Abarth is set to complete its revival as a stand-alone brand within the Fiat Group by launching a sports roadster in 2012 — and it won’t need to buy in a chassis from Lotus or KTM to bring the car to market.
The new model is the latest step in an Abarth revival programme begun three years ago with the Punto Abarth, and continued with the arrival of an Abarth 500 plus a comprehensive range of ‘Esseesse’ performance upgrades for small Fiat models.
The planned roadster’s shape will be all-new. Its proportions and transverse, mid-engined layout will be roughly similar to that of the Lotus Elise. Its cockpit is also believed to use the same layout as the Elise: a fixed rear window with a simple, lift-out roof panel.
However, speculation on the internet that the car will use the Lotus’s chassis, or even the ultra-expensive platform from the KTM X-Bow, are “wide of the mark”, according to Italian sources close to the project.
The styling will come from Abarth’s own in-house department, led by the recently appointed head of design at the firm, Rubén Wainberg. The move is intended to recall Abarth’s 1960s heyday, when a series of specially designed Abarth sports cars were built and raced, using mostly Fiat components.
Abarth is working on its own tubular spaceframe for the car, which will follow tradition by making good use of proven Fiat/Alfa modular suspension components, as well as advanced and lightweight engines such as the recently launched turbocharged 1.4-litre MultiAir, available with outputs as high as 170bhp. Fiat/Alfa is also on the point of launching its own six-speed, dual-clutch gearbox, and admits seven-speed versions are a possibility for the future.
The entry price for the Abarth roadster is tipped to be “affordable” at around £25,000. This also clearly negates any relationship with the X-Bow, which uses an all-carbonfibre chassis and an Audi engine and costs £50,000 to £80,000.
Though engineering and design are at an advanced stage, the Abarth project’s business case is still under review and awaiting sign-off from group supremo Sergio Marchionne. Despite the success of the Fiat 500, which draws much from Fiat history, Marchionne is famously unsentimental about projects he suspects will not generate healthy returns.
One sticking point may be the size of the investment required for a car that will command worldwide sales of no more than 5000 units. Lotus’s current Elise/Exige volume is half that.
One point in the new car’s favour is that Fiat will soon have an ideal plant ready for its manufacture, just outside Turin. The group recently acquired the Grugliasco manufacturing plant of the struggling Bertone coachbuilding firm (the design side has been retained by the Bertone family) and is currently rebuilding it for the manufacture of various low-volume models and variants.