Classic Cars brings the past to life…
The August issue of Classic Cars magazine features the second instalment of a new Preservation Class series, exploring rare examples of cars that have miraculously survived in unrestored condition. In an exclusive feature Martyn Morgan Jones finds out how a 1964 Abarth Simca 2mila was carefully recommissioned after decades in hibernation to enjoy a new life in historic competition, then he puts it to the test on track. It’s a compelling read, and there’s much more to enjoy in the August issue, on sale now.
1965 Swiss GT Championship 2 Litre Class-winning
1964 Abarth-Simca 2000 Corsa Berlinetta
Chassis no. 136/0051
“Probably the most original and least used Abarth Simca Duemila in existence” Tony Castle-Miller, Middle Barton Garage.
After leaving Cisitalia in 1948, Austrian-born engineer Carlo Abarth set up as an independent engineer in Turin, the home of the Italian auto industry. From producing induction and exhaust systems, Abarth branched out into selling performance kits for production cars, later building a highly successful series of aerodynamically stylish sports prototypes and limited-series production cars.
Having concentrated mainly on the modification of Fiat cars, Carlo Abarth began forging links with the French Simca concern in the early 1960s, introducing a series of tuned Simca-Abarth road cars and, in 1962, producing a pretty, 1.3-litre GT coupé similar in style to the existing Fiat-Abarth 1000. Notable as the first car produced with an all-Abarth engine, the 1300GT was based on the newly introduced Simca 1000 whose chassis and suspension it used in modified form. A four-cylinder twin-cam like Abarth’s 1-litre Fiat-based unit, the all-alloy engine differed by employing horizontal, as opposed to down-draught, carburettors, and dry-sump lubrication. The prototype was reported as clocking 142mph on the autostrada, an outstanding performance by a 1,300cc car and one that must have given those racing Alfa Giuliettas cause for concern.
Abarth’s next Simca-based model – the 1600GT – arrived in 1963. Though recognisably an evolution of the preceding 1300GT, the newcomer showed the influence of recent aerodynamic developments in the form of an upturned ‘duck tail’ rear end similar to that of Ferrari’s contemporary GTs and sports-racers. Essentially the same as the 1300GT’s, the chassis featured independent suspension and Girling disc brakes all round. The engine’s cast-iron, production-based block was topped by an aluminium-alloy, twin-cam cylinder head featuring two magneto-sparked plugs per cylinder. The gearbox was an all-synchromesh six-speeder. 153bhp and 150mph were claimed.
Abarth’s collaboration with Simca ended following the latter’s acquisition by Chrysler in 1965, but before then the relationship’s final flowering had arrived in the form of the potent Abarth-Simca 2000 (Abarth insisted on having their name first for these cars). Constructed around a Simca 1500 block, the latter’s engine came equipped with a pair of the largest Weber carburettors ever made – 58mm-choke DCOs – and at the peak of its development produced a staggering 200+bhp. Independent road tests recorded a top speed of 165mph.
This example of one of the rarest and most desirable Abarth GTs, chassis ‘0051’, is a ‘time warp’ car with a successful racing history. Its first owner was Dr Hans Kuhnis, a Swiss chemical engineer and successful privateer in whose hands the car won the 2 litre class of the 1965 Swiss GT Championship. According to Swiss Abarth authority and collector Englebert Möll, “Kuhnis always had Abarth fit the latest homologated improvements to his car. On the Monday morning after every race, his wife would be instructed to contact Abarth and make the arrangements. His 2000 had everything.” Dr Kuhnis later campaigned Porsche prototypes, and his Abarth-Simca was laid up until sold to racing car dealer Scholtysek in Frankfurt, from whom it was acquired by Clarion stereo importer and Abarth collector Raoul Goetschman in Neuchatel. After 15 years in his museum ‘0051’ was sold via Lausanne-based dealer Carlo Perego in 1992/3 to Parisian collector Jean-Louis Laborde, who imported it to his home country.
