1959 FIAT-Abarth 750 Record Monza Bialbero Coupé
Coachwork by Carrozzeria Zagato
Chassis no. 550486
Engine no. 600319 (its matching numbers unit with car, see text)
4-Cylinder, twin overhead camshaft, 835cc, 85bhp Appx 72 bhp at 8,000 6800 rpm
4-Speed manual transaxle
Independent by transverse leaf springs at front and coil springs at rear
Left hand drive
*In the present ownership for 30 years
*Fastidiously researched and restored
*A period Team Roosevelt 1959 Sebring entry, believed to be the Remo Cattini/Lanzo Cussino car
*Eligible for VSCCA Racing
The Abarth Record Bialbero
An innovative concern with a sporting pedigree second to none, Abarth branched out from producing induction and exhaust systems into selling performance kits for - mainly FIAT - production cars, later building a succession of aerodynamically stylish sports prototypes and limited-series production cars.
One of Carlo Abarth's most successful series of GT cars was based on the FIAT 600, the first of these handsome little Zagato-bodied coupés - the 750 - appearing in 1956. The 600 chassis was used with scant modification apart from changing spring rates and up-rating the front brakes to twin-leading-shoe operation, yet despite this apparent handicap coped remarkably well with the Abarth's greatly increased performance. The next stage of development saw the 750 equipped with a double-overhead-camshaft engine designed by Gioacchio Columbo, designer of the first Ferrari V12s that helped liberate 47 51bhp from the tiny engine, these models thus equipped being dubbed 'Bialbero' (Twin-cam). Abarth's diminutive coupés were soon dominating the small-capacity classes in international GT racing. Indeed, in North American SCCA events the 1.0-litre Abarth was obliged to compete against rivals displacing up to 3.8 litres and still proved capable of winning!
The Motorcar Offered
The current owner acquired 550486 in the early 1980s and in doing so began a labor of love in terms of restoration and research. His extensive work has enabled him to make deductions about the early history of the car which are both fascinating and uncontested by other aficionados of the marque and model.
At the time of its acquisition, the car was an engineless rolling chassis, but a number of clues to its importance were very clear to its knowledgeable buyer. Most notable was the required holes for fixing the fuel pressure regulator bracket - another Bialbero exclusive feature. So the car was clearly one of these rare brethren of Abarths.
The next base point for research was the discovery of a series of three drilled holes in the passenger side door which had long since been covered by filler and paint. These holes correlated perfectly to a door mounted racing number light which cars known to be in the USA and to have run at Sebring in 1959 carried by regulation to make their racing numerals visible at night. That narrowed the field to one of the four cars that had run at that event that year for Team Roosevelt.
Before one pauses to question a link to the President, the answer is 'yes', the Roosevelt Automobile Company was run by FDR Jr. They were East Coast Importers for Fiat and would continue this by developing a relationship to run Abarth race cars also. As ever in the course of racing the idea was to encourage the old adage of "race on Sunday, sell on Monday", but Roosevelt Jr.'s thinking was a little further developed in that he believed "that Americans could sell a car better to Americans". For the race team John Norwood was their manager and ace mechanic Jim McGee prepped their entries, the drivers represented a series of experienced stalwarts who could be trusted with the brand. Sebring '59 was the debut race for this new team.
A period black and white image of the four cars sent ex-Zagato Works from Italy for the Sebring Event shows that two were finished in a dark color and two in a light color, of the two darker colored cars, one had a dark interior, the other a light interior, and the same for the lighter cars, thereby actually making each different in its livery. Differentiating them further, when they were run at Sebring they were still wearing Turin license plates, TO-712 and TO-487 adorned the two darker colored cars. These are actually understood to be 'trade' plates, suggesting that there can't have been much time to spare between their leaving the works and being campaigned in Florida.
