ABARTH Fiat Uno Turbo Club of South Africa

Heritage

A proud icon in motoring history.

Unveiled in 1983, the Fiat Uno Turbo took the world by storm.
This compact little pocket rocket proved to be an immediate success, especially in Europe. But where did it come from?

Very few people know that the Fiat Uno Turbo was actually conceptualized, not by Fiat sPa in Italy, but actually by its sister company, ABARTH & Co.

Fiat wanted a version of the Uno that would accelerate from 0-100km/h in under 8 seconds and have a top speed of at least 200km/h. What ABARTH & Co delivered was something a little more than was anticipated, not only because it exceeded Fiat’s demands, but especially since this engine was highly tunable and advanced for its time. No other manufacturer could provide a car that could be tunable to over 2 and a half times its factory performance for a reasonable cost, and still be very reliable.

Another little-known fact is that the 1301cc engine used in the Mk1 Fiat Uno Turbo was actually destined for use in the Fiat X1/9, specifically for export to the USA. Unfortunately this concept never made it to production, and the engine prototype was shelved until the request for the Fiat Uno Turbo came along.

After a huge success, the Fiat Uno Turbo Mk2 was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in 1989, and it this version was eventually produced in many more countries than the Mk1 version. Exceptions to this are some South American countries such as Brazil, where a hybrid version of the Mk1 was produced, keeping the exact body shell of the Mk1, but with face-lifted bumpers, grille, headlights and a revised interior.

The Mk2 version of the Fiat Uno differed quite a bit from the Mk1, particularly the new integrated colour-coded grille, revised head– and taillights and new bumpers. The dashboard and interior was completely revamped, with the instrumentation specifically for the turbo being the most complete of any car at the time. The engine size was increased to 1372cc, and a number of improvements brought about by research & development, as wellas customer feedback.

Figure 1 An early advertisement for the Fiat Uno Turbo. It shows the F1 heritage clearly.

South African History

Unveiled on the first of May 1990 at Sun City, the Fiat Uno was an immediate success. For almost a solid year after the release, the waiting period for one of these cars was still about 3 months. The most sought after Uno of course, was the top of the range Turbo. Fitted with 13” ABARTH alloy wheels, and the unique red stripe in the bumper and along the side skirts, they were easily identified on the roads, and highly revered by owners of other sporty hot hatches.

The Fiat Uno Turbo quickly grew a reputation as a fierce competitor on the racing scene, pushing 86kW and 160Nm out of the tiny 1372cc turbocharged engine – it was giving some 2 litre cars a very hard time around the track and on the drag strips across the country. Nobody expected the little Italian to be as quick, which of course quickly led to the car acquiring almost a cult following.

Tuning shops opened nationwide catering for conversions and upgrades on the little car, most notably RSB Performance in Silverton, Pretoria – headed up by Rudi Balzer – and Torino Performance in Roodepoort, headed by Martin Barnard. Both of them offered conversions which included setting the boost higher, fitting the ever-popular Garrett T2.5 turbocharger from the Nissan 200SX, among others.

Also on the Group N racing scene, the little Italian caused quite a stir – after fine-tuning the car on the track in 1991, the Fiat Uno Turbo was the overall Class C champion for 1992, fiercely overpowering competitors such as the Toyota Conquest 16V and Opel GSi. At the end of every race, the little Unos driven by X and Y were already lapping some of the Class B competitors. At the end of 1992, it was decided to move up the Fiat Uno Turbo from Class C to Class B, because none of the other competitors had a snowball’s hope in hell of ever winning. This was followed by a drastic move by Nissan SA – they withdrew the Fiat Uno Turbo’s from the championship, since moving the cars to Class B would be against MSA rules.

Let’s take a closer look at the production history.

For practicality, I’ve divided the 2,592 Fiat Uno Turbo’s that were produced at the Automakers Plant in Rosslyn, Pretoria into three main categories: A, B and C. Category B I’ve sub-divided into B1 and B2. The reason for this is that there were some small differences between the cars, depending on marketing strategies, availability of parts, and the like. The table below should make things a little clearer.

  Group A Group B¹ Group B² Group C
Produced 1990 – 1992 1992 – 1994 1994 – 1996 1996 – 1998
Bumpers Black, with red strips Black, with red strips Black, with red strips Semi colour-coded
Throttle Body – Outer Diameter 60mm 60mm 60mm 54mm
Vacuum Outlets on Intake Manifold 1 1 2 2
Hob Switch Adjustable Fixed Fixed Fixed
Intercooler Cores Thin Thin Thin Thick
Coil Springs Stiffer Stiffer Softer Softer
Interior Paint Colour Same as exterior Same as exterior Same as exterior Black
Temperature Gauge 50-90-130, changed later 60-140 60-140 60-140
Interior Side Mirror Handles Thicker Thinner Thinner Thinner
Spare Wheel Type Steel 5.5J, with attached spacer Steel 5.5J, with attached spacer Steel 5.5J, with attached spacer Alloy 5.5J
Tyres Goodyear Eagle NCT Goodyear Eagle NCT Goodyear Eagle NCT Pirelli P4000
Alloy Wheels High Polished Epoxy Coated Epoxy Coated Epoxy Coated
Rear Spoiler Optional Optional Standard Standard
Exhaust Tailpiece None None None Chrome
Firewall Silver Silver Black Black
Air-conditioning Optional None None None
Sunroof None None Optional Optional
Fuel Pump Bosch Bosch Bosch Pierburg
Oil Filter Brand & Type GUD Z217 GUD Z217 GUD Z217 GUD Z284