My sincere thanks to Tony Berni who graciously shared an important piece of this car's history with me recently. His information coheres nicely with the information I was given back in 1962 when I first saw the car.
The year was 1962. I was 19 years old then and very enthusiastic about sports cars. I had just been hired as an electronics technician at a small company in Auburn New York. One of the 3 owners of that company was William H. (Bill for the rest of this article) (last name omitted for privacy reasons). On my first day at work, Bill arrived in his recently acquired Abarth 750 Zagato, the car I now own. Having seen the car in magazines I had some small amount of familiarity with it and was eager to learn more. I had several long discussions with Bill and learned that he had purchased the car from Luke Findlay motors in Syracuse NY. Findlay was a BMC dealership at the time, no longer in business. Bill told me that a doctor from Binghamton NY (hereby referred to as Doctor X for privacy reasons) had ordered the car from somewhere in Europe and had gone there to take delivery. We now know that the car was ordered through Auto Konig, a specialty car dealership located in Munich Germany. This explains the presence of a second Abarth ID tag in German affixed to the engine compartment next to the Italian one. This also coheres nicely with the notations found in an Abarth & /co ledger, a copy of which is shown below.
Evidently Doctor X spent sufficient time in Europe to drive the car through Germany, Northern Italy, and Switzerland. At some point in its early life, this car was likely driven in rally competition as suggested by the remnants of Halda cables and accessories found within the dash.
When Doctor X returned to the U.S. he had the car shipped back with him. According to the salesman at Findlay, Doctor X had decided the Zagato was too small for the American roads and traded it for an E type Jaguar. This is when Bill bought the car.
Given the new knowledge that #669079 was built specifically for sale to Auto Konig with an upgraded MM prepared engine, lends much credibility to Bill's account of his purchase of the car. At the moment it appears that both ends of the #669079 puzzle are in hand with only the original purchaser's personal recollections to be discovered. Over the past several years I have tried to locate Bill to further discuss the car with him but I have been unable to find him.
Bill owned the car from 1961 until the fall of 1964 when I bought it. During that time the car was driven hard as a matter of routine. Bill and a colleague Chuck Weeks entered the car in an endurance race at Marlboro Md. Exactly when is unclear. Weeks drove. I didn't get a clear picture whether the car finished or not. Bill shared an interesting story of loading the Double Bubble into the back of a Chevy Greenbriar van for the trip from Auburn NY to Marlboro and back. I'm still looking for possible information about the Marlboro event.
During the later year of ownership, Bill began to abuse the car and took to driving it through the fields at his parents' horse farm in Owasco, NY. The car suffered engine failure and some minor body damage and was subsequently retired. The car was disassembled and stored in several sequential locations, ending up in a garage in Weedsport NY having lost many bits and pieces along the many moves. Divorce followed and Bill abandoned the car. Having worked with Bill for several years, I had been following the plight of the car and made a successful offer to buy it as it was.
I acquired the car and 3 metal wash tubs of parts in 1964 and have owned the car ever since. What is certain at this point in time is that Fiat Abarth #669079 was a special purpose built vehicle. Today it is unique, even among other Double Bubbles. Read on.
The original engine as fitted to chassis #669079 during manufacture is #729457. According to recently discovered factory archives, complements of Tony Berni, this was not the engine originally intended for this chassis. Instead, #728823 was supposed to be used but was upgraded to #729457 which was built to MM specifications. The ledger indicates that the car was built specifically for sale to Auto Konig, which is a specialty automobile dealership in Germany. This explains the presence of a second ID tag in the German language. This tag is an original part of the car. Previous research indicates the car was originally ordered with the upgraded engine by a doctor from Binghamton, New York who took delivery of the car somewhere Europe. It is now known that it was delivered through Auto Konig.
Engine and chassis were sent to MECAT for production and from there to the dealer in Germany. It is abundantly clear that #669079 started life as a special purpose built automobile. Further research is ongoing.
The Abarth 750 MM spec engine differed significantly from the standard GT version supplied with the series cars. An Abarth factory brochure describes the differences. ****Excerpt from the factory brochure ******* THE MILLE MIGLIA GRAND TOURING 750 ENGINE SPECIALLY PREPARED. is supplied with a head having enlarged valve seas and enlarged valves. The head-fixing bolts are 10 mm in diameter instead of 8 mm. The internal parts are polished. It develops 46 HP at 6000 rpm with a compression ratio of 9.8/1. ********************************
Sadly, this engine had already been removed from the car and disassembled when I acquired it in 1964, but the majority of the components were still with the car and stored in several metal tubs along with many other items that had been collected along the way by the previous owner. Having no experience building motors it took several months of reading and questioning before the engine was reassembled. After some trial and error the engine eventually ran reliably and did so for several years. However, in the mid '70's a wrist pin detached itself from the #4 piston and scored the cylinder wall severely. The damage was severe enough that the cylinder wall needed to be sleeved. This required a machine shop and a significant amount of money, neither of which were at my immediate disposal at the time. It was at that point that I removed the engine and set it aside while trying to find a way to get the repair accomplished. Sadly it never happened. Tucked away safely in my garage (I thought), the engine and transmission were both stolen by an angry ex-wife and sent to a scrap yard. Try as I might, I was never able to recover either of these parts. It remains a deep wound 'til this day.
But for #669079, things did get much better. During this time my daily driver was a Fiat-Abarth OT-1000 spider. After many years of service as was the case with many cars of that era, it became unusable due to terminal chassis rust. The frame literally broke apart in the middle and collapsed. The unit body chassis was sufficiently rotted overall that it was not practical to consider any type of chassis restoration. Of course, that was then and this is now. Had I known at the time ----
The transaxle and engine # ABA202 100GS000 ---#0721692 and other parts of the OT were salvaged and fitted to the 750. Prior to the installation, the OT-1000 engine was refreshed and fitted with new 66 mm Arias forged aluminum pistons. The crank was sent to a balance shop where it was spun balanced to 15,000 RPM. During the reassembly all moving parts were weighed and matched to .1 gram. This was a good choice, all things considered, as chassis #669079 not only received a large boost in horsepower, but also remained 100% Abarth. The engine runs smooth and strong to this day.
After several more years of operation, the OT-1000 transaxle failed with a frozen main layshaft bearing. As the gearing that was provided with that transaxle was somewhat too short for highway use, I made the decision to replace it with the spare Hewland MK2 4 speed quick change gearbox from my Crossle 20F Formula Ford race car. Unbelievably it fit with no chassis modification needed. Custom built dual CV joint axles were constructed to bring power to the rear wheels. Additionally, disk brakes from the OT-1000 were fitted front and rear. The car remains in this configuration to this day.
The current configuration for chassis 669079 is as follows:
The color of the car is Bianco Avorio, an off-white that was the original specified factory color of the vehicle when manufactured. The car was specified to have red fender "flamme" -- the triangular markings on each of the front and rear fenders. These were removed and replaced with the U.S. racing team blue stripe. I sent the folks at Zagato a letter with some photos of the car. They wrote back and said they liked the overall treatment very much.
It is also worth mentioning the fact that along with this automobile I have also collected nearly 60 years' worth of spare parts and other bits and pieces of related Abarth items. As with all things in this world, this Abarth and all of its related items will eventually pass to a new owner as it must. It is my fond hope that this person will enjoy the car to its fullest just as I have done for these many years.
Jim Romano MrFiat@abarthz.com