Chassis ‘0051’ saw no use in his ownership but was occasionally started by his full time mechanic. When inspected in 2006 by marque expert Tony Castle-Miller of UK Abarth specialists Middle Barton Garage (and a former Abarth Simca owner himself), he summed the car up as: “The most original Abarth Simca I have ever seen”. It is quite likely that ‘0051’ has not raced since 1965 and all the rare goodies are still in place such as the original undertrays, under nose oil cooler and protective grille (undamaged), 58 DCO Webers, correct six speed Colotti type ‘box (often lost), twin distributors, aluminium rear brake ducting, mechanical rev counter, period seats…the list goes on. It was also inevitable that, with 1960s rubber seals and tubes, the car needed going through completely if it was ever to take to the road or track again, but most importantly it was complete, unspoilt and oozing authenticity. Nothing appeared to have been modified, removed, updated or damaged, unusual in the extreme for a 42 year old racing car.
After its purchase by Kidston SA last year, it was decided to entrust the Abarth to Middle Barton Garage for a comprehensive check over with a view to later entering historic events such as the Tour Auto, Modena Cento Ore and Ollon-Villars hillclimb. The Abarth was delivered to the UK in September 2006 and work began, gradually turning into a complete mechanical and hydraulic restoration. The engine was rebuilt with new valves, springs, bearings, gaskets, seals, timing chain drive sprocket and shaft, ball and shell bearings and piston rings. The original pistons turned out to be almost as new and were retained. The gearbox was also rebuilt and was good inside except for a worn crown wheel and pinion, which were replaced with an expensive new set from Germany, giving c.155mph top speed rather than the short hillclimb ratio previously fitted.
The original clutch was excellent, as were the driveshafts. New wheel bearings were fitted all round with new seals; the brake callipers were professionally rebuilt including the hand brake, and new pads were fitted. The steering was rebuilt with new track end rods and rebuilt idler; the steering box was good. The clutch master cylinder was replaced and relocated with an independent reservoir, leaving in its place space for a second circuit for the brake master cylinder for safety reasons, still using the period reservoirs; all flexible hoses were replaced with braided items covered in the original black fabric. The clutch lines were replaced front to rear.
Inside the cabin, all instruments work correctly and a new, custom made roll cage has been fitted which does not look out of place and assists in further stiffening the chassis, thus improving handling too. A fire extinguishing system is discreetly plumbed in. The original sliding Plexiglas windows and vinyl trimmed seats have been retained (with new FIA approved belts), as has the leather covered steering wheel, so upon opening the drivers door the first impression is of a preserved 1960s racing relic, not a modern ‘hot rod’.
In the front compartment, the fuel tank has been professionally cleaned and resealed; a filter has been added between tank and pump. There is a new dry cell battery too, with safety cut-off. The header tank, front radiator and oil cooler have been overhauled and the oil hoses are new. All the shock absorbers are new and have been given the proper finish; the springs are also new all round. The wheels are the correct alloys, 6 ½” front and 7” rear, shod with new Dunlop road/ race tyres.
The car is currently undergoing fine tuning and MoT testing and will be UK road registered: a temporary silencer is being made up for this purpose, as without this the sound, though exciting, can be heard a mile away! Current FIA papers confirming its eligibility have been issued and the car is also accompanied by its original (expired) Swiss registration, still in the name of Dr Hans Kuhnis, and a full dossier documenting the racing history, ownership chain and recent mechanical restoration.
A giant-killing car – quicker than the Ferrari 250GTO at Montlhery in ‘64 – it is a front-line historic racer and winner in the right hands. This Abarth Simca ‘2Mila’ is not just eligible but welcome at events including the Tour Auto, Tour d’Espagne and the Classic Endurance series, curtain opening one hour races for the Le Mans series which take place at Nogaro, Spa, Nürburgring, Donington and Jarama. It is also ideal for the Goodwood Festival and Revival races and the Gentleman Drivers series plus myriad hill climbs.