Classic Cars

This Abarth 1000 SP Sports-Prototype Has Raced Around Europe For Decades, And Counting. • Petrolicious

Story by Laura Ferriccioli
Photography by Marco Annunziata

It took a decade of passion, patience, and maybe a little obsession for this car to come back to life. All worth it, no doubt; imagine the feeling of sitting a few inches off the ground in an Italian sports prototype careening around historic road racing routes like the Targa Florio and formidable circuits like the Nordschleife. The fruits of all that labor are particularly sweet.

This Abarth 1000 SP (Sports Prototype) chassis number 046 came back to life at the turn of the century thanks to its former owner spending countless hours scouring the physical and digital world for the correct parts and people to restore this old competitor. 

Created by Abarth in 1966 (and given the internal project code of SE04), the 1000 SP is still a pretty singular experience in the modern age. There is no substitute for lightness and direct analog connections. The direct intake and exhaust notes mix together behind you head, unmitigated, un-modern. The go-kart-like proportions make Miatas feel like minivans. It has the agility of a small mammal and the eagerness of the predators that hunt them. This is the kind of car that leaves you shaking with adrenaline an hour after you’ve climbed out and dried the sweat from your back. 

The misto-veloce philosophy behind cars like this (which translates roughly to “mixed-fast”) results in something that is at once very easy to drive, but also with a very high ceiling of potential in the right hands. The extremely low center of gravity combined with the feathery weight (just 480kg, or about 1,058lbs) make the most of the inline-four’s relatively minuscule volume of 982cc, proving for the umpteenth time that while there may not be a replacement for displacement, power-to-weight is what really matters. And although the little mill produces just 105hp (not a lot in absolute terms), it is a very well made piece of engineering. Beyond the very impressive fact that it has over 100hp/L and began life as a humble Fiat motor, it’s also just plain cool. Case in point, it spins up to 8000rpm (thanks to twin overhead cams and double-barrel Weber 40DCOE carbs). 

Designed by Mario Colucci, the multiple tube-frame steel chassis of the 1000 SP proved adept in competition, from hill climbs to road races to more traditional circuits, even though the car was mainly sold to and raced by privateer teams and amateur gentleman racer types. 

The first major success for the model was achieved at the 500km of the Nürburgring in 1966, its debut season. An Abarth 1000 SP driven by Herbert Müller and Klaus Steinmetz won the under-1000cc class, and placed third overall. A few days later, the Italian driver Leo Cella conquered the sub-1000cc class at Aosta-Pila, which was part of the Italian Mountain Championship (hillclimbing).  The little Abarth’s success continued in the hands of gentleman drivers for over a decade, including at highly competitive hillclimbs like the Stallavena-Bosco Chiesanuova, and the 1968 1000km of Monza. From endurance racing to short sprints, the 1000 SP was a formidable piece of kit.

The example pictured here, chassis #046, was enthusiastically campaigned by three of its early-life owners, including Enzo Buzzetti, who raced it with Walter Donà at the 1969 Targa Florio, finishing 16th overall. Buzzetti loved the car by all accounts, and together the two took part in plenty of races, starting with the 1967 Targa Florio and going on to race often at the Mugello GP Circuit as well as in four editions of the Trento Bondone between 1968 to 1977. In the late ’60s it also competed twice at the Vallelunga GP Circuit, once in the Cesena-Sestriere, the Bologna-Raticosa, the Ascoli-Colle San Marco, Aosta-Pila, and in numerous other hillclimbs. Its extensive past is perfectly documented giving this Abarth 1000 SP a fantastic provenance, a real journeyman of a racing car. The enthusiast who bought the car from Buzzetti went to meet him in Rome, and although Buzzetti was close to 90 years old at the time, he was happy to pass the torch and reminisce.

The Abarth was subsequently brought back to its original specification, and promptly returned to a life of racing, albeit in historic versions of many of the events it contested in period. “Having people asking you for your autograph, which maybe for works drivers is a nuisance, for me it was ecstasy,” he says, recalling his time with the 1000 SP.

“I bought the chassis, hubs, wheels, instrumentation, and a part of the fiberglass bodywork,” he recalls, “But the body was in especially bad condition, and I basically had to have it redone.

“I kept the original doors, the dashboard with the original instruments, the cockpit cell, and the bulkhead behind the engine (which is from a fiberglass mold that includes the seat forms), while the front end and rear hood were rebuilt,” he continues. He sourced the twin-cam cylinder head from an Abarth collector, then the dry sump assembly, and the rest of the motor wherever he could find the parts. “The crankshaft was an original one, and cost me a fortune!” 

He enjoyed the car in historic races for over a decade, but eventually the time came to once again pass this little rocket to the next person in line. It wasn’t an easy decision; “When I sold the car, I must admit that I cried as it left with the new owner.” It is not easy to separate from a machine like this, especially after having dedicated so many years to its resurrection and new racing career. “I’m glad that it ended up in good hands, I know the guy who acquired it and although it’s not far from where I live, honestly, I prefer not to see it anymore, as it might just break my heart.”

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