Ads on Test: Radbourne Abarth 695 replica
A real Radbourne-converted car – and it’s been further uprated since. Paul Hardiman becomes a Borrower in order to test it
This Fiat 500F has an interesting history in which it’s been associated with all the right names. A 1967 car first UK-registered in 1971, it was built into a 595SS some time after by Radbourne, main Abarth specialist in the UK at the time. Using all Abarth parts, these conversions were factory approved.
Then there’s an invoice from Franco Motors dated 1985 for fitting a 126 engine, which was rebuilt by Italcorsa in 1993 and fitted with an unleaded four-port cylinder head and DCOE Weber carburettor in 1999. Now a 695, it was last rebuilt with new internals by Abarth specialist Middle Barton Garage in 2002, with further preparation work by Lightwork Racing.
There’s a further £922 bill from R Proietti in 2012 and it was last retuned with new plugs by a local specialist in July. Maximum power is estimated at ‘about 40bhp’. Further modifications include a battery-cut-off on the front lid, plus a baby Panhard rod to locate the front spring and Spax gas dampers to the rear.
Corrosion caused its long-term owner to get it reshelled in the Eighties, about the time it became a 695, and there’s a 1994 invoice from Italcorsa for floor and sill replacement, with more sill work in 2002 from Middle Barton. The floors are straight, and the sill flanges fairly straight; better than average. It wears a rare steel hardtop.
Inside there’s a driver’s bucket seat and roll cage, plus Abarth instruments and steering wheel. Scrutineers’ stickers show its long-term owner until 2017 had clearly used it for sprints and hillclimbs. The belts date-expired for competition in 2006. The tyres are 165/70x10 Bridgestones, their three-digit code dating to the Nineties but they’re hardly worn, showing how light on its feet this car is. The spare has a regular-sized Michelin ZX.
It’s presentable but not concours – the paint is shiny, with a few small chips and bubbles in the bonnet and small cracks in the white stripes. The motor is a bit grubby and damp under the sump, but with no big leaks. Oil is darkish and near max, under a new-looking reproduction Abarth filler cap.
There’s no choke, so it needs a couple of throttle stabs to prime it manually. After a couple of churns the engine buzzes into life, with the typical manic cackle as you accelerate. The donor 126’s transmission migrated with the engine, fitted with a taller differential, so synchromesh on the top three gears is welcome. The top two gears feel usefully longer than standard, allowing something approaching a 50mph cruise with similar performance to a 998 Cooper – but it feels faster because it’s smaller. Oil pressure is 40psi at 4500rpm.
The ride is characteristically harsh, with super-direct steering and a surprising amount of grip. Something touches on bumps – perhaps tyres and rear arches. The brakes pull to the right slightly which is historical – an old MoT advisory mentions this – but you almost expect that from an all-drum set-up. It’s sold with a new MoT, plus an original set of 12in Abarth alloy wheels, shod in new and unused tyres. This is one of four cars for sale tested in the latest issue, part of 43 pages of buying tips and advice, including the Hot 30 Cars to Buy Now, Quentin Willson’s Hot Tips, Ads on Test and the Buying Guide in the latest issue of Classic Cars.
Price £17,950 Engine 690cc ohv vertical twin-cylinder, Weber DCOE carburettor Power 38+bhp @ 5200rpm Torque 42lb ft @ 4000rpm Top speed 87mph 0-60mph 18sec Length 3025mm Width 1320mm Mpg 42