Is there anything cooler than an Abarth? Tiny, powerful, nimble, stylish – the most fun to be had with pants on. The current Fiat 500 Abarth, sometimes known as la bombinetta (the little bomb), is fairly common here, so I guess Japan got the memo. But older scorpion-badged derivatives are not so easily found. For one thing, they’re tiny.
And they’re getting rare. This Autobianchi was hidden in plain sight – I spied it from the street, sitting in its lair. Got to be good-looking ‘cause it’s so hard to see, as John Lennon said, so I ventured closer to the little beast. Even standing still, it seemed nervous and ready to pounce, like a pit-bull on caffeine. It kept the regular A112’s discreet elegance alongside this newfound butch attitude. A potent cocktail.
Weirdly enough, this is the second A112 I’ve posted this year, though the granny-owned Lancia-badged one from January couldn’t be more different than this one. It’s amazing how varied the A112 family turned out to be, for a Fiat sub-marque’s economy car. It could be a plain-Jane econobox, a bejeweled mini saloon or our mean and muscly little friend here.
Just as a quick remainder then, the Autobianchi A112 was born in 1969 with a 903cc engine producing 40hp (DIN) @ 6600rpm. The Abarth version made its debut in MY 1971 and would feature its own engine, a 982cc churning out a respectable 58hp.
While the normal version continued being made year after year with mostly cosmetic changes – eventually rebranding the car as a Lancia by the early ‘80s in some markets, the Abarth versions were becoming very popular with weekend racers, especially once the 1049cc engine arrived in 1976.
There isn’t much of an interior to speak of, though I’m sure this is all period-correct down to the switchgear and seat belts. This is a genuine rally car, after all, so one must make the most of the 70hp pulling the front wheels by taking off as much weight as possible.
Competition models like this one weigh around 700kg, which means that 70hp figure actually makes these pretty lively. I found a Youtube clip that shows this particular car in action. It’s the real McCoy.
This was filmed last November at a hillclimb event. The “Ontake-Salita” sticker is still on the A112, which is how I managed to track down this video and a few tidbits of information about the car. The race takes place in the Mount Ontake region, the second-highest volcano in Japan after Mount Fuji, in Nagano Prefecture.
I guess the A112’s owner has tried to emulate the Autobianchis that took part in the Monte Carlo Rally and other winter events from that era. The meticulous attention to detail, so characteristic of the fanatic Japanese owner-drivers, makes the present-day version even more authentic-looking than the genuine article. And one dresses for the occasion, naturally.
I’m not surprised that the A112 has fans in Japan. Car nuts here are very much into both pocket rockets and exclusivity, and this Abarth certainly ticks both boxes. So many of these treasures are hidden away in locked garages and only seen in motion. Given how quick this A112 is, my photos would have been a blur or two at best, so finding this particular needle in the giant haystack of Godzillapolis was a stroke of luck.