The Story of La Principessa

Today, Abarth is known for tuning some Fiats and making cool hot hatches. But, back in the days, this company was absolutely insane. In the 1950s, Abarth was making its own race cars and getting a lot of respect in the motorsport world. But to promote its brand even more, Carlo Abarth decided to compete in international endurance speed records. To do that, they needed to make a number of cars that could break a few records. But, the most significant cars came from their collaboration with the legendary Pininfarina.

Fiat-Abarth 750 Monoposto

The first car was made in 1957, and was called the 750 Monoposto. This streamliner set a Class H record by maintaining an average speed of 165.34 km/h for 72 hours. The 750cc engine was borrowed from a Fiat 600 and it was capable to achieve incredible speeds, but that was not the most important car built by these Italian car giants.

750 Monoposto at the 1957 Paris Motor Show

At the same time, Abarth was making its new Bialbero 4-cylinder engine. By using this engine, they were able to break their own record. So, the project with Pininfarina continued until they made the perfect record breaker; the Fiat-Abarth 1000 Bialbero Monoposto da Record.

The Monoposto even got a nickname La Principessa, which means ‘princess’ in Italian. It was presented at the 1960 Turin Motor Show, where many people were astonished by its shape. That year, the Monoposto entered history, breaking 8 international records and 1 world record, all set at the famous Monza track.

But first, let’s talk about the shape. Since it was made to break records, you will not see any sharp edges on it. Instead, it has a very smooth line from front to back, making it as streamlined as possible. You can also see those removable wheel covers, which are there to give a more aerodynamic balance at high speeds. It is very easy to access the cockpit through the bubble-styled roof, but there are not many interesting things when you get in.

The interior was definitely not made for your regular Saturday shopping…or even comfort. Since the car’s only purpose was to go fast, the interior is very spartan. As you can see, there are a lot of roll-cages around the seat, which had two purposes: to protect the driver and to keep the entire body structure tough and safe. The seat looks like a seat from any other car…only less comfortable. And the steering wheel was cut in half so that the driver’s legs could be accommodated too.

But, take a look at the writing next to the instrument board? To some, it may look like someone wrote a letter ‘H’ on it but, actually, that is the shifting pattern. It seems that the 1st gear is up and to the right, 2nd low and right, 3rd up and left, and 4th down and left. This really looks like an interior that was not made for longer rides, but the driver somehow managed to hold on enough to break the records.

Not a lot of information have been disclosed about the drivetrain. But, what we know is that it was powered by a 1.0-litre straight-4 Bialbero type 22 engine placed in the middle, which could produce a rather impressive 109hp at 9.000 rpm. That might not sound like a lot of power, but it only had a 0.20 drag coefficient, which means that the shape was in charge of its speed. Monoposto’s top speed was 218 km/h (136 mph), and thanks to its height of just 1.2 meters, it had a very low center of gravity.

What about its competition, you ask? Well in this case, Abarth’s only competition was…well, Abarth. They were aiming to break their own records, and the Monoposto achieved their mission. The records broken by La Principessa were:

  • 12 hours of driving at an average speed of 203.65 km/h
  • 24 hours of driving at an average speed of 198.79 km/h
  • 48 hours of driving at an average speed of 190.27 km/h
  • 72 hours of driving at an average speed of 186.89 km/h
  • driving 2,000 miles at an average speed of 201.12 km/h
  • driving 5,000 miles at an average speed of 192.88 km/h
  • driving 5,000 kilometers at an average speed of 199.24 km/h
  • driving 10,000 miles at an average speed of 191.37 km/h (also a world record)

After it did its job, the car retired and was sold by Pininfarina to an Italian car collector in 1970. It was owned by the same person for most of its life and in 2016, it went up for auction. No one could estimate the price but, in the end, the car was not even sold.

Some sources claim that the owner just did not have the heart to say goodbye to this masterpiece. Others claim that the car could not fetch the expected price. Whatever the reason was, the owner is one lucky guy. And to be honest, if I were him, I would not be able to say goodbye to this car either, because La Principessa is such a fine piece of history.

Photo credits: Abarth archive, FavCars, Coachbuild

Published in Car Stories

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David Olsen-Fabian
1 year ago

Incredibly interesting and well written. EXCELLENT!
It’s also a great piece of automotive history. I wouldn’t part with that car either!!!!!!

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