The Fiat 500 rally car economy car seems an unlikely choice for the extreme demands of rallying. But the tiny 500 built an impressive competition resume in the late 1960s and 1970s, improbably defeating more advanced rally machinery.
Let’s explore how the honest underdog Fiat 500 could punch above its weight class. Thanks to skilled drivers and experienced preparation, the little 500 repeatedly humbled potent rally cars on Europe’s toughest events.
Fiat From City Car to Rally Star
Introduced in 1957, the rear-engined 500 was designed for practicality and affordability, not racing performance. But Fiat saw potential in the 500’s monocoque chassis and light 770 lb curb weight. In 1965, Fiat homologated the 500 for rally competition, creating the 500 Sport variant.
Tuning began with the 500’s 479 cc engine, enlarging its displacement to 595cc to produce 47 hp. Engineers added Weber carburetors, sport headers, and camshafts. An Abarth-tuned 595 SS model made 58 hp for more top-end power. Improved suspension with front bars stabilized handling.
Giant Killer – Brands Hatch Fiat 500 Rally Car Victory
In one of its first events in 1966, a squad of Fiat 500s stunned the rally world by sweeping the top seven positions at the grueling Brands Hatch 500 mile rally. Beating powerful cars like Lotus Cortinas and BMW 2002s demonstrated the tiny 500’s inner strength once properly prepared.
More impressively, two 500s finished first and second in the 1500 class at the 1968 Alpine Rally. The rugged mountain challenge showcased the 500’s durability against faster Alpines, Porsches, and Saabs. These shocking upsets proved the Rally 500’s merit.
European Rally Success
The 500’s giant-killing ways continued at top-level European rallies through the late 1960s. Lightweight and nimble, the 500 used momentum through corners to overcome power disadvantages. Tuning and reliability upgrades ensured the 500 could survive long-distance events.
In the 1969 season, carefully built 500s achieved four outright victories in European rallies and claimed the European championship win in their class. Drivers like Lucien Bianchi and Simo Lampinen mastered threading the 500 through treacherous terrain with precision.
Why The 500 Dominated
Several factors explain the 500’s unlikely rally dominance:
Light chassis allowed suspension tuning for responsiveness and agility
Rear weight bias improved traction compared to front-heavy rivals
Short wheelbase enabled quick rotation in tight turns
Durable engine internals withstood hard rally usage
Momentum driving preserved speed without big power
The 500 maximized basic qualities rather than advanced technology – a successful underdog formula.
Later Rally 500s: Abarth 595 and 695
As the 500 evolved, Abarth produced tuned versions for continued rally success into the 1970s. The 595 SS benefitted from a tuned engine with dual Weber carbs for 65 hp. Further Improvements led to the Abarth 695 SS making 85 hp from 1977 to 1980 for Autocross racing.
On tight rally stages, these modified 500s continued defeating larger opponents through agile handling. The 500’s legacy lived on even as Fiat shifted strategies.
Fiat 500 Rally Car Lasting Legacy
The classic 500’s giant-killing rallies demonstrated that determination and expert development could overcome raw power. What the petite 500 lacked in performance, it made up through handling nimbleness, durability, and momentum conservation.
Though Fiat itself shifted away from rally racing, the 500’s achievements remain legendary. Now a collector’s item, the original Abarth rally 500s are prized by historic rally enthusiasts. The unlikely giant slayer left an indelible mark rally racing would never forget.