The EsseEsse kit was released by Fiat in 2008 at the Paris Motor Show, and it’s goal is to evoke the glorious history of the Scorpion. Carlo Abarth always concentrated his efforts on developing the performance of standard-production cars, but it was only after a meeting with Vittorio Valletta (President of Fiat from 1946-1966) that the conditions were put in place for development of the famous conversion kit. In 1958, the year in which Abarth & C. Spa was recognised as a solid international company, an important agreement was sealed which allowed Abarth & C. to use the semi-finished bodyshells of cars on which they could design their conversions using special parts.
This link to a major car manufacturer allowed the company, based in Corso Marche (Turin) to develop and fine-tune its preparation of small vehicles. Carlo Abarth’s aim was to design a simple, standardised performance enhancement technique so that any workshop, mechanic or even the customer himself could fit the parts to their vehicles.
Original and extremely eye-catching, the display area is characterised by those elements of the Scorpion philosophy that have made it so unique and popular worldwide: the tough spirit, speed, and an innate desire to win. Compared to previous versions, nothing has changed as far as the brand’s distinctive identity is concerned: the colour red, a great passion for cars, the red and white chequered flag used to signal the end of endurance races (the competitions in which Abarth has notched up its greatest achievements), and the yellow and red shield with the black scorpion, representing the stinging zodiac sign of this mechanical genius. The beautiful polished white floor only adds to the dynamic look of the stand, while the materials and finishes almost fade into the background in order to show off the car and the kits – the real protagonists of the stand.
The smiley face begins once you fire up the engine, push the ‘1’ button for first gear, and move off under a raspy exhaust note. What happens next will wipe the smile off your face. The robotised manual gearbox – an automated manual with no clutch pedal and paddle shifters on the steering column – in the 500 Esseesse doesn’t like shifting up a gear. There’s a brief delay – it feels like the car is about to run out of petrol – at low revs while the electronics do their thing. Upshifts get better as the revs climb towards 6000rpm, especially in ‘Sport’ mode where peak torque rises to 230Nm. Lifting off the accelerator on each upshift helps. Shifting down, however, is a delight, the process neatly matching engine revs. Get through the upshift learning curve and the little hatchback struts its stuff. On good roads, it is bags of fun. Steering is accurate, handling quick and sharp, grip tenacious, ride firm – always very firm – and composed. On bad roads, the ride gets crashy and noisy. There is so little travel in the shock absorbers – another compromise to performance – that the car sort of jars out of one bump and slings itself into another. Too long on a bad road will rattle the fillings in your teeth.
In a nutshell, there are better go-fast hatchbacks, one or two costing a few thousands dollars less. But the Fiat 500 Abarth has a character all its own. It plays games with your mind; makes you smile, charms your socks off.