CC Capsule: 1968 Fiat-Abarth 595 – Small Scorpion, Potent Sting

I’ve seen a few ‘60s Italian gems about my far-eastern metropolis – everything from Ferrari GTs to Alfa rally cars. Fiat 500s are plentiful here, due to their being cute (a very highly praised quality in this country) and iconic, perfectly suited to local traffic and made in great quantities. Short of finding some carrozzeria-bodied special, the ultimate Fiat 500 derivative has to be an Abarth. So I guess encountering this baby arachnid here was just a matter of time.

The Abarth variations started early. As soon as the 500 was let loose upon an unsuspecting peninsula, Carlo Abarth gave it some vitamins. That tiny sting in the Fiat’s tail – a few additional HPs, nothing too dramatic – made an impression and Fiat ordered 100 cars to give the fledgling 500 a bit of an aura.

But the small Fiat that Abarth had really more interest in was always the 600 – it had been there for a bit longer, was a fraction bigger and had a promising water-cooled 4-cyl., not a screeching air-cooled twin. One cannot argue with success, though, and Abarth soon found it desirable to add a reworked 500 to their range.

This led to the Abarth 595 in 1963, soon joined by the even larger 695. The number was roughly equal to the cubic centimeters, meaning that the 500 had turned into the 600 / 700 thanks to Abarth’s tinkering with the twin.

Some were given an “SS” suffix, as in “Super Sport,” and those were particularly potent. This was not just about displacement: 595s were also provided with a new Solex carb, lowered suspension and a double exhaust. The 695s also received fatter tyres, wing extensions, special cylinder castings and a revised camshaft. But the brakes remained drums all around, and at best the power that could be expected was 38hp.

Our CC, if it is a genuine Abarth (whatever that actually means, as you could order Abarth parts and modify your own Fiat back in the day), is the almost normal plain 595, of the non-SS kind. You would think that the extra displacement would be reflected in that license plate number, but no.

If this 595 is neither a Super nor a Sport, that should mean it has a 27hp twin in that little rump, with those hoses sticking out (looks weird, but then I have no frame of reference with these Abarths. Maybe they all need to be that way…) It looks like the owner made a few mods of his own – the wheels and the brakes certainly look like they’ve had a major update.

I’m not sure whether this is a genuine Abarth, as there’s nothing easier than adding scorpion badges to an old 500 F, do a few mods and call it a 595. And it does have a few oddities – the aforementioned wheels, the single exhaust and the lack of Abarth decals do give one pause.

On the other hand, outside of Italy, there are few countries where a genuine Abarth could be found on the streets other than this one. And they did have those here back in the day – case in point, this superb Abarth Mille OTR photo, taken in Japan sometime in the late ‘60s…

Inside, the ambiance is your usual blend of Fiat minimalism and racing pedigree, with the slightly clichéd inclusion of the Italian tricolor along for the ride. Early models, based on the 500 D, made do with the base car’s twee round instrument binnacle by adding extra gauges here and there, but when things switched to the 500 F’s rectangular dial in 1966, Abarth versions received this collection of Jaegers, nicely grouped right where they should be.

I’ve read several sources on the interwebs about these little bundles of joy, but they don’t all agree. It seems that Abarth made the more potent 695 SS until 1969, but the 595 lasted all the way until 1971, when the firm was bought by Fiat outright (as all automotive industries in Italy were, eventually). To be confirmed by the CCommentariat’s CConsensus…

The company name officially disappeared in 1981, but they re-created it 15 years ago, just in time for the new 500 to get their scorpion badges. I see quite a few of those FWD Abarth 595s buzzing about, too. Plus ça change…