OBSCURATI CURIOSITIES FROM THE AMAZING WORLD OF ITALIAN CARS PININFARINA ABARTH SCORPIONE / Story by Chris Rees / Obscurati #Pininfarina-Abarth-Scorpione
/ based on the #Autozam-AZ-1
Last year at a dinner, I found myself sitting next to #Lorenzo-Ramaciotti
, Head of Global Design for the entire #Fiat-Alfa-Maserati-Chrysler
combine. He’s a real design hero of mine, and this was a fascinating opportunity to find out about his life designing cars. Especially as it uncovered the little gem you see here.
Ramaciotti’s Pininfarina days (he retired as head of Pininfarina back in 2005) are especially interesting to me, but when he let slip that he’d designed an Abarth-inspired coupe for a Japanese friend of his, I was incredulous. Really? Then he turned a bit bashful, telling me: “I would like to keep some mystery about it.” But after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, I eventually got him to identify the design – the ‘Abarth Scorpione’.
This yellow beastie is based on Mazda’s Autozam AZ-1, an intriguing micro-coupe with gullwing doors made between 1992 and 1995. The mid-engined sportscar conformed to Japan’s K-car city car rules, which means it has a 64bhp 660cc threecylinder turbo engine and is absolutely minute (just 3295mm long and 1395mm wide). Its handling is pin-sharp and it’s a surprisingly quick machine as it weighs a mere 720kg.
However, one aspect of the AZ-1 in particular was very novel – its method of construction. It consisted of a steel spaceframe on to which glassfibre panels were affixed. These nonstressed body panels could be readily removed, inspiring many special-bodied versions to be made over the years – of which the Abarth Scorpione is easily the most exciting.
The idea came from Shiro Kosaka, a collector of Abarths in Japan. In 1996 he was looking to commission an Abarth-style body for the AZ-1, and he got his friend at Pininfarina, Lorenzo Ramaciotti, to design it.
The design doesn’t reproduce any specific Abarth but is perhaps most reminiscent of the 750 GT Zagato. In fact, Ramaciotti himself owns a blue 1956 Fiat-Abarth 750 Zagato, which he regards as “a superb design.” It’s the rear lid that does it really, with its echoes of the classic double-bubble design. The air intakes are genuinely functional, by the way – the AZ-1 is midengined, remember – but engine access with that lid design is pretty tricky.
The front lights are from a Honda Today, while the rear lights are straight from Pininfarina’s Fiat Coupe. The windscreen and side windows are standard AZ-1, but the rear three-quarter and back windows are specially made from acrylic.
The ‘Abarth Scorpione’ name seems to have been an unofficial tag applied to the car, and the Pininfarina badges that are affixed to all the cars that I’ve seen have been applied afterwards by owners – but entirely justifiably, as we now have it on personal authority that the car’s designer was the highly esteemed Lorenzo Ramaciotti.
After one Scorpione was built for Mr Kosaka himself, the car was then put into production by a company called Saburo Japan, which marketed the glassfibre body conversion in kit form. The price for a full set of body panels was one million yen (about £7000 at the time), excluding fitting and painting. Since the AZ-1 remains very sought-after in Japan and supply is limited (fewer than 5000 were made in total), the end result was fairly expensive for what it was, and only around five are thought to have been sold. If ever I came across one of these, I’d be straight in to buy it, I think. A mid-engined turbocharged gullwing-doored Abarth designed by Pininfarina? Yes please!