Saturday, July 2, 2011

Abarth 750 Zagato Record Monza

In 1958, Abarth updated their small ‘750 GT Zagato’ racecar and renamed it ‘750 Record Monza Zagato’. The biggest upgrade was a new DOHC cylinder head that was specially designed for the Fiat 600D engine. As early as 1956, Abarth had already built up a reputation as a premier tuner of Fiat engines and was branching out into many classes of motor sport. To compete in the 750cc class of the Grand Touring Championship, Abarth commissioned Zagato to rebody the Fiat 600 into a purposeful racecar.
Thanks to Zagato’s weight saving body, the first cars weighed 1179 lbs (535 kg) and took advantage of Abarth’s 747cc tuned engine. With a high compression head and specially made exhaust, the power was rated at 47 bhp @ 6000 rpm. A number of prototype cars were made in 1956 and one of these appeared at the 1956 Mille Miglia to place second in class.
The production ‘Zagato 750 GT’ debuted at the 1956 Geneva Motor Show and the first cars were sold at the beginning of 1957. The final design included twin bumperettes upfront, Zagato’s double bubble roof and twin intakes on the rear engine cover. Five of these cars finished the Mille Miglia in 1957 and Alfonso Thiele won the 750cc class.
In July of 1957, Abarth committed to fund a record-breaking car with a sleek Pininfarina-designed body, tube frame chassis and 747cc engine. Raced around the Monza circuit for four days, the car took 15 new records including the fastest average speed of 165.376 kph for 72 hours straight.
At the 1958 Paris Motor Show, Abarth launched and renamed the ‘750 GT Zagato’ into the ’750 Record Monza Zagato’. This was done to honor the results achieved a year earlier with the record breaking car. Along with the new name came design updates. The engine now had the specially-made DOHC cylinder head which raised horsepower to 57 bhp. Zagato also modified the rear end to include three-quarter windows. Included on the window post was a ‘Record Monza’ badge which was fitted to both DOHC and single cam cars. Zagato also opted for a standard roof over the double-bubble used on the first series of cars.
During the 1959 season, the more potent Record Monza racked up an impressive series of victories. Four of these cars contested the 12 Hours of Sebring entered by Team Roosevelt with complete factory support. The cars finished 1-2-3-4 and were predominantly featured in the American press. This success continued overseas, both in circuit racing and in hill clmbs.
The success with the Record Monza caught the world’s attention. In the following years, Abarth raced similar cars, powered by 850cc and 1-liter engines. Called Biaberos, they weren’t bodied by Zagato and instead finished at Abarth’s own workshops.

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.

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