Tribute: Fiat 131 Abarth

Fiat won three manufacturer titles in World Rally Championship with the 131 Abarth, which was a Group 4 car.

Fiat joined the International Championship for Manufacturers in 1970 and was competing with the 124 Spider until the end of 1972 before switching to Abarth 124 Rallye from 1973 to 1975. In 1976, the Italian car brand introduced the 131 Abarth to the sport which was running at the top level until the end of 1981. Fiat managed to become a Manufacturer WRC Champion three times in 1977, 1978 and 1980 while two of its drivers, Markku Alen and Walter Rohrl, became WRC Champions in 1978 and 1980 respectively.

The engine had a capacity of 1.995 cc, was located front longitudinal and was a naturally engine with one double Weber 34 ADF carburetor. Moreover, the type of the engine was a four-cylinder Fiat Twin Cam (Lambredi) combined with the five-speed manual gearbox ZF Colotti T.209 and a rear wheel drive. The body was a steel monocoque 131AR chassis with roll-cage with McPherson struts on the front and the rear suspension. The total output of this car was at 140 hp. Finally, it must be mentioned that it is also known as Fiat 131 Mirafiori as Fiat built a new factory in Mirafiori which was the major unit of production for the 131 passenger car.


Olio Fiat was the factory team of Fiat in World Rally Championship and ran with a 124 Abarth Rallye at the season opener in Monte Carlo. Markku Alen had the chance to drive the new 131 Abarth in two ERC rounds before this car making his debut in WRC at Rallye du Maroc. More specifically, Markku Alen had Roberto Cambiaghi, Maurizio Verini and Fulvio Bacchelli as his teammates and it must be mentioned that Fiat skipped four consecutive WRC rounds since the end of Rallye Monte Carlo. The debut of 131 Abarth was made in Morocco with Alen, Verini and Bacchelli. Alen was the only Fiat driver who completed Rallye du Maroc and gave some points to Fiat with his 12th place whereas Verini and Baccheli retired due to differential and suspension issues respectively. However, the most spectacular thing is that the first win with the 131 came on its second appearance in WRC as Alen claimed his first victory of the season on his home event. Moreover, it must be mentioned that Fiat brought only one car in Finland. Alen's success stopped at Rallye Sanremo, as he rolled his 131 on the second stage of the rally, while his Italian teammates were not able to score points for the championship (Cambiaghi retired due to differential problems whereas Verini and Bacchelli had a DNF and an accident respectively). At the end of Rallye Sanremo, Fiat missed another one round of the championship, which was Tour de Corse, and decided to participate on the final event of the season at Lombard RAC Rally where only Bacchelli managed to complete the rally and to finished eleventh. On the other hand, Alen and Verini retired with differential and gearbox issues respectively. Olio Fiat finished in seventh place on the championship with 32 points behind the Manufacturer WRC Champion, Lancia, for 80 points. However, it must be mentioned that Lancia was acquired by Fiat in 1969 which meant that unofficially Fiat contributed to Lancia's WRC triumph in 1976.


Fulvio Bacchelli, Markku Alen and Maurizio Verini extended their contract with Fiat Olio for 1977 while the team gave also the opportunity to Simo Lampinen, Bernard Darniche and Walter Rohrl joined the squad with a limited number of rallies. At Rallye Monte Carlo, the three main drivers of Fiat retired due to an accident, a damaged driveshaft and an electrical problem. Lampinen made his debut with the 131 in Sweden where he finished fourth while Alen's car caught fire there. The third WRC round was held in Portugal where Alen claimed his first win of the season on this gravel rally and his teammate, Verini, completed the top five while Bacchelli had another DNF due to a half shaft issue. Afterwards, the Italian team decided to skip Safari Rally Kenya and to take part at the South Pacific Rally which was held in New Zealand. During this event, Bacchelli claimed the second victory of the season and Alen did the 1-3 for Fiat as Lampinen got another top four finish at the top level. Acropolis Rally of Greece was not a good event for Fiat as only Lampinen managed to finish fourth again whereas all of his teammates (Bacchelli, Alen and Verini) retired with driveshaft issues again. Another retirement came for Alen at Rally Finland which was the following event after Acropolis Rally, but this time his DNF was caused by an engine issue. A second consecutive engine issue hit Alen in Canada while Lampinen once again saved the game for Fiat by finishing on the second place of the podium there. In addition to that, Verini had a DNF whereas Rohrl retired with an engine issue on his first outing with the 131 in WRC which happened in Canada. Rohrl and Bacchelli scored zero points at Rallye Sanremo as both of them had an accident while Alen finished second overall. Fiat did the 1-3 in Corsica with Darniche and Bacchelli while Verini finished seventh. The season ended in Great Britain and the best result for Fiat was the seventh place, which came from Lampinen, as Bacchelli finished 17th while Alen and Verini retired due to an engine issue and an accident respectively. However, it must be mentioned that Fiat supported four private teams which offered valuable points for the manufacturer championship. A victory was scored by Jean-Claude Andruet ("Biche") and Fiat France at Rallye Sanremo while Timo Makinen and Timo Salonen also drove a 131. In fact, Salonen was victorious in Canada and finished second overall in Finland. Fiat became the new Manufacturer WRC Champion with 136 points in 1977 and beat Ford for four points while its sister car brand, Lancia, finished at the top five. 


