CAFÉ RACERS & BACK ROAD BEATERS

By Stuart Grant

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The other day, someone commented on our 1963 Fiat 1500 (Millecinquecento) social media advert with a picture entitled “My Abarth modified 1500”, and it got me thinking.

Ever heard about #SlowCarFast? It’s a social media thing. It is exactly what it says: take a slow car and drive it enthusiastically. The benefits are numerous – slow cars are generally cheap cars, ‘fast’ in a slow car shouldn’t see you locked up, the simplicity means some DIY tinkering and performance upgrades are the order of the day, cars that have been forgotten get a new lease on life, popping down for a straight-through exhaust session at the coffee shop or attacking the narrower twists found on the ‘old’ roads of SA… and on and on.

Fiat 1500 Image 1

On the local front, this genre car is dominated by Minis, Beetles, Alfa Giulias, Ford Escorts and Anglias and the odd RS-look Porsche 911, but the Millecinquecento is ripe for the occasion and something a little different. Searching for an Abarth version as mentioned in the comment resulted in me stumbling across one lapping up Goodwood Revival and had me weak at the knees – lowered suspension, steel wheels, bumpers removed and a pair of Weber carburettors.

A rare Abarth version is not on my radar for obvious reasons, but the homework paid off, and I stumbled across another period hotted Fiat 1500 option, and this time a local one. Ever heard of the Fiat 1500 OTS and the names Eric ‘Puddles’ Adler and John Conchie?

Fiat 1500 Image 2

Paging through South African motorsport archives, their names crop up on many occasions. More often than not because, under the banner 'Alconi' (a shortened combination of Adler and Conchie) and as part of the Ecurie Aquila team, they managed to make everyday cars into circuit-racing giant killers – in 1966 an Alconi R8 won the South African Group 2 title for saloon cars.

So impressive were the results and reliability that Alconi and Renault South Africa teamed up to offer clients road-going Alconi R8s and R10s fully backed by Renault head office and sold through its dealer network.

It wasn’t only Renault though and race results showed that in ’63 Conchie teamed up with Adler in the freshly released Fiat 1500. Although the race season wasn’t exactly a top showing, the road tests on their Alconi-modified OTS road cars raised a few eyebrows. In standard guise, the 83hp 1500 scampered to 60mph in 14.5 sec, 80mph in 34.3 and had a top speed of 91.8mph. The 96hp Conchie/Adler OTS however dropped the sprint numbers to 11.7 and 24.4 seconds respectively and bumped the top speed up to just shy of 100mph thanks to a modified camshaft with more lift and duration, a reworked distributor, Weber 36DCD7 and better matching of the manifolds to the head.

Fiat 1500 Image 3

Today a 1500 OTS is a difficult-find beast, but as a relatively low-spend café racer, a great option would be to wind the clock back 60 years or so, add some local-is-lekker flavour and DIY-mod a run-of-the-mill 1500 in Alconi/OTS fashion. Add a hotter cam, more efficient carb (or two), custom exhaust manifold and freer-flowing rear exhaust system, lose some weight by removing bumpers, widen the steel wheels add a period bucket seat and, if you are serious, add race number roundels to the doors.

Drive your slow car fast. Drive it everywhere.

To view the Fiat 1500 auction, click here.

Fiat 1500 Image 4
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