The whine coming from the straight-gear Colotti transmission pierces your right ear. You try to concentrate on the road ahead and listen to the engine’s sound. A quick glance to the instrument panel shows that you’re travelling at 5.000 rpm: that’s the torque zone. You concentrate and try to shift the gears of the straight cut Colotti ‘box as cleanly as possible. Miss the right revs and the car just won’t shift: instead of a crisp and fast shift, you’ll be greeted by the most hated noise by any petrolhead.
Do it right and it’s one of the most satisfying things you’ll ever experience: the 124 accelerates quickly in a rapid crescendo of noise and speed. At the right amount of revs, you can change without the clutch and quite literally the Colotti box sucks in one gear after another without hesitation. Get it wrong and you’ll lose a significant amount of speed: it’s in moments like this that you know why races back in the day could be lost for wrong gear changes. Driving an ex-works Gr.4 Fiat 124 Abarth is perhaps the most satisfying rinse-and-repeat job. If you are in touch with her, you immediately start getting into the magical rhythm of a true rally car. The 124 has been Fiat’s first true rally car and has been by far one of the most widely recognizable and competitive rally cars of all time.
It all started when Fiat began providing Factory backing to privateers racing in national rally competitions with close-to-stock 1600 124’s. At this early stage, Fiat only provided its support and did not have a true racing team. The good results and the increase in demand for 124’s forced the Company to begin an effort in building a true team. The opportunity to create a Works Team came when Fiat acquired Abarth in 1971, after seeing that it was cheaper acquiring Abarth than to remunerate every victory of a 124-backed team. Since you do not improvise experience and knowledge, buying a Company that had already strong ties with Fiat and had the right people to produce competitive cars was the right choice to do.
As part of the deal, Carlo Abarth imposed the condition not to change the engineering team in order to cause a potential paralysis of the Company. Using the creative genius of experienced engineers such as Ivo Colucci and Stefano Jacoponi, Fiat was able to create a competitive and fun variant of the 124. FIA rules for rallying imposed a minimum of 1000 units to be produced and sold to homologate a competition variant of the 124 and therefore Fiat created the 124 Abarth Rally, including all modifications that were later used on works and privateer examples. Using the 124 1800 as a basis, Abarth was able to make a 128 hp fun car for regular people to drive. The first batch of 500 cars was destined for the Italian market and for those who requested it, a special 170hp tuning kit was available.
The first official debut of the Works Team was on 15th October 1972 at the Rally Portugal with Alcide Paganelli and Ninni Russo who drove their car to an impressive 5th overall. The initial performance encouraged Fiat to continue its Factory effort and on February 12th, 1973 another Works 124 obtained second place in the Costa Brava Rally with Pinto and Bernacchini. Subsequently, an encouraging 4th place followed in the San Marino Rally with Babasio and Macaluso. The first, important international win arrived on April 14th, 1973 in the Yugoslavia Rally thanks to the all-female team of Tominz and Mamolo, therefore making the 124 one of the most feared rally cars of its era. 1974 marked the debut of the iconic “lobster orange” and light green livery and additional integrated headlamps. The season started with a victory of Bisulli-Zanuccoli at the San Marino Rally, which proved to be a massive boost for the development of the 124. Chassis 0064907, which is the car being featured in this Escape, was that very car. Driven in the period by Bisulli / Zanuccoli and Verini / Rossetti, it had an impressive history.
Part of the batch of cars produced for the 1974 season it features many interesting upgrades such as the rare and now desirable 16 valve head, the larger fuel tank, side oil radiator and Naca air vents on the sides, where seemingly 0064907 was the first 124 ever to be fitted with this specific bodywork modification. Period racing history shows an impressive pedigree, with participations in the Rally di Sicilia, 4 Regioni, Elba and San Remo, where it obtained an impressive 2nd place finish behind Sandro Munari.
In 1975 0064907 was driven to second place in the San Martino di Castrozza with Verini and Rossetti where this 124 played an instrumental part in securing the European Rally Championship of that year for Fiat. Subsequently, it participated in the San Remo Rally with Paganelli – Russo but retired due to an accident.
The 124 Abarth Gr.4 needs to be driven flat out for her to be happy. You need to put on your best attitude and learn how to deal with a car that was made only to be driven at full chat. It bears a license plate and turns lights but it definitely hails from a different era. It’s not super powerful: 190 hp are not brutal by any means, but they give you enough poke to be powersliding at any occasion. Yet, when you drive it, you recognize that it’s one of those cars that hits the right spot: driving should be fun, not scary, no matter if done leisurely or professionally. This is that sort of car that will put a smile on your face for days and will leave a mark in your memory. It’s fun, intuitive and not scary at all: if you look at the line that you want to follow she just magically brings you there in an eye blink. Steering is direct and light and visibility out is perfect: the car feels small, nimble and well planted. It’s loud and hot but we’d die to go back and drive her for a full rally, just for the satisfaction of mastering a truest driver’s car.
It’s hard to imagine that some people back in the era got paid to drive these cars flat out and win races. Having driven such a car is for sure a great privilege and an honour.
This car is available for sale on ISSIMI.COM