Model history: Small sports racing cars were incredibly popular in 1950s Italy. Many of these started life as modest production cars and were turned into circuit and/or rally car by specialist companies. Many of the most successful machines went through the hands of engine tuner Abarth or Carrozzeria Zagato, who specialized in lightweight and very slippery bodies. In 1956 the two companies worked together to create one of the finest competition cars of the decade.
Carlo Abarth first approached Elio Zagato during the 1955 Turin Motor Show. He suggested to construct a Fiat 600 based machine with his mechanical modifications and a Zagato two-seater coupe coachwork. The kindred spirits quickly came to an agreement and during the Geneva Motor Show in March of 1956 the world was introduced to the 'Fiat 600 Derivazione Abarth 750 GT Carrozzeria Zagato,' or Fiat Abarth 750 Zagato Coupe for short.
Launched at the 1955 Geneva show, the Fiat 600 had a profound influence on Carlo Abarth's career. With its diminutive 22 bhp four cylinder engine the small family saloon did not seem to be the most likely base for racing car. Abarth recognized the potential and set about modifying the 600's engine. By fitting a different crankshaft and boring the block he increased the displacement from 633 cc to 747 cc. With improved breathing and an increased compression ratio, Abarth's version produced a much more impressive 47 bhp.
At Zagato the introduction of the Fiat 600 had also not gone by unnoticed. At the coachbuilder's 1955 Turin stand they presented a 600 with an elegant coupe body and a 30 bhp engine. It was this '600 TS' that inspired Abarth to approach the Milanese company. The combination of the Abarth engine and the Zagato coachwork could turn the Fiat 600 into a top contender for the increasingly popular under 750 cc class that was used for all of the major national and international races.
As shown at Geneva, the 750 Zagato Coupe featured a very elegant coupe coachwork. The bulbous shape was typical of Zagato's designs and resulted in impressive drag figures. Not only did Zagato's work decrease drag, it also lowered the weight compared to the standard body. During the season the shape was fine-tuned and by the end of the year the car gained the trademark 'double-bubble' roof design. The humps on the roof provided an aesthetically very pleasing contrast with the twin air-intakes on the rear deck.
Shortly after the 750 Zagato's launch the first victories were scored in the 750 cc class in hillclimbs in Belgium and Italy. It was the start of a seemingly never ending string of successes. Among the dozens of wins were class victories in the 1957 Mille Miglia and the 1958 and 1959 Sebring 12 Hours. Considering the dominance on track it certainly can not come as a surprise that the Fiat Abarth 750 was also a great sales success. The Abarth records have not survived but some believe that in excess of 600 examples were eventually produced.
Abarth did not limit the use of the 750 engine to sports cars only. Together with other famous coachbuilders, Bertone and Pinin Farina, he developed some very potent record breakers. Abarth held numerous successful runs at the high speed Monza track setting many world records. Some of these runs lasted for up to 72 hours, showcasing just what a marvelous engine the original Fiat 600 unit was. Thanks to Abarth's engine tweaks and the slippery bodies, the Abarth 750 Records reached speeds in excess of 200 km/h.
Celebrating the successes at Monza, Abarth launched the Fiat Abarth 750 Record Monza Zagato Coupe in 1959. Visually it was similar to the original 750 Zagatos but under the engine cover big changes could be found. The car was fitted with a brand new head that sported two chain-driven camshafts. Breathing through two Weber Carburetors the new engine produced 57 bhp. Needless to say the 750 Record Monza continued where its predecessor had left off. Fittingly the first win of the twin-cam 750 came at Monza during a 12 Hours race.
For the 1960 season the 'grand touring' classes were changed and certainly not in the Abarth 750's favour. For international events there now were now up to 700 and up to 1000 cc classes. National events could also run a 850 cc class. Abarth responded with 700, 850 and 1000 cc versions of the new twin-cam engine. None of these new cars were bodied by Zagato though. Even against the larger engined competition the 750s continued to perform formidably scoring class victories well into the 1962 season.
With hundreds of class victories the Fiat Abarth 750 Zagato Coupe has gone into history as one of the most successful racing cars of its era. This in combination with the fantastic Zagato styling makes it one of the most desirable of all of Abarth's products.
This Fiat Abarth 750 Zagato Coupe was brought to the 2008 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. Beautifully restored it participated in the Tour d'Elegance and was proudly presented in the 'Postwar Sports' class.
Beautifully restored, this Fiat Abarth 750 Coupe is seen here during the 2007 Blackhawk Exposition during that year's Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. It was later offered at auction and disappointingly failed to sell at auction with a high bid of just $50,100.
I got my first car while in high school. Itwas a TR-3. I had gone to the races at Marlboro Raceway with my mom and someone rolled one right in front of the grandstand. My mom knew I wanted to go racing and this terrified her. So a few months later, the local Chevy/Fiat dealer got a 750 Zagato in. After seeing the TR roll, it was a rather easy sell to get her to let me trade in the TR for the Zagato. It was with the 750 Zagato that I won my first sports car trophies in local events. I had never done well in the TR so running the Abarth allowed me to be more competitive. This gave me the confidence to later go into SCCA & the IMSA Camel GT series racing with Corvettes.
750 Zagato Coupe
In 1960, my Dad bought his friend's 1959 750 Coupe. His friend had campaigned the car the previous season in a few SCCA events. My Dad always said that his buddy could own a car for a year and it looked like he lived in it for 5 years. The car had never been in a shunt, but the cloth seats were worn through and the white paint did nothing to enhance the car. Also, the engine turned out to be less than reliable; much less powerful. Dad decided to do a "freshing" to the interior and he felt the car wold benefit from a new paint scheme. The seats were done in a high quality black naugahyde. The car was re-sprayed in red with a slight tinge of orange. It did look good. He had the deck blocked which may have upped the compression ratio somewhat. While never a fast car, the car cornered fairly well. God, was it tiny. I remember riding with my Father in a rain storm with a lot of lighting. I asked if it was safe in a car. My Dad responded that yes it was safe, but figured that lighting would go right through the little beast. Soon after the renovation, Dad sold the 750 which was a sad day for me.
I've been wondering when this car would pop up here. I love these little buzz-bombs, and though they're neither the swiftest of Abarths, nor the rarest, they are definitely my favorites. What can I say, I'm a sucker for exotic coach-work on small, clever cars.