It’s arrived, and it’s an automatic!
Jonathan Humphrey goes back in time in the Abarth 124 Spider 1.4 Multi-Air Automatic
…I hadn’t looked at the spec sheet, my face dropped as memories flooded back from a chilly winter in 1989 and an old Fiat 124 Sport Spider in Vancouver, Canada. The deepest snow in years and still to drive, a dark, snowy 80-mile route through some pretty remote terrain to Whistler Mountain.
They call it the Sea to Sky Highway the route from Vancouver to arguably the best skiing in North America. The only snag was with this early Fiat Spider; the car engine was strangely mated to a three-speed Chevy automatic transmission. We set off in the darkness, foot anxiously covering the brakes, snow chains, -15 degrees, ice and snow all the way, ‘Fun’ was not quite the word, breaking down was not an option.
Nearly 40 years on the latest Abarth Edition the 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine and the 6-speed auto is a pick of the bunch on our busy roads; I haven’t yet driven the manual to compare. The Sequenziale Sportivo gearbox, with steering wheel-mounted paddle shift. Light and easy to drive, making all the right if not slightly rude crackle and pops from the Record Monza exhaust, the auto struggles sometimes to decide which gear to be in, but the torque and power is always instantaneous, on the open road pleasure is to be had.
The Abarth is not just another Mazda MX-5 even though construction takes place in the same factory. The 124 Spider has been blessed with the power that many always craved in the MX-5, 170PS@5500rpm and more torque 250Nm@2500rpm.
Agile on the road the Abarth Spider keeps your attention. The suspension is firm and grip is more than you would expect, but it still rides pretty well. The steering is precise once on the move and the Brembo brakes are up to the task.
The sports mode switch on the Abarth 124 spider increases the steering weight, sharpens the low-rev throttle response and the volume increases. The raucous exhaust note is not there just to disturb neighbours, pedestrians and other road users. (back in the day, the founder Carlo Abarth was reputed for performance exhaust systems. Old original Abarth exhausts sell for big money these days.)
OK, the ABARTH 124 Spider may be built alongside the latest striking Mazda MX-5 which on the whole appear better value in comparison. But if you can’t resist being in that addictive Abarth spectrum, of driving a pretty select car, with the fanatical Scorpion badging exuding the feeling of an elite sporting club then Abarth is for you. This car is painted in “Turini 1975 White” justs adding to the retro feel of classic Abarth rally cars from another era.
In my early twenties, I was captivated by a 1970’s Abarth A112 Autobianchi 70hp; I purchased it from a Notting Hill dentist. The Abarth A112 just 70hp, a regular boy racer car, LHD, rally prepared, a one-off in the UK, badges everywhere, once nipped by the Scorpion badge, a nod to Carlo Abarth’s birth sign, you are stuck with it forever.
Back to today’s car, the 124 Abarth Spider, is always going to be a difficult car to live with, Abarth cars nearly always have been, in the boot, space is limited just 140-litres, just enough for a weekend bag and a toothbrush, ladies. And in the car space is limited too, overly tall people shouldn’t even bother.
Priced at £34,050 its right on the money for a lower end Audi TT, but rare and limited is better, loaded with famous names the Abarth features, the Abarth Record Monza exhaust system, Brembo brakes, Bilstein suspension, BOSE hi-fi, these names cost money. Each car is certified by an Abarth technician, sequentially numbered with a metal plaque a unique number for unique customers.
This is an exclusive sports car of the old school, relatively small, great performance, sporty and FUN; let’s keep it that way.
Car reviewed: Abarth 124 Spider 1.4 Multi-Air Automatic – Base Price On the road £31,605 with options on car tested £34,050 0-60mph 6.9 secs Top speed 142mph Fuel Economy combined 42.8mpg CO2 emissions 153g/km Engine 1368cc 4-cylinder turbo petrol Max Power 170PS@5500 rpm Torque 250Nm@2500rpm Transmission 6-Speed Sequenziale Sportivo Automatic