SOME Fiat 500s end up as a novelty run-about, some become 21st birthday presents. Others are lucky to have an Abarth badge slapped on their nose and live the life of a hot hatch. But we’re certain every single one dreams of becoming an Abarth 695 Assetto Corse.
The 695 Assetto Corse is an evolution of the 500 Assetto Corse car built for several European one-make series. It’s essentially an Abarth 595 given the gladiator treatment. It’s stripped of anything superfluous, installed with a full-roll cage and Sadev six-speed sequential transmission, and its 1.4-litre four banger’s outputs are jolted to 151kW and 300Nm thanks to a larger turbocharger. In other words, it’s the ultimate bambino.
Three have been sitting idle since their participation in February’s Bathurst 12 Hour. So to make use of them, and provide the press with a taste of the brand’s most hard-core offerings, Fiat dusted off the trio and let us scribes loose around Victoria’s Broadford circuit during the Fiat 500 and Abarth Series 3 model launch.
The cars aren’t identical to their European brethren. In preparation for the Bathurst 12 Hour the cars were given PPE Engineering treatment to ensure they could handle Mount Panorama and survive the race while rubbing side-mirrors with international GT3 brass.
The vehicles scored Bosch’s trick Collision Avoidance System for Motorsport (CAS-M) technology that’s been used in Le Mans cars. This tech consists of a rearward facing radar and camera that displays oncoming traffic on a screen mounted on the driver’s A-pillar. The CAS-M technology has since been removed.
Unlike the endurance teams, though, our drive was to be short and sweet: Three laps with an instructor to get the slicks up to temperature (we had Steve Glenney, regular Time Attack gun), then three of our own. Simple. But it was initially a little daunting. These three specially imported tin-tops had a Bathurst enduro on their CV and their proud caretakers, PPE engineering and Fiat’s press team, were looking on from pit wall.
However, leaving pit lane was the most difficult part. Even getting in and sitting in the race car was tedious. You had to dodge the roll cage, decipher the five-point harness, and while Steve Glenney’s no giant, he sure liked his Sabelt bucket seat furlongs from the steering wheel. Then, with arms and legs almost at full extension, we were hurried to get out on track. After a stall or two, a push got us going.
Three laps went quick, but it was enough to prove there’s a weapon race car hiding in the Abarth 595 road version. The Assetto Corse’s 151kW is plenty fast for its 970kg and snatching each gear (with a pull towards you) of the sequential six-speed is an endorphin release for anyone who grew up on Gran Turismo. Downshifts were equally as satisfying and were accepted with or without mitigation of the twin-plate metal-ceramic clutch.
The race calibrated steering proved beautifully light and linked to an obedient front-end that responded extremely well to inputs. The chassis still had the inherent wiggle of the Abarth’s chassis, thanks to its wheelbase, but PPE’s efforts to dial in as much stability as possible made it ultra-easy to find a rhythm with the 695 Assetto Corse. And the aluminium pedals felt satisfyingly chunky.
Its biggest flaw, of very few, was visibility. The combination of winged bucket seats, a low-seat and the Abarth’s invasive A-pillars made it hard to see out of the thing properly. Fiat’s endurance drivers must have been kissing the CAS-M screen at the end of the 12 hour.
Afterwards we were reeling that Australia doesn’t have its own Trofeo Abarth series. The 695 Assetto Corse is simply hilarious fun, a perfect entry-level vehicle for tin-top racing. And we’re sure Fiat would have little trouble filling a grid – we’re told the cars themselves cost 35,000 Euro (about $48K) from factory.
Fiat Chrysler’s unsure what’s next for the three 695 Assetto Corse cars. It says another go at the Bathurst 12 Hour is a possibility but at this stage nothing is confirmed.
While there’s no mention of selling them, Fiat Chrysler are proud owners, if there ever comes the opportunity to snatch one at the above price, we hope Fiat let us know.