Sidebar article for Victory Lane


Karl Jackson’s “Giant Killer” Fiat-Abarth 850/1000 Spider



The author acquired his class-winning race car in an unusual way.  When he tried to buy a small race-car trailer, he was told he had to take the car already on it or no deal!  Jackson agreed, forked over $300 and took them both home in 1982.

The car, stripped of its racing drive train and suspension, was an SCCA  H-Production 1967 Fiat 850 spider.  The car had been built and raced in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona in the early 1970's by Ric Hoffmann out of Alpine, Texas and Jackson bought the car from him.  This was fortunate as an early SCCA log book, tons of parts and a wealth of information and old Super-8 film came from the previous driver.  In time, a Fiat 850 coupe was bought from this same owner that had been the recipient of much of the race suspension and widened steel wheels.  During 1984-85, Karl rebuilt the spider for use in SCCA  autocrossing and solo events.

In 1988, Jackson re-configured the car for vintage road racing to Fiat-Abarth 1000 OT spec. and entered his first vintage race in Austin, Texas.   (If this is a new marque to you, then know that Carlo Abarth was the “King of the Italian Supertuners” and modified and produced many Fiat-based autos until his company was absorbed by FIAT in 1972) After a job change took Karl to California in 1990,  he put the car in storage and it remained there until 1995. On his return to Texas,  Jackson resurrected the bright red racer and began vintage racing again with Corinthian Vintage Auto Racing (CVAR.)  To date, the car has run 16 race weekends with CVAR and won H-Production class three times.  At the current displacement of 930 cc, it is the smallest-engined car regularly running with CVAR.

The suspension, indeed the whole chassis, is basically stock.  The springs were replaced with Abarth units, a new set of Koni shocks added and sway bars enlarged.  The front brakes are the improved version of the later Fiat 850 series and the rears are stock drums. The transmission is completely stock with stock ratios, final drive, axles, drive couplings and clutch.

The heart of this Italian race car is its engine.  This one was built with the expert help of Robert Rodgers of Shade Tree Enginetrics and includes a PBS cam and high compression pistons.  The mixture is fed through a 34/36 Weber carburetor on top of a steel two-piece manifold.  The head is ported, polished and matched to the intake manifold.  Stock valves (with a three-angle valve job) are operated by Abarth valve springs.  An insulated header and a straight pipe handle the exhaust. The oiling system has been revised to include a pressurized center main bearing and an external oil cooler. A custom-made belt drive from Rodgers at Shade Tree handles the water pump after the stock v-belt refused to stay on close to the 8000 rpm redline. Aside from machining, balancing and careful assembly, the rest of the motor is totally stock. Although it hasn’t seen a dyno, knowledgeable estimates put its power at  70-75 horses.

Other improvements include an aluminum-boxed fuel cell, electric fuel pump, racing seat and belts, roll bar, 5.5 inch wide Campagnolo alloy wheels with Yokohama A-008 tires.  The car is stripped of all non-essentials, with the windshield and all trim removed. In 1995, the car was up-graded to Fiat Abarth 1000 OT spec which consisted of a 982 cc long-stroke engine, but this Abarth-inspired power plant was changed to allow the car to run in H-Production class.