Despite its long and storied history, the Abarth Osella PA1 is still formidable as a vintage racer. The result of a dream-team partnership between the legendary Carlo Abarth and Vincenzo Osella, the story of this iconic car is well worth exploring in more detail—so let’s dive in.

From Motor Thun to Porsche & Beyond: Meet Carlo Abarth

Carlo Abarth was born Karl Alberto Abarth in Vienna Austria on November 15, 1908. In his teens, it became evident that young Karl had a talent for engineering. He took an apprenticeship at Degan in Italy, designing bicycle and motorcycle frames.

He then moved back to Austria to work at Motor Thun Motorcycles. His job was to prepare race bikes for competition. This led to a position as a test rider. When a factory rider became ill and was unable to compete, young Karl was tapped as his replacement.

During testing, Abarth set the fastest lap times twice in a row. The team riders were none too happy with this. On race day Abarth’s mount was a replacement bike that suspiciously gave out midway through the race. Abarth presumed sabotage and parted ways with Thun.

Engine with Abarth's name visible on block

Engine with Abarth's name visible on block

Abarth got himself a used British bike and went to work on it.  His first win was in Salzburg in 1928; he did this single-handedly. A year after that he built the first bike to wear his name. By his mid-twenties, he was the European champion five times over.

In 1930, a serious accident ended his solo motorcycle racing career, so he built a sidecar. He twice raced The Orient Express on the 1300 km stretch between Vienna and Osted; the outcome was tied both times. Another significant crash in 1939 put Abarth in the hospital for a year, ending all motorcycle activities. So he moved on to the safety of four wheels.

Red #272 Abarth Osella PA1 speeding down track

Red #272 Abarth Osella PA1 speeding down track

World War II had recently ended, so Karl returned to Italy and changed his name to Carlo. He renewed old friendships at Porsche and became the representative of the Porsche design studio.  He also connected with Piero Dusio, an industrialist and the money man behind the Cisitalia company. The great Tazio Nuvolari had been doing battle with Cisitalia’s D46 racer against more sophisticated cars—and winning.

Carlo and ex-Porsche engineer Rudolf Hrushka were tasked with building an innovative single-seat racer based on designs created by Dr. Ferdinad Porsche. The Cisitalia 360 was a 300 hp mid-engine, twin-supercharged 12-cylinder racer with a seriously complex four-wheel-drive system.

Under the hood of the Abarth Osella PA1

Under the hood of the Abarth Osella PA1

The 360 became a drain on patron Dusio’s bank balance. The company went into receivership and Dusio headed to Argentina with the prototype, before it had a chance to turn a wheel in anger.

Carlo picked up the pieces and, in partnership with racer Guido Scagliarini, created Abarth & C. SrL in 1949. The company’s logo was a stylized version of Abarth’s astrological birth sign: the scorpion.

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By: Sean Smith
Title: The Abarth Osella PA1: a Race Car for the Ages
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Published Date: Mon, 16 May 2022 17:31:39 +0000