Thursday, August 6, 2020

Farewell FIAT

2019 at Watkins Glen International, with Kyle Ray-Smith Instructor
Photo by Wind Shadow

I was going to make this blog all about my FIAT Abarth being for sale, but, it sold in just a few days on the Facebook Marketplace, so you'll have to go do your used Abarth shopping somewhere else. Here's a look at some great memories and highlights of owning a 2013 FIAT 500 Abarth for 7 years, 11 months, and 9 days. 
Brand New, About to Leave the Dealer Floor at Stateline FIATin SC, September 2012. 

The Virginia Plated FIAT Ready to do Some Charity Laps at Virginia International Raceway. 

Early in 2012 I test drove a regular FIAT 500, since I'm a fan of all things Italian, if by "all things" you mean food and cars. Not being in the income bracket of people that buy new Ferraris, the return of FIAT to the USA meant I could afford an Italian car! The normal 500 made about 100 horsepower at the time, and while it was fun to drive, it somewhat lacked in power, so I held out to test drive the turbo Abarth 500. How did the 160HP Abarth compare to the regular 500? Like night and day. 

HPDE Track Weekend at Carolina Motorsports Park
Photo by OG Racing
After the test drive I figured that I'd like to get a red one, and even trade in my 2004 Mustang GT convertible to get one. Since the local dealer didn't have any in stock, I got to order one from the factory. The North American model Abarth was being built in Mexico, in a factory where they used to build the Chrysler PT Cruiser, and since FIAT had bought out Chrysler after the 2008 economic meltdown, a US version FIAT would be a unique Italian car built in Mexico for the USA. Hey, it's an international thing, and I'm all for world peace too! By the time I ordered the car, the run of 2012 (first year of production) Abarth had just ended, so my car would turn out to be a 2013 year model, basically the same as 2012. The wait began. With a link to the right website, I could track the production in the factory, and then track the car movement on it's railway journey to South Carolina. There was a hurricane threatening New Orleans right about this time in September 2012, so the train diverted from the southern US to farther inland. This was kind of fun to follow along, but also made me hope I didn't have a car that I didn't even own yet get derailed or flooded in a hurricane before I'd even seen it!

FIAT at Home in Virginia Beach, it's 2nd Home. 
Remember, Every Sticker is Worth +5HP.

Finally the car arrived at Stateline FIAT, on the border of SC and NC (the first FIAT dealer in SC), so I picked it up on September 21. The window sticker even had my name on it, so that was a nice touch! After the first 500 miles of careful driving, which the owner's manual recommended as the break in period, it was time to do some faster driving. This lead to starting to autocross with the Abarth, the birth of NMS, and a huge boost to the economy as we bought more wheels, tires, brake pads, travelled, and had a blast with this little roller skate (as my friend Sarah calls it) up until today. Thanks to my job making me move, I've been able to compete in autocross and drive some fun track days in several locations, while living in SC, VA, and now NY. If you can't find a fun place to drive or a car show to visit where you live, I'm going to guess that you either live on a houseboat or don't get around much!
NMS South and North: Assemble the Red Cars!

Joining the Sports Car Club of America and competing with the South Carolina Region was a great place to have fun and meet people, and the Abarth entered events at Darlington, Charlotte NC, Myrtle Beach, Charleston, Carolina Motorsports Park, and at the Michelin Proving Grounds. Oh, and also the big banked NASCAR track at Charlotte Motor Speedway and the Martinsville NASCAR track. Competition wise, the Abarth started in SCCA GS class and I tended to finish right behind the leaders in season points, and kept trying to get faster. Next stop on the Abarth tour was living in Virginia Beach, and with two great autocross groups like the Tidewater Sports Car Club (TSCC) and the Old Dominion Region of SCCA in town, there was a lot more driving to do! From here I also drove a few track day events at Virginia International Raceway, the North Carolina Center for Automotive Research track, and a fun event at a secret location in NC. Most of the autocross events in Virginia Beach were at the former Pungo airfield, and a great location on the Chesapeake Bay on the Little Creek Naval Base. The highlight for me was that the TSCC had not only the year long competition for each small class (I won three in a row against very few people that entered events all year, so no big deal) but they also had a points system for ALL cars in all classes each year. This was a lot of fun to work on improving my driving, excuse me, I mean, improve the Abarth's performance, and from 29th place the first year, then up to 20th place the next, and then 10th overall in my last year there, that was a ton of fun. The TSCC also offers great door prizes and trophies at their end of year dinner, and my little 10th place may not sound like much, but I think it's pretty cool.

Welcome to State #3 in NY, With Just a Little Bit of Snow.
The Abarth then moved on to New York, and has only competed in a few autocross events with the SCCA there, out at Splish Splash Waterpark, and the Nassau Coliseum. Definitely the highlight here has been joining the National Auto Sport Association (NASA, not the outer space guys) for track driving (with a coach, I REALLY need a lot of coaching!) at Pocono and the awesome Watkins Glen International. Driving on tracks like this explains a lot of brake pad wear and new tires, but man oh man it's a blast, even in a little red Italian-Mexican car that's not really a race car. Watkins Glen has hosted NASCAR, Indy Car, and even Formula 1 back in the day, and with some long straights, lots of corners, and elevation changes, just a really nice facility to say the least.

Showing Off the 2017 Tidewater Sports Car Club Hardware, 1st in
Class and 10th Overall for the Year.
All Earned by the FIAT More Than This Driver!
 So the FIAT has been sold to a new owner in Manhattan, and NMS-North (since I seem to keep moving that direction for the past 10 years) is driving another car, but it was a lot of happy times in the FIAT.

Rosso (Red) FIAT 500 Abarth, Now Living in Manhattan!
Stealth Technology Looks Like No Driver!

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