Fiat Alitalia took over Fiat's team in World Rally Championship in 1978 for two seasons. Walter Rohrl, and Markku Alen were the main drivers of Fiat Alitalia, but also competed with Lancia in some WRC rounds. Simo Lampinen, Bernand Darniche, Timo Salonen and Maurizio Verini continued to have a part-time programme for that year whereas Jean Vinatier and Sandro Munari joined Fiat for the first time. At Rallye Monte Carlo, the Italians were represented by Rohrl, Darniche and Verini who finished fourth, fifth and eighth overall respectively. Sweden was the second WRC round for one more year where Alen secured the first podium of Fiat in 1978 as he finished third with the 131 Abarth while Lampinen finished sixth. Salonen was forced to retire due to a valve problem on the winter rally of the season. For one more season, Fiat decided not to participate in Kenya which was the third WRC round, thus the next outing for Fiat drivers was Rallye de Portugal where Alen was victorious there compared to his teammates, Munari and Rohrl, who were not able to continue after a broken wheel and a clutch problem respectively. It was Rohrl's time to win an event and the second victory of the season for Fiat came in Greece, but the most important thing is that the Italian team scored many points at Acropolis Rally as Alen did the 1-2 for them. On the other hand, Munari's bad results continued for a second consecutive round as he was forced to retire with suspension issues in Greece. Another 1-2 came for Fiat in Finland as Alen and Salonen finished first and second on their home event with the 131 Abarth whereas their compatriot, Lampinen, completed the top five. Rohrl and Alen claimed a third 1-2 finish in a row for Fiat in Canada with the German driver finishing at the top step of the podium while Salonen ended his campaign with the 131 Abarth with a DNF due to a differential damage. Verini saved the game for the Italians at Rallye Sanremo as he finished second overall while Rohrl and Munari had an accident with their cars. Afterwards, Jean Vinatier made his debut with the 131 Abarth at Rallye Cote d'Ivoire and was the only representative driver of Fiat there, but he scored zero points as he had an accident. The penultimate WRC round was held in Corsica where Fiat did the 1-2-3 on the French island with Darniche, Jean-Claude Andruet from Fiat France and Munari. At the season finale in Great Britain, Fiat chose to compete only with Rohrl who finished in sixth place overall. Fiat received some valuable points from Fiat France who fielded two 131 Abarth cars for Michele Mouton and Andruet. Mouton did only one appearance with the 131 in 1978 and completed the top five in Corsica whereas her teammate, Andruet, finished sixth and second in Monte Carlo and Corsica respectively. Fiat claimed its second consecutive title in World Rally Championship with the 131 Abarth and scored 134 points on the manufacturer championship leaving Ford behind for 34 points. Last but not least, it must be mentioned that Fiat beat Ford for a second year in a row, but this time the Italian car brand had a bigger gap in comparison with 1977. Finally, it must be mentioned that Alen was crowned as a WRC Champion with the Fiat 131 Abarth in 1978 winning his maiden title in World Rally Championship.


Walter Rohrl and Markku Alen continued as the main drivers of Fiat Alitalia for one more season while Sandro Munari and Attilio Bettega did only one outing with the 131 Abarth. The season started with Rallye Monte Carlo where Alen finished at the lowest place of the podium while his teammate, Rohrl, was forced to retire due to an engine issue with his car. Alen was the only representative driver of Fiat in Sweden where he finished fourth overall. The third WRC round was held in Portugal and Fiat decided not to take part in this event, but the Italians visited Kenya for the first time with Alen, Rohrl and Munari who finished third, eighth and tenth respectively. After the end of Safari Rally, Fiat also missed two events in a row which were Acropolis Rally and Rally New Zealand. Alen returned back to the wheel of the 131 on his home event after his absence from two rallies in a row where he managed to secure his first win of the season. The following event after Rally Finland was Critérium du Québec and Fiat made the decision not to participate in Canada. However, they confirmed a three-car entry for Rallye Sanremo where Rohrl returned back to action after four rallies and finished second overall. Bettega did the 2-3 for Fiat Alitalia at Rallye Sanremo and secured a drive with the 131 Abarth after his successful appearances at the Italian championship while Alen finished in sixth place. Only two Fiat 131 Abarth cars from Fiat France were running at Tour de Corse with Michele Mouton and Jean-Claude Andruet. Rohrl was the only Fiat driver who participated on the penultimate WRC round, which took place in Great Britain, and finished just three places down from the top five. Rallye Côte d'Ivoire was the season finale for the championship and once again there was no 131 Abarth there. Moreover, it must be mentioned that Fiat France fielded two 131 Abarth cars for Mouton and Andruet in Monte Carlo and Corsica. The two best results of Fiat France were the fourth and the fifth place from Andruet and Mouton in Monte Carlo and Corsica respectively. Fiat was not able to defend its crown in 1979, as the team finished third on the championship with 82 points, and finally Ford beat the Italians for 30 points.


