporty, appealed to them.

People wanted an Abarth car, and the rise of the Abarth tuning kits meant that people were now able to tune their Fiats, using mechanical components and original accessories supplied by Abarth, into something resembling a real sports car. Abarth had managed to not only corner the market on a market that hadn't even existed a decade prior, but they'd also managed to revolutionise what a sports car could be.

White Fiat Abarth 1000 tcr racing

Abarth and Fiat: a match made in heaven?

1958 saw the beginnings of Abarth expanding into constructing its own models. Abarth signed a deal with Fiat which allowed it to take delivery of semi-completed car bodies. The company could then use these to add their own custom components, turning a basic Fiat car into a sporty Abarth. 

Fiat had, at that point, just released the first variation of the now iconic Fiat 500, leaning into the post-war demand for a basic, inexpensive city car. Abarth now took the base of the Fiat 500 and turned it into the Abarth 595, 595 SS, and 695 SS - all ancestors of the cars still in Abarth's line-up today.

By this point, Abarth had become a stalwart among younger drivers who all wanted to use the Abarth tuning kits to turn their cars into something more powerful, and the sixties turned out to be Abarth's golden decade. 

The Abarth 595 broke six international records in its first year alone, and by 1965 it had claimed nearly 900 victories. The Scorpion badge had become an iconic symbol of performance and success across the world, not just in its native Italy. 

Carlo Abarth had founded a legendary brand that had gained an almost cult like status. 

By 1971 Abarth had grown to a company of 400, but the move to focus on Formula 1 and subsequent change in FIA rules meant that Abarth was facing a growing economic crisis. Carlo sold Abarth to Fiat, with the handover taking place in October 1971, though he stayed with the business for several years longer as a consultant.

Fiat had an ambitious vision for Abarth, planning to turn it into Fiat's official racing team, with a focus on cars that would win titles. This ambition paid off. With its efforts focused on racing, Abarth continued to win titles throughout the 1970s, though the car production side of the business began to slow down. 

Eventually, with the reduction of the production operation down to just the A112, Abarth was phased out in 1984 after selling over 120,000 cars in almost fifteen years.

White Abarth 595 driving in Italian hills

The return of Abarth.

2007 heralded the rebirth of Abarth after top honchos at Fiat realised that the enduring legacy of the Scorpion still held appeal for younger drivers - even though they'd not been alive for the first run of the company.

Abarth was relaunched as an independent brand and, over the last decade and a bit, has seen improved sales and successful expansion into international markets. Like it had in the 1960s and 1970s, Abarth is still enjoying good results in motorsports; in 2011 the Abarth 500 competed in the 'Trofeo Abarth 500 Italia' and the 'Trofeo Abarth 500 Europa' championships. 

The philosophy of the relaunched Abarth has remained the same as the vision Carlo Abarth had held so dear all those years ago, and the company is still focused on performance, craftsmanship, and technical upgrading. 

In 2008 the Abarth 500 debuted, and became the key model of the brand, still popular to this day. In 2016 the 124 Spider joined the line-up, instantly becoming a recognisable icon.

Today you can pick up an Abarth 595 in either hatchback or cabriolet form, the more powerful Abarth 695 with 1.4 turbo T-Jet petrol engine, or the 124 Spider. The legacy of the Scorpion endures, much like the animal, with the brand's unique successes placing it firmly among the greats, where it will more than likely stay.

If you'd like to experience a piece of this incredible automotive history for yourself, take a look at our Abarth personal lease deals. With an Abarth 595 lease proving great value for money, just get in touch with one of our leasing experts and they'd be more than happy to answer your questions.