And this isn’t any Fiat 124 Rally, either, but the first prototype. “We love it,” says technical development chief Maurizio Consalvo. “It’s our first baby.” Oh. Good.
Another reason for a raised pulse is the 124 Rally’s mechanical recipe, which in places is decisively different from the standard edition’s. Instead of 168bhp and 184lb ft, you have 296bhp and a fat 444lb ft driving the rear wheels of a car weighing only 1050kg. The substantial extra punch is provided by the same 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol engine used in the Alfa Romeo 4C, mounted slightly further back than the 124's standard 1.4-litre engine
to produce an ideal 50/50 weight distribution that’s all the more vital in a rally car that spends most of its time urgently changing direction.
The transmission is a paddle-
shift dog-ring sequential ’box dispensing with friction-generating synchronisers to yield a briefer torque interruption during shifts, as well as satisfyingly urgent thunks when drive resumes. It’s activated
via a pair of generously scaled carbonfibre paddle shifters; there is a clutch pedal, but for starting off only. The steering wheel carries most of the 124 Rally's key controls, from indicators to headlight flashers, horn, wipers, washers, starter and launch control; all of these buttons are tiny but no more than a thumb span away.
The most intriguing occupants of the wheel's boss are two small rotary knobs labelled ALB and TC. The former controls the sensitivity of the throttle over five positions, delivering a gently measured response at one end to suit gravel, snow and other low-friction surfaces, with the other extreme triggering instant reactions appropriate for hot sticky tyres on hot sticky tarmac.
Traction control (TC) provides just that, its effectiveness heightened by a mechanical limited-slip differential. There are five settings here, too, each allowing the 124 Rally to drift further out of shape, the final click providing no interventions at all. “It’s not very different from a road car in terms of the parameters it measures,” says Consalvo, “but it needs to be quick, aggressive and work in the hands of a driver with considerable experience.” It also allows the rear end to slide more in the lower gears. If that’s not enough for a graceful slide around a hairpin, there’s always the huge vertical rod between the seats: the fly-off handbrake.
Before the drive comes the ride, allowing some chance to memorise a stage notable for a surprising number of very similar tight 180deg turns, some long sweepers, a yump and the bit where Fiorio lofts the car's passenger side skywards. He demonstrates the effects of those rotary knobs, deftly deploys the handbrake and shows breathtakingly little respect for the road’s edge and the Abarth’s flanks, assaulting undergrowth and cutting over deep gullies that have you wincing for the impact. Strangely, we feel barely more than a tremor.