Some dealers have reported high interest in the Abarth model and some customers are putting money down in advance. There are currently 123 Fiat dealerships open nationwide and the company plans for a total of 150 by year-end.
Abarth is Fiat's performance brand. The brand's history goes back to 1949, when an Austrian-born motorcycle racer named Karl Abarth founded a company called Abarth & C,according to an Abarth history issued by Chrysler.
After a motorcycle crash nearly took his life in 1939, Abarth and a partner produced aftermarket performance products for production cars following World War II. They soon formed their company. Abarth put his expertise to use designing and manufacturing performance exhaust systems. In 1958, Abarth got a big break when Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr., son of the U.S. president, went to Italy and signed a deal to distribute Abarth products and vehicles in the U.S.
When the original Fiat 500 first came out in 1958, Abarth adapted the car for racing, jacking up the compression ratios, retuning the suspension and adding one of his performance exhaust systems. His tweaks doubled the horsepower from 13 to 26.
The ensuing race car, the Abarth 595, broke six international records and won 900 races by 1965. Abarth badged his race cars with a distinctive scorpion badge, chosen because his astrological sign was Scorpio.
An Abarth coffee
In Italy, the term Abarth entered the vernacular. Customers in cafes and restaurants would ask for an "Abarth coffee" when they wanted a strong coffee or a coffee with a shot of alcohol.
In 1971, Abarth was absorbed by Fiat Auto. The Abarth brand was relaunched in Europe in 2007, the same year Fiat resurrected the Fiat 500.
Karl Abarth died in 1979.