24 February 2014

1982 Fiat 131 Volumetrico Abarth - Hard Blown Rally Ace

Words: Amazosan
Photos: Michael Ward

In hindsight, the Fiat 131's utilisation as a championship winning rally car may not seem unusual, but analyse the situation at the time of its genesis and suddenly it does seem a bit odd. Here you had sister marque Lancia with the fire-breathing Stratos, a mid-engine Ferrari V6-powered beast of a car, which then is replaced with a fundamentally dull family saloon. Sure, Ford (among many others) had made using their cooking saloons for rallying the norm, but even they had a flirtation with a purpose built mid-engined car in the shape of the GT70, but this turned out to be a dead end for Ford.

There was actually a mid -engined Stratos replacement on the cards at Fiat, the Prototipo X1/9, but more conservative elements within Fiat decided to go with the 131 Mirafiori range, launched in September 1974 as the replacement for the 124 saloon. The 131 didn't even have the 124 Sport's twin cam engines, just carry-over pushrod four-cylinder engines and four-speed gearboxes; hardly the stuff of rallying world-beaters. But there was sense in Fiat's approach; in the real world, potential car buyers were still reeling from the twin blows of the 1973 oil crisis and the resulting 1973-1974 stock market crash. Petrol prices were still sky-high and frankly, another exotic mid-engine car that the everyday car buyer couldn't relate to seemed inappropriate; a rally version of the 131 would also be great for sales, as Ford had proved with the Escort (internal politics within the Fiat group played a part too, as they later withdrew factory support for the Stratos, placing full rallying responsibility on the then fully competitive 131 Abarth).

So, the dowdy Fiat was given to Abarth, a company with a history of rallying Fiats, to prepare the 131 for battle. The mechanical layout was completely conventional, with front-mounted engine and gearbox, RWD, independent front suspension and a live rear axle. It was nothing earth shattering then; in fact a product light years away from a competition car. But Abarth turned the 131 into a world-beater.

A more in-depth history of the 131 Abarth's rallying exploits can be read here , but lets fast forward the story to June 1981, when a new road version, the Volumetrico Abarth, was introduced, with a supercharged version of the familiar Aurelio Lampredi-designed 2 litre twin cam. This car, also known as the 2000 TC Compressore, was based on prototypes revealed to the European motoring press in 1980. These were based around versions of the earlier 131 Racing/ Sport having supercharged 1300cc and 2000cc engines producing 115 and 142 bhp respectively. The Abarth designed, positive displacement supercharger was belt driven and operated via a special Weber carburettor. This is a similar design to the supercharged versions of the 124 Spidereuropa and Lancia Beta Volumex but with a larger blower.

With two other Abarths from the Auto Italia article
The Volumetrico Abarths were toned down a little for road manners and to improve torque; equipped with 7.6:1 compression engines, oil coolers, an electric fuel pump, special exhaust and a completely upgraded suspension and brake package; power output was 138bhp and 158 ft/lb at 3000rpm. Other than the slightly lower ride height and rear ‘Volumetrico’ badges, there was little external difference to the standard SuperMirafiori series 3; the Pirelli ‘Plus One’ wheels and oval exhaust tail pipe were similar to the early 130TC Strada Abarth.  Approximately 200 were built, all were assembled and prepared at Abarth's Corso Marche factory between 1980 to 1983.
The lovely example here is no. 156 of 200 and was imported from Italy in 2004 and has been featured in several UK magazines.
A car I really, dearly wish there were more of, just so I could have the chance to own one.

- Amazosan

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