Fiat Alitalia left World Rally Championship at the end of 1979 and Wreath Fiat was the new factory team of Fiat in 1980. The Italians retained Walter Rohrl and Markku Alen on their squad and promoted Attilio Bettega who had a five-rally programme for that season. Moreover, Fiat stole Björn Waldegård from Ford who became a WRC Champion with the Ford Escort in 1979. Sandro Munari, Carlos Reutemann and Bernand Darniche secured only one outing with the 131 Abarth. At Rallye Monte Carlo, Fiat chose to compete with three very competitive drivers on this iconic event where Rohrl claimed his first win of the season and the newcomer, Waldergard, did the 1-3 for the Italians, but Alen's participation did not end in a positive way as he had an accident. Waldergard continued his campaign with Rally Sweden, as he could not miss his home event and was the only representative driver of Fiat there, and once again he finished on the lowest place of the podium for a second consecutive rally. The Fiat 131 Abarth was still impressive at Rohrl's and Alen's hands as they did the 1-2 for Fiat at the third WRC round which was held in Portugal with the 1978 WRC Champion taking his second victory of the season. Bettega completed the Fiat's entries for Rally de Portugal and had an accident with his car on his first outing of the year with the 131. Fiat decided to skip Safari Rally Kenya for one more time and brought three cars in Greece. Alen, Rohrl and Bettega finished third, fifth and eighth overall at Acropolis Rally respectively. The following event after Rally of Gods was Rally Argentina where Bettega and Alen retired due to a broken sump. However, Rohrl and Reutemann saved the game for Fiat as they secured another 1-3 finish with the first one being victorious again with the 131. Alen was the only Fiat driver at Rally Finland and managed to take his first win of the season ahead of his compatriot, Ari Vatanen, who drove a Ford Escort 1800RS. For a second consecutive rally, the factory team of Fiat field only one 131 Abarth car with Rohrl who finished second in New Zealand. At Rallye Sanremo, Rohrl continued his successful journey by winning at Fiat's home event while the home hero, Bettega, finished in sixth place. On the other hand, Alen completed his season with Fiat at Rallye Sanremo and had a retirement due to an engine issue. In Corsica, two Fiat's drivers, Bettega and Darniche, had accidents with their cars, but Rohrl's top two finish made him a WRC Champion in 1980 for a second time in his WRC career. Fiat skipped the penultimate WRC round, which took place in Great Britain, and headed to Cote d'Ivoire only with Munari who finished sixth overall. Fiat France offered again a two-rally campaign to Michele Mouton and Jean-Claud Andruet with the last one had two DNFs whereas his teammate finished seventh and fifth in Monte Carlo and Corsica respectively. Apart from Rohrl's triumph that year, Fiat managed to return back to the top on the manufacturer standings by scoring 120 points and leaving Datsun behind for 27 points.


Markku Alen was promoter as the leading driver of Wreath Fiat in 1981 while Attilio Bettega secured an extension to his deal with the Fiat by having a three-rally campaign. Dario Cerrato was added to the squad by participating in two events with the 131 Abarth. The 1981 season started with Rallye Monte Carlo and Fiat brought two cars for Alen and Cerrato who finished seventh and eleventh overall respectively. Rally Sweden hosted the second WRC round, but the Italian team did not take part on the winter rally of the season meaning that Rally de Portugal was the following event for them. Alen claimed the first victory of the season with the 131 Abarth showing why Fiat trusted him to lead the squad. On the other hand, his teammates, Cerrato and Bettega, retired due to suspension and engine issues respectively. Fiat was also absent on the next two rallies after the end of Rally de Portugal which were held in Kenya and Corsica. At Acropolis Rally, Fiat secured a double podium with Alen and Bettega doing the 2-3 for the Italians in Greece. Afterwards, World Rally Championship visited South America for Rally Argentina and Rally Brazil, but the 131 Abarth was absent from the top class. Alen returned back to the wheel of a 131 Abarth in Finland where he finished second overall. At Rallye Sanremo, there were three factory Fiat cars with Cerrato and Alen doing the 8-9 for the Italians whereas Bettega had an accident. Adartico Vudafieri competed with a 131 Abarth from Jolly Club on this event, but he was forced to stop after an accident he had. The season concluded with Cote d'Ivoire and Rally Great Britain where Fiat decided not to participate on the final two rounds of the championship. Fiat ended its season in sixth place with 63 points despite the fact that Audi had collected identical points with their rival team. The German car brand had better results than Fiat in 1981 and that was the reason why Audi completed the top five on the manufacturer championship. At the end of 1981, Fiat decided to withdraw its factory team from World Rally Championship and ended its WRC journey with three manufacturer titles and two driver titles. 

However, the 131 Abarth continued running at the top class by some privateers from 1982 to 1983 and Rally Finland was the last event where we saw a 131 Abarth which was driven by Jouko Kallio 41 years ago. The best result of the final two years until the twilight came from Pavlos Moschoutis with a top seven finish at Acropolis Rally of 1982.

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