Having reached the heady height of five-foot-seven as my back straight, fully grown, adult size, it is fair to pronounce that I am not tall. I always hoped, when growing up, that one day I could reach six-feet. I’m not entirely sure why now. It may have been that if I did, I could count myself a man or it may have just been that, as usual, I wanted to beat some friends to that size. Getting to senior school, it probably also accounted for me wanting to be older, look older and avoid bullying, for that seemed to be what would happen to the smaller people there. Arriving at the gates with my new uniform all present and correct, a new bag, shined shoes, packed lunch and protective mother neither pushing me in or holding me back, I furtively looked around for a familiar face from my previous school but saw none.
You could see all us first years though, not only because we were flanked by a parent or two, but because we were just all so box fresh, wide-eyed and clueless about what we were about to start. Filtering in through the gate and heading to the centre hall of the school for registration, I looked around in wonder at the tall blocks of educational institution towering above me, the wide playing fields, concrete tennis courts and chemistry block, all areas that I’d not had at a school before. It was intimidating yet exciting all at once. But the overriding feeling was of being small.
Fortunately, at this age, I was still on a par for the height I wished to reach and soon saw a few familiar faces at registration to realise that, for today at least, it would be alright here. Getting allocated to my form class, meeting a few new people who I’d seen around the area before and beginning the conversations that may or may not lead to a lifetime friendship all started to happen and the parents leaving couldn’t happen quickly enough. A little lad, going to a big school where my siblings had trodden before. I’d be fine.
It’s a strange feeling, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown into my height. Unfortunately I’ve also grown around it too as I’m what my mother describes as ‘portly’. Technically, I’m not overweight, I’m undertall.
All of this means that people who I haven’t seen since those olden days would most definitely recognise something familiar, but it would be a softer, more rotund version of that little lad who they went to school with. Oh, and bald too. Again, maybe I’m growing through my hair. Whatever.
What ignited this nostalgic waft through the memory banks is this new shape Fiat 500 Abarth Esseesse. This particular version was created in 2010 for a Cancer Research celebrity charity race at Silverstone and this car was peddled by the chef, James Martin. It was modified in order to be race compliant but, as it was an original road car, what you see here is still fully road legal.
First of all, I was never a big fan when the new 500 arrived. Similar to the new Mini, it isn’t small anymore and that kind of means the appeal has gone, because the aesthetic of what came before, that had an element of cute, is replaced. Its like when you see a fat baby. It’s cute because its a baby but you hope it doesn’t stay like that. Generally, babies don’t but the Mini, which has gone on to be a real fat bastard similar to myself, the 500, excluding the designed in the dark 500L, has stayed the same.
This one though has had some weight removed, some mechanical butch added and, coated in that Campovolo Grey of Karl Abarth overlaid with red detailing and it stands out. Which is a good thing. It looks full of mischief and I’m pleased to say, it delivers. Inside the cabin, you find the rear seats removed and the front seats, hard plastic backed moulded racing seats, emblazoned with Abarth stitching. Bright red, four point racing harness feeding through it reminds you that this car was uprated for motorsport. Indeed, the original 135bhp was taken to 165bhp, a bespoke roll cage fitted, lightweight 17” alloys, cross-drilled brakes, uprated suspension, Abarth ECU, BMC performance air filter and a Monza exhaust. Finally, a modern 500 I like.
Admittedly, it is never going to have the appeal that the open-bayed original 500 Abarth had but I quite like this little chap.
Heading down to Goodwood Motor Circuit for a test day, there was only one route to take and that was as many A and B roads as possible. This thing is a riot. Taught, as you would expect for the modifications it received, it is best suited to the short, twisty bits opening out to a nice straight where you can flit through the cogs to a raspy little exhaust note. The ride is a little hard when crashing over some of the not so smooth surfaces our councils fail to repair, but the two hour drive to Goodwood literally flew by.
Arriving to the circuit, it didn’t look so out of place but it was a shame that I wasn’t going to be hitting the track with it. It would’ve been nice to have experienced what it was created for but it is a great, fun little thing to run around in.
That said though, it is still flawed. Mainly, this is because it is nowhere near as cool as the original and it is still way too bloated. The ride is too firm to use it everyday and you sit on it. You’re too high up. Even for a little chap like me. That said, it’s a cool, modern take on that classic little Italian version and with all the race trimmings, this is a cracking little weekend pocket rocket. Ben, the owner has it for just such an occasion and that makes a lot of sense.
“I know it has shortcomings, but I think its awesome, all the same.”
And that surely is the point of all cars. As we said from the beginning, here, we are all inclusive to the good, the bad and the ugly. Given my shortcomings, that’s a bloody blessing.