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My Fiat Abarth '850 TC Nurburgring'


It is doubtful Karl Abarth had ever even heard of the adage, "It's not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog", yet Mark Twain could have been summing up some of the Austrian-born designer's best work.

A world-class motorbike racer in the 1930s, Abarth is revered for the outrageous transformations he has performed on some ofthe world's tiniest cars - the diminutive Fiat 500s and 600s.

They are not the only models or marque to wear the famous Scorpion badge - but the tiny "Bambinos" are certainly among the most talked about and coveted.

"My brother is to blame," jokes John Di Rocco, bitten by the Scorpion almost 30 years ago and still under its spell. "He married into a family with Fiats ... now we all have them."

Di Rocco fell in love with the baby Fiats, but it was always the out-of-reach Abarth models that fired his imagination. "We knew back then we would never be able to afford an Abarth ... and they never came to Australia anyway," he says.

That passion for the unattainable never died and while he gathered a collection of 500s and became an active member of the Italian Made Social Motoring Club there remained the dream of adding the elusive Abarth to the garage. Finally, in 2004 Di Rocco could wait no longer. Still unable to find an original that met his exacting standards the Fiat aficionado decided he would make one.

"I started with a 600 donor car that I decided to build into a replica of an Abarth," Di Rocco says. "It was something I really wanted to do."

What came out the other end was not just any restoration. Two years after starting what seemed like a Quixotic endeavour, Di Rocco was the owner of an amazingly faithful replica of an 850 TC (Turismo Competzione) Nurburgring. The Nurburgring badging was added to Abarth's TC after the little racer had nailed the first eight finishing spots at the famous track in 1963.

Overall, Abarth-badged cars lay claim to 10 world records, 133 national records and 10,000 track victories as well as hundreds of successful rally campaigns. With such a proud record of performance, Di Rocco was adamant that his replica would be true to the originals.

Genuine Abarth stock sourced from around the world makes up 90 per cent of the parts used to make the replica.

"About 50 per cent of the parts came from Italy and a large proportion of the rest came out of the United States," Di Rocco says. "The Arbaths are huge over there in classic racing. They absolutely love them."

While parts were largely sourced overseas, help and advice for the project was universal. "There was local support from people who have done a similar exercise and they were very generous with advice and help," Di Rocco says. "It took a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money ... but we don't talk about that."