Currently reading: Sharing Abarth: Why you should join an owners club in 2022
The automotive social calendar is once again buzzing as owners’ clubs convene across the UK

From now until late autumn, many places, from car parks to stately homes, will be hosting groups of people with embossed hoodies and identical cars, separated from casual visitors by some fluttering flags. It’s the owners’ club meet; that highlight in the car enthusiast’s social diary when fellow fanciers bond over a Penguin.

At least that’s the chocolate biscuit ‘Two-hour Pete’ offers me when I arrive at the Easter meeting of the Abarth Owners’ Club Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire (AOCSSH), held in a corner of the car park at the popular Rykas cafe, near Dorking. Fortunately, I’ve brought the right sort of car along for the occasion; an Abarth F595C whose significance would be explained to me by members later. Arriving in it meant I could confidently enter the club zone and, under the admiring gaze of my new associates, guide my Abarth to its rightful place among its gaily coloured connazionale.

My experience of an Abarth 695 was marred by unbearably stiff suspension, so I was pleased to find the F595C a more supple companion. Either way, after a week spent hooning the little car around country lanes, I see why it inspires affection among the AOCSSH members. Simply, it’s the perfect club car with a great back story (Carlo Abarth founded the company in 1949 and through the 1960s contested his tuned Fiats with great success), enough derivatives to satisfy the most fervent pedant and the kind of chuckle-inducing driving manners guaranteed to spark a conversation between strangers.

Which, as it happens, is how I come to learn the origin of Two-hour Pete’s nickname. Having never met the 73-year-old before, I nevertheless pin him to the spot about my Abarth 595’s fizzy performance and tippy-toes handling, “…and then I discovered the Sport button!” By way of politely pointing out there was nothing I could tell him about a 595 that he didn’t know already, Pete announced he was on his fourth Abarth – a 178bhp Abarth 695 Esseesse. Prior to this, he tells me, he had owned, first, an Abarth 500, followed by a 595 Competizione mapped to 217bhp and then a 595 Esseesse 70th Anniversary edition mapped to 207bhp. ‘Capisce?’, his expression appears to say as he chews his Penguin. I do, so by way of a counter-distraction venture that judging by his accent, he isn’t from around these parts.

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“Chippenham, in Wiltshire!” he beams. “Every time they ask me how long it’s taken me to get to a meeting here in the south-east, I say ‘two hours’.”

“It’s why they call him Two-hour Pete,” interjects a fellow member, helpfully.

Behind every successful car club is a solid band of dedicated enthusiasts; people prepared to give up their time to organise meets, maintain the club website and keep the flame alive. Although he wouldn’t thank me for saying so and, indeed, insists the club has no hierarchy, John Wildey is one of those people on whom the AOCSSH depends. His passion for Abarth is obvious. He has done no less than 84,000 miles in his 595 Competizione, which he bought new in 2018, and I have it on good authority from someone unconnected with the club that he drives it pretty much at ten-tenths wherever he goes. “Every day I come into work he’s right behind me, blipping the throttle so I can hear the exhaust,” they say, eyes rolling.

His previous car was an ancient Peugeot 306 GTI-6, which he drove until it fell apart. “I wanted an underdog like it, which is how I came to buy my 595,” he says. He says the purpose of the club is to help fellow Abarth owners become friends, to show them what sort of mods are possible (most Abarths here are mapped) and, importantly, to help sustain members’ passion for their cars. In these digitally remote times, I can’t argue with any of that.

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But now to meet more Abarthisti. I spy a group clustered around my F595C. They’ve all noticed its stacked quad exhaust pipes. “It’s an active Record Monza Sovrapposto exhaust with rotated tips,” one of them tells me. “The ‘F’ in the model name is a reference to Formula 4, for which Abarth is one of the engine suppliers.” Another member is attracted by the blue strip below the rear bumper: “It’s a cool colour that’s repeated on the mirror covers. It’s one of six colours inspired by the 50th anniversary of the Formula Italia single-seater designed by Carlo Abarth.”

Is there nothing these people don’t know about Abarths? Actually, I reckon one of them knows even less than me. Looking like a nervous newbie at a Mormon study class, Stam admits he doesn’t own an Abarth but is thinking of buying one. “My current car is a Toyota Yaris SR but my friends say the Abarth is much better.” Said friends, standing alongside him, nod in unison. “I have a mildly uprated 595,” says Nick. “I love the Abarth community. If you meet another 595 at the lights, we always talk to each other and when we pass, we wave.” Lazlo has a 2014 595 Competizione fitted with lowering springs and an induction kit and mapped to 198bhp. “I had a Cooper S before that developed a million problems. Never again!”

It’s been fun but it’s time to go. In the few days that I’ve had my Abarth, I’ve become very fond of it. I can’t believe I’m writing this but I reckon joining a club such as the AOCSSH and attending the occasional meet would give me an Abarth ‘booster’ to match that of the car’s turbo (around 18psi under hard acceleration, donchaknow). They can keep their Penguins, though. Can’t stand ’em.

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To find out more about the AOCSSH, click the link.

What do you know? Fun facts about Abarths

The Abarth scorpion was inspired by company founder Carlo Abarth’s astrological sign, Scorpio.

Campovolo Grey was originally a surplus Italian navy colour used by Carlo Abarth on his first car.

Modena Yellow, available on the Abarth, is a genuine Ferrari colour.

Annoyingly, the 595’s and 695’s glovebox lids bear the number ‘500’… as do their boot handles.

The door mirrors are shared with the Alfa Romeo 4C.

The engine takes 3.5 litres of Selenia Abarth 10W/50 – and four litres costs up to £50.

You often have to hold down the right-turn indicator to stop it self-cancelling.

The letters ‘TTC’ stand for torque transfer control.

The official power outputs of new cars tend to be around 5bhp lower than those recorded on rolling roads.

10 best driving roads for an Abarth

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Coincidentally, the day before I met the Abarth club members in Dorking, the manufacturer compiled a selection of Abarth-friendly driving routes based on their excitement factor and scenery, and then analysed the number of images of each that had been hashtagged on Instagram (whisper it, but the roads can be enjoyed in any car). In descending order, they are:

Road Where Length
Wild Atlantic Way Ireland 1600 miles
Ring of Kerry Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry, Ireland 110 miles
North Coast 500 North and west coast, Scotland 516 miles
Cheddar Gorge Somerset, England 14 miles
Elan Valley Powys, mid-Wales 16 miles
Snake Pass Derbyshire, England 26 miles
Cat and Fiddle Buxton, Derbyshire, and Macclesfield, Cheshire, England 7.5 miles
Hardknott Pass Cumbria, England 1.4 miles
Bealach na Bà (also known as ‘Pass of the Cattle’) Applecross, Scotland 11.5 miles
Horseshoe Pass Denbighshire, north-east Wales 4 miles

 

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