You know what’s an amazing feeling? When you get a new crush. And my friends, I’m delighted to inform you that’s what happened to me today. I’m light-headed and gloriously delirious because today I have a new automotive crush: the 1966 to 1968 Abarth OT 2000 Coupe America.
The reason I’ve been writing “Mr. Jason Abarth OT 2000 Coupe America” on all my notebook covers today is because a reader named Oliver sent me a link about these cars, and I took one look and was smitten.
Like so many things, it was one conspicuous detail that really roped me in, and that detail is the spare tire location. It’s a weird thing to get all fetishy about, but this particular placement of a spare tire is just so weird and staggeringly clever that I couldn’t help but be smitten.
See, it’s sticking out of the front, like a fat black tongue, held in place with a chrome belt. The reason it’s there is because this Abarth OT 2000 is a variant of the Fiat 850 Coupe, a rear-engined car that mounted its spare in the bottom of its front trunk.
In the case of the Abarth OT 2000, the formerly rear-mounted radiator was moved up front, and to make room for it the spare had to be mounted further forward—more forward than the rest of the body, even.
Instead of this becoming a flaw, Abarth designers turned it into a fantastic feature—a pneumatic rubber front bumper, vastly better than the elegant little chrome blades most cars of this era—1967 or so—at actually protecting the car in case of a frontal impact.
People have been experimenting with the idea of spare tire bumpers before, but so far most efforts have been hilariously clunky looking (see the Eschelman patent here) and none had ever really been applied to any sort of production vehicle.
But, here it is, on the Abarth OT 2000, looking odd but purposeful and, I think, incredibly cool.
Oh, and there’s another reason that tire is so far out in front—it’s acting as a counterweight for the two-liter four-banger hanging far out the back.
That two-liter Abarth engine is another huge part of the car, and I imagine most of you reading this will think I buried the lede talking so much about that spare fucking tire when I tell you how much power this little monster put out: around 185 horsepower.
Yep, that’s right. This little brute, which started life as a 52 HP Fiat 850 Coupe, now makes over three times that amount of power thanks to more displacement, twin Weber carbs, and a bunch of black Abarth magic, and still only weighs about 1565 pounds.
That comes to about 8.45 pounds per horsepower, from a car from 1966. A brand new Ford Mustang GT or a Chevy Camaro SS make around 8 pounds/hp, barely any better than the tiny old Italian. Hell, it’s better than a brand-new Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack, which comes in at 8.72 pounds per horsepower.
The little Abarth looks the part of a speed-crazed little pixie, with big flared wheel arches and extra air intakes in the hood and, very likely, a driver with a big unhinged smile behind the wheel.
It looks like a fun handful to drive, with good traction and grip at the rear, but also a tendency to oversteer. Based on this video, it looks like it takes a very engaged driver to get the most out of it:
Holy hell that looks fun.
What a remarkable little car, right? It’s adorable in a plucky, punchy sort of way, but still stylish and maybe even a bit elegant, and yet at the same time it’s an absolute overpowered mad beast. And then there’s that shockingly clever spare tire/bumper/counterweight detail.
They only made five of these, though it appears there have been some replicas built, too.
So, yeah, I’m crushing out pretty hard on this little thing. It feels good.