On the basis of surviving period images of the two darker colored cars, which turns out to have been red in color period images, this car has been deduced by its owner to be the #62 car, which wore the Torino plate "TO-712". Assuming this to be an accurate statement, car #62/TO-712 would contest between 10 and 13 races in the '59 Season after Sebring, including Daytona, Bridgehampton, Road America, the Watkins Glen Grand Prix and the International Bahamas Speed Weeks at the end of that year, with respectable low double digit finishes overall.
By the end of 1960, 550486 is known to have been the property of J. William Denton, as he ran the car at the Savannah Race Track in November 1960, when its 'Team Roosevelt' marking had cleverly been given the prefix of 'Ex'! The owner was able to trace J. W. Denton's son, who produced a copy of Denton's first title registration on acquisition of the car, it clearly denoting this identity and the engine number digits following the VIN. From his conversations with the younger Denton, he had recalled his father acquiring a number of Abarths from Team Roosevelt, but only one Bialbero and that proved to be his favorite apparently. Denton is known to have run the car at the Chimney Rock Hillclimb in 1961, and a series of other events.
According to John de Boer's well researched archive, the subsequent chain of ownership ran 1971-1974: Steve Doran; 1974-1976: Doug Huffman; 1976-7: Herbert H. Bailey of South Carolina; and then 1977-1984 - GTS Motorcars of Florida, before it was acquired by the present owner in 1984.
All the while the research was continuing, and correct parts being accrued, the owner waited patiently before beginning its restoration. This began in earnest almost 20 years ago. Its structural repairs were carried out by the owner with sheet metal repairs to the aluminum bodywork by Tivvy's Autocraft, this was then followed up with the paintwork at Alfa's Unlimited. Automotive Restorations of Stratford, Connecticut trimmed original Zagato seat frames provided by the owner in a light tan vinyl and made new carpets in Wilton Wool, the finish of the cabin being slightly improved over the original having a Nardi wood rim steering wheel in place of the plastic one it would have worn new.
For the mechanical aspect, the owner was able to draw on his own stores of spares that had been accrued over many years, a number of the more significant pieces coming from Jeff Vogel, who in turn had bought them from Jim McGee's shop in Watermill, Long Island, these included a spare long distance fuel tank, oversize Abarth Alfin front drum brakes, and new/old stock Bialbero racing exhaust - the motoring definition of 'hen's teeth' quite literally.
Further searches had produced a period correct Bialbero engine motor, which itself created something of a conundrum. The engine was number 600319, which by Fiat records was the original fitted to 550486, yet a separate document sourced by the current owner shows that 600319 was fitted to car 544303 on March 25, 1959, when that car was listed on a statement of sale to Gene Williamson by Team Roosevelt - Williamson being the driver of car #65 at Sebring that year. As ever in the history of racing teams it seems likely that 600319 had migrated from its original mount very early on in its life, but today thanks to the perseverance of its current owner it is back with the Fiat-Abarth it apparently left the Works in. Naturally, since the intention of the owner was to race the car, this numbered block is actually stored and goes with the car, while it is currently running a 'hot' engine built around a separate 600 unit.
Post-restoration, 550486 has been campaigned with some regularity by its custodian, being run in VSCCA meetings from 1996 to 2000, at the Lime Rock Historic Races on numerous occasions and also displayed here at the Greenwich Concours d'Elegance in 2000 and at the Lime Rock Sunday in the Park Concours last year, where it was rewarded with First in Class.
After three decades of research, restoration, ownership and use, during which it seems virtually every stone has been upended, the seller has made the difficult decision to part with the car and forward it to another enthusiast. While that elusive final jigsaw puzzle piece of paper that conclusively documents it as the #62 Sebring car from 1959 remains still yet to be found, it seems hard to question the current owner's conclusion based on his research. Regardless of this ultimate detail, the car is a fastidiously accurately restored example of these 'Giant-Killer' Abarths, which certainly had an active period racing career and could today provide its next owner with an enjoyable vintage racing mount.