Curbside Classic: 1965 Abarth-Simca 2000 GT Corsa – Turin And Poissy, Nitro And Glycerin

The name Abarth is closely associated with several things, including scorpions, fast cars and Fiats. But Abarth didn’t work exclusively with the Fiat marque – it was just really hard not to. If you’re in post-war Italy and specialized in making souped-up engines for popular cars, you’re going to be working mostly with Fiat. But Fiat was a many-faceted conglomerate, and Abarth’s high name recognition meant they could work with some of Fiat’s foreign branches, including the likes of Steyr-Puch, Neckar and Simca.

The latter firm, founded in France in the mid-‘30s, was majority Fiat-owned but had a degree of independence. Simca had a home-grown car range and in-house design and engineering departments, though they regularly called upon the Turin mothership for technical and design input. So it was perhaps only logical that they would knock on Abarth’s door to create a few spicy variants of their (usually rather tame) family cars. It turns out that the Abarth-Simca GT, despite its short production run, became much more than that.

In 1961, Simca launched the 1000, a new rear-engined small 4-door car based on a discarded Fiat 600 follow-up. The Simca 1000 sprouted a Bertone coupé derivative, but it was hardly sporty. For that, Simca needed the undisputed master of Fiat-derived rear-engined road rockets: Carlo Abarth.

Above: Simca-Abarth 1150 and 1150SS; below: Abarth-Simca 1300 GT.


By late 1962, the Simca-Abarth was born. Or was that Abarth-Simca? It depended on the model, actually. The ones that kept the 1000’s squarish four-door body would be dubbed Simca-Abarth. These 1137cc cars were available in four states of tune, from 55 to 85 hp (DIN). But Abarth would also make a far more ambitious fastback coupé design, derived from the Fiat-Abarth Monomille but based on Simca platforms, and called that the Abarth-Simca 1300 GT.

With an Abarth DOHC 4cyl. developing 127hp, the 1300 GT was a fearsome competitor, but it was just the start: soon Abarth announced the creation of a 1600 GT, which had a different tail with a Kamm back and, in early 1963, the 2000 GT (soon nicknamed “2Mila”) was also launched. The early pure race cars, like the one above, had a longer nose as well as the 1600 GT’s tail, but this was not to be replicated in subsequent “production” models.

For Abarth wanted to race the 1300 and 2000 GT, and to do so they needed to sell at least 100 units of each model. So a small run of street-legal Abarth-Simca coupés was ordered made, though not of the 1600 version, which was deemed surplus to requirements.

The 2000 GT’s jewel of an engine was entirely created and made by Abarth. It was an 1946cc all-alloy DOHC 4-cyl. with two spark plugs per cylinder and two huge Weber carbs. In regular street tune, it produced 177hp (DIN), but in Corsa tune, like our feature car, one could expect anything from 185 to 205hp. Top speed for the hottest cars was around 270kph (165mph) – a truly astonishing speed for anything bearing the name Simca.

The Simca bits were in a minority, but they were there. The floorpan, suspension geometry, steering rack and, unfortunately, gearbox were from the French partner. That last item was, more than anything, the reason why the Abarth-Simca did not wipe the floor with the likes of Porsche, Alpine and Alfa Romeo on the racetrack. When the fragile transmission held, the Abarth performed very well – the 1300 and 2000 won 177 races in 1964 alone. But they could have won many more.

The other issue was the car’s price. In France, these cost over FF40,000 in 1965 – an insane amount of money, well over twice what the Alpine A110 or the Matra Djet cost. Granted, it was incredibly quick, but one could buy a Thunderbird, a Lancia Flaminia convertible or an E-Type Jag for that kind of money, and those offered speed as well as luxury.

Luxury wasn’t part of the deal in the Abarth-Simca. But that was not its purpose – this was a pure racing machine. This one, being a slightly later model, was even fitted with a proper gearbox, Abarth’s own 6-speed.

The term “Carrozzeria Abarth” is not one we’re used to seeing much, but the Abarth works did have a small body shop. However, it’s highly likely that they outsourced the manufacture of the Abarth-Simca bodies to Sibona & Basano, a third-tier coachbuilder sub-contracted by a number of bigger carrozzerie. The body’s design is usually credited to Abarth’s chief engineer, Mario Colucci.

The rear end was specifically designed to be like this: all rear-engined Abarths were meant to be driven hard with the hood open. This one was just open permanently. While we’re here, can anyone identify the rear lights? They’re not from the Simca range, but I have a feeling I’ve seen them somewhere.

The Simca-Abarth GTs were pretty successful on the track, but it doesn’t look as if they bothered building more than the 100 units required by the FIA. Part of the reason was that Simca were in a state of flux at the time, with Fiat gradually pulling out and selling their shares to Chrysler in tranches from 1963 onwards. Officially, the Abarths remained in the Simca range until 1966, but production likely stopped the previous year.

The car’s production run and sales career may have been cut short, but the Abarth racing team kept them busy on the track until the end of the 1968 season. After that, a new Abarth 2000 Sport took over – same engine, but a completely new chassis and body that would never be street-legal. And in 1971, Fiat bought out Abarth outright – though they made sure to keep the name and cool scorpion badge alive.

With its incredibly powerful engine, Zagato-esque looks, quirky rear-window-mounted fuel cap, spartan interior and somewhat tenuous French connection, the Abarth-Simca GT has a lot going for it. Plus, of all the cars bearing the scorpion emblem, this one is about as close to a pure Abarth creation as can be. In a different timeline, Abarth could have taken on Alfa Romeo and Lancia – they certainly had the capacity to design great sports cars. But in the relatively small Italian automotive landscape, all roads inevitably lead to Fiat.