Karl Alberto Abarth
Carlo Abarth (November 1908 – October 1979), born Karl Alberto Abarth was an engineer, car designer, car tuner, speed & endurance record holder and motorcycle racer. Abarth was born in Austria, but later was naturalized as an Italian citizen; and at this time his first name Karl was changed to its Italian equivalent of Carlo. Abarth was born in Vienna and, as a teenager, worked for Castagna in Italy (1925–27), designing motorbike and bicycle frames but even before that, back in Austria, he worked for Motor Thun and was a mechanic the then famous motorcycle racer, Joseph Opawsky (1927–34), and also raced motorbikes himself, winning his first race on a James Motorcycle in Salzburg on 29 July 1928. He was European motorcycle champion five times. After a serious accident in Linz he abandoned two-wheel motorbike racing and designed a sidecar (1933) with which he won many races and famously beat the Orient Express train on the 1,300-kilometre (810 mi) stretch from Vienna to Ostend (1934). Abarth’s racing career came to an end due to a motorcycle racing accident in Yugoslavia (1938) but his competitive spirit and will to win never left him.
The motorcycle design, engineering and racing link is embedded in the engineering DNA that led to the creation of the Abarth brand everyone knows today. The facts above are the ‘highlights’ but the Abarth connection with motorcycles and innovative engineering underpins the now famous brand of Abarth and deserves having the story told in a little more detail… Karl Abarth worked at Degan, a motorcycle frame maker but the offer to become mechanic for Josef Opawsky, who raced for the Motor Thun factory team, provided Karl his first motorcycle race, in April 1928; at short notice Abarth was asked to stand-in for one of the works riders and in his first ever race Abarth twice recorded the fastest lap, a major achievement which only fuelled his ambition to succeed. Further success followed as Abarth went on to purchase a 250cc Grindley-Peerless, which he tuned to perfection; on this, Abarth went on to win his first race; Saltzburg, 29th July 1928. In 1929, and aged just 20, Abarth was hired to race for British motorcycle manufacturer, James, this year also saw Karl Abarth design and build his own motorcycle – the very first ‘Abarth’ – powered by a water-cooled two-stroke; a truly ground breaking bike which demonstrated the engineering genius of Abarth. The Abarth brand was most recently seen back on a racing motorcycle when Valentino Rossi rode a Yamaha M1 MotoGP bike in full Abarth livery.
Following his life-threatening motorcycle accident Abarth’s attention turned to cars; he was well connected and knew revered racing driver Tazio Nuvolari and was a family-friend of Ferry Porsche, and, with engineer Rudolf Hruska and Piero Dusio, he established the Compagnia Industriale Sportiva Italia (CIS Italia, later becoming Cisitalia). Abarth had moved permanently to Italy in 1934, where he met Ferdinand Porsche’s son-in-law Anton Piëch (who’s secretary Abarth had married in the meantime) and opened the Italian Porsche Konstruktionen agency (1943–48). The first automobile outcome of this cooperation was the rather unsuccessful Tipo 360 F1 prototype – a ground-breaking design that suffered from under-funding before realising it’s full potential. The CIS Italia project ended when Dusio moved to Argentina (1949) but the links with Porsche continued into the 60s.
Carlo Abarth then founded the Abarth & C. company with Armando Scagliarini (father of Cisitalia racing driver Guido Scagliarini) in Turin on 31st March 1949 (why you will see the number 49 used often in promotions and publicity), using his astrological sign, Scorpio, as the company logo. The company made racing cars, and became a major supplier of high-performance exhaust pipes, that still are in production as Abarth. Carlo Abarth personally set various speed records at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza (20 October 1965). He sold the company on 31 July 1971 to Fiat and continued a while as a CEO and then moved back to Vienna, Austria. His wife Anneliese (born 1939) continues to head the Carlo Abarth Foundation and also wrote a biography of his life in 2010.
Carlo Abarth began his well-known association with Fiat in 1952, building the Abarth 1500 Biposto upon Fiat mechanicals. In the 1960s, Abarth & C. S.r.l was also successful in hillclimbing and sports car racing, mainly in classes from 850cc up to 2000cc, competing with Porsche 904 and Ferrari Dino. Hans Herrmann was a factory driver from 1962 until 1965, winning the 500km Nürburgring in 1963 with Teddy Pilette. Later, Johann Abt was promised by Carlo Abarth that he could drive a factory car for free if he won all the races he entered—which Abt nearly did, winning 29 of 30, the 30th being a second!
Along with its racing cars, Abarth produced high-performance exhausts. Later, Abarth diversified in producing various tuning kits for road vehicles, mainly for Fiat. Abarth was also associated in producing sports or racing cars with Porsche and Simca.
Abarth was sold to Fiat on July 31, 1971, and the racing team sold to Enzo Osella. Abarth became the racing department of Fiat, managed by famed engine designer Aurelio Lampredi. Some models built by Fiat or its subsidiaries Lancia and Autobianchi were co-branded Abarth. Abarth also prepared Fiat Group’s rally cars including the Fiat 124 Abarth, Fiat 131 Abarth, World Rally Championship winning Lancia S4 Delta and the 2011 European Rally Championship winning Abarth Punto S2000.
The Cars of Carlo Abarth (1949 – 1971)
Fiat Abarth 750
Abarth 1000 TC (Fiat 600 Abarth)
Abarth 1100 Scorpione Spider (Boano)
Abarth 1500 Biposto
Abarth Simca 2000 – coupé
Abarth 204A Berlinetta
Abarth 205A Berlinetta
Alfa Romeo Abarth 2000 Coupe
Abarth 207A Spyder
Porsche 356B Carrera GTL Abarth
Abarth Simca 1300 GT
Fiat Abarth 850 TC Berlina
Fiat Abarth OT1000
Fiat Abarth OT1600
Fiat Abarth Zagato 750 Record Monza
Fiat Abarth Zagato 750 Record Monza Bialbero
Fiat Abarth Allemano 750 SpiderFiat Abarth 1000TCR Berlina
Autobianchi A112 Abarth
Fiat Abarth 595 SS
Fiat Abarth 695 SS
Abarth OT 1300
Fiat Ritmo 125 TC Abarth
Fiat Ritmo 130 TC Abarth
Fiat 124 Abarth Rally
Fiat 131 Abarth Rally
The History of The Abarth Scorpion