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.