1976 Fiat-Abarth 131 Rally: An Italian Rally Legend in Tuscany. Tuscany has all manner of public roads doing a laudable impressions of a tarmac rally stage, and if you’re going to drive an Italian homologation special around for a day you’d struggle to find a better area to get lost in on purpose.
The Fiat-Abarth 131 Rally had some big shoes to fill when the Fiat Group hung its WRC hopes over its widened fiberglass shoulders. Unlike the Stratos which had brought Lancia a trio of constructors’ titles in the mid 1970s, it was decided that the Group’s rallying involvement would be more directly related to its mass-produced road cars; in this case the humble Fiat 131.
To get the entry-level car up to the task at hand in the WRC, Fiat got Abarth involved with the preparation for rallying, and had Bertone take care of the restyling and construction of the lightweight bodywork for the 400-car homologation production. The transformation was enough to bring Fiat three WRC contractors’ titles (1977, 1978, and 1980), and drivers’ titles for Markku Alén and Walter Röhrl (in 1978 and 1980, respectively).
The road-going version of the factory rally cars was impressive in its own right, with its dramatic styling backed up by the four-corner independent suspension and the Abarth-tuned twin-cam inline-four. In Stradale trim the motor made just shy of 140hp out of its two naturally aspirated liters. Fed by a single Weber carb but packing four valves per cylinder in its aluminum head, the engine isn’t what you’d call powerful outright, but it’s an impressive example of highly strung natural aspiration for a 1970s road car.
Though there are some things that could make this 131 even sweeter to steer down these roads—like a limited-slip—it’s impossible not to find some enjoyment from this fascinating familiar yet wild relic from the formative years of world rallying.
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