How to turn an econobox into a rally car
It's no secret that getting into motorsport is immensely expensive. Rallying has always been slightly more accessible but the early days of showing up on race day with your daily driver are long gone. Entry fees, safety equipment, tools, a trailer to get your car to the event, a crew, race license, the list goes on and on. And i haven't even mentioned buying a suitable car.
To solve this problem, get more young people into the sport and cash in on the marketing potential, Fiat devised a plan in the early nineties. Instead of amateurs having to go through the struggle i mentioned above, why not help them a little bit? The Fiat Cinquecento Trofeo was born.
The Cinquecento was the spiritual successor to the legendary Fiat 500, Cinquecento after all is Italian for 500. Since it's introduction in 1991 it became an instant hit in the still quite lonely small economy car market. Beating it's future rival, the Renault Twingo, to the punch. It was quite frankly the cheapest and simplest form of 4 wheeled transportation. To turn the econobox into a full blown rally car was no simple task. The biggest engine available was a microscopic 899 cc four cylinder pushing out a meager 38 horsepower.
Fiat stuffed the car with a plethora of aftermarket goodies. Starting at the bottom we find sporty Abarth rims wrapped in sticky Michelin tires working together with a full Bilstein suspension to keep the car firmly on the ground. The transmission was left stock but a stronger clutch was installed just to be safe.
The engine received upgraded spark plugs, better cooling, a larger free flowing exhaust and intake system resulting in total horsepower figure of 55 for the carbureted models. The more modern single point injection engine was more powerful with 65 horsepower on tap. Not a whole lot but still plenty for a car only weighing 790 kilogram.
This was more 60 kilogram more than the stock car thanks to the roll cage. The dashboard was kept relatively stock except for the addition of a bigger rpm gauge to indicate when the car was hitting it's 7500 rpm redline. Further additions were a Sparco steering wheel and racing seats together with a small arsenal of fire extinguishers linked to an automated fire detection system. Bigger perforated pedals were added as well to aid in the all important heel and toe technique.
The end result was a very capable entry level rally car and in 1992 Italy, Poland, France and Germany hosted their respective one make championships. All the competitors had to do was buy the car at a reasonably cheap prize and Fiat would take care of the rest. Upon arriving at the event owners would find their car already there, fully serviced and ready for action.
Italy's championship was divided in 4 separate categories for newcomer, women, people under the age of 21 and overall. The winner of each of these categories, and regional champions of the other countries, were given the opportunity to compete in the WRC rally of Monte Carlo. The potential exposure and overall appeal of the series lead to even more people signing up and soon countries like Spain, Denmark, Greece and many others hosted their own championships.
The car was made for the one make championship but that didn't stop privateers from signing up in other events. It was after all homologated first as a Group A car and later as an F2 car. This meant it was up against icons such as the Escort Cosworth, Celica and Impreza in Group A and front wheel drive rockets like the Ibiza and 306 Maxi kit cars in F2. It was the young Priscille de Belloy who was the most successful when she finished 34th overall in the WRC rally of Corsica.
1997 was the last year of the one make championships as the Cinquecento was replaced with the Seicento. It may not have been the fasted and it certainly wasn't the most powerful but the Cinquecento Trofeo deserves it's place in the history books cause without it hundreds of young talents would have never gotten the chance to experience the thrill of rally racing.