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The outright winner of the 1978 Tour de France Automobile in the hands of Michèle Mouton
The car which gave Michèle Mouton her first international victory and truly put the ‘Queen of Speed’ on the motorsport map
Finished second overall in the 1979 French Rally Championship
Boasting an extensive, successful and beautifully documented period competition history
Recently refinished in its famous Fiat France livery by the historic Italian livery specialist PubbliMais
One of a mere 50 Works Group IV-specification Fiat 131 Abarth Rallys built
Chassis no. 131AR 2038821
When Abarth’s engineers were tasked by the Fiat Group’s bigwigs with transforming the humble mass-produced 131 Mirafiori into a rally-winning machine to succeed the utterly dominant and positively exotic Lancia Stratos HF, they probably wondered what the suits had been smoking. But shying away from the challenge was out of the question – Torinese pride was at stake and if anyone could nail such a brief, it was them.
In reality, the simple, robust and reliable three-box-design of the Mirafiori (the name of the Turin suburb in which these Fiats were produced, in case you were wondering) was ripe for a rally makeover. It was a blank canvas that, with the help of a very generous funding package from Olio-Fiat and Alitalia, evolved into one of the sport’s most successful ever models.
The history-steeped Carrozzeria Bertone was charged with preparing the 131 Abarths’ two-door body shells for competition. The real sting in the tail, however, came in the form of the engine – more specifically a two-litre inline-four developed by Abarth, with alloy heads, dual cams, 16 valves and trick Kugelfischer mechanical injection.
“The simple, robust and reliable three-box-design of the 131 Mirafiori was ripe for a rally makeover.”
Just 400 Fiat 131 Abarths were built, of which 50 were earmarked by the Works for Group IV competition and prepared accordingly. And in just four years of competition, said Group IV racers clocked up three consecutive World Rally Championship constructors’ titles and 18 individual outright WRC victories.
Markku Alén, who won the Rally of 1000 Lakes four times behind the wheel of a 131, has the Mirafiori to thank for his 1978 FIA Drivers’ Cup. And Walter Röhrl clinched the World Rally Championship drivers’ gong in 1980 piloting one of these three-box beasts of Turin. For Abarth’s engineers, it was mission complete – not that they could rest on their laurels for long. There was another job at hand, codenamed the SE037. And we all know how successfully that story unfolded.
The extraordinary story of this particular 131 begins in the heart of Abarth’s Reparto Corse skunkworks. Bearing the chassis number 2038821, though more commonly known by its internal identity code G7, the car was issued with its Certificate of Origin on 23 July 1976 and registered directly to the Fiat factory in Turin.
Adorned with the legendary Olio Fiat livery, G7 was pressed into competitive action under the Works banner on two occasions in 1976: the fourth Giro d’Italia Automobilistico and the 32nd Lombard RAC Rally of Great Britain, the latter of which formed part of the World Rally Championship (WRC).
Ahead of the 1977 roster of events, G7 had its national allegiance changed somewhat – though still a factory-affiliated entry, the car was refinished in the equally striking Total-sponsored Fiat France warpaint. With French national pride now at stake, the 1970 European Rally Champion and winner of the 1973 Monte-Carlo Rally Jean-Claude Andruet was earmarked to drive this 131.
“Fiat France was suitably impressed and promptly signed Mouton up to partner Andruet for an all-out assault on the 1978 season.”
First up: Rallye d’Antibes. Andruet was joined in the cockpit by the famous French female navigator Michèle Espinosi-Petit, better known by her pseudonym ‘Biche’. The duo’s pace could be described in the same vein as the summer sun on the Côte d’Azur: searing. Victory was sealed in spectacular fashion, over three-and-a-half minutes ahead of the second-placed Porsche 911 Carrera 2.7 RS.
G7 returned to the world stage shortly after its triumph in Antibes, Andruet tackling the stiflingly dusty Greek special stages of the Acropolis Rally. One further WRC event beckoned for this Fiat in 1977. And it was a special one: Rallye France, the Tour de Corse in November.
The occasion was important for a number of reasons, not least because it was the first time G7 was driven by the French ‘Queen of Speed’ Michèle Mouton alongside her longstanding co-driver Françoise Conconi. Eighth overall was a terrific result for what was the young driver’s first dance in a 131. Indeed, Fiat France was suitably impressed and promptly signed Mouton up to partner Andruet for an all-out assault on the 1978 season.
This Fiat 131 Abarth Rally was forced to patiently wait until September of 1978 for a sniff of competition. But if there was one event worth waiting for, it was the Tour de France Automobiles, the historic endurance road race which traverses a swathe of the country. For 1978, there were some significant changes to the ‘Tour Auto’. Most notably, gone were the numerous circuit speed trials, replaced instead with over 200km of ‘secret’ off-road special stages.
From the outset, Mouton and Conconi were locked in a tense battle at the sharp end of the field with the likes of Bernard Darniche and his Lancia Stratos, the Vauxhall Chevette of the all-British outfit Martin Holmes and Chris Sclater and a squadron of Opel Kadett GT/Es. But after 1,000 eventful kilometres, it was the ladies who emerged ahead and took a commanding victory.
“Many factors have made this success possible,” wrote Maurice Louche of the momentous victory in his seminal book on the history of the ‘Tour Auto’, “the reliability of their Fiat 131 Abarth, their good team work, valuable and thorough reconnaissance work and not least Michèle’s effective driving, supported so efficiently by Fiat France.” It was Mouton’s first great international victory – a race which put the ‘Queen of Speed’ firmly on the motorsport map.
What’s the phrase, ‘there’s no rest for the wicked’? Less than a month after its triumph in France, G7 was thrust back into action on an equally challenging test of endurance: the sixth Giro d’Italia Automobilistico. Mouton and Conconi reaffirmed their prowess for road-rallying, finishing fourth overall behind only two Lancia Stratos’ (one of which was a Group 5 Turbo driven by the World Rally Champion Markku Alén) and a Porsche 935.
This Fiat 131 Abarth’s stellar 1978 season concluded with a fifth place in the WRC-qualifying Tour de Corse and a podium finish in the Rallye du Var, round 17 of the French Rally Championship.
G7’s focus for 1979 was, incidentally, diverted to the French Rally Championship. Mouton and Conconi raced this chassis in seven rounds, including the Tour de France Automobiles. Expectations were high arriving at the latter, given the duo won the race in such emphatic fashion the previous year. They did not disappoint – their podium finish was one of five scored throughout the year, earning the French female compatriots second in the national championship.
After what had proven to be a very successful career, G7 was given one final run in 1983, Mario Aldo Pasetti driving in a variety of Italian events, racking up two victories and two podiums in the process.
“In the 46 years between its birth in 1976 and the summer of 2022, this car changed hands on just two occasions.”
Fiat finally sold G7 in January of 1986, as evidenced by its Estratto Cronologico. Save for a fleeting appearance as a course car at Rally Citta di Scorze in 1992, this 131 Abarth Rally was not exhibited in public until Rally Legend in 2019, when it was reunited with Jean-Claude Andruet for the first time in almost four decades. In the 46 years between its birth in 1976 and the summer of 2022, this car changed hands on just two occasions.
That was until Girardo & Co. was tasked with sourcing a great 131 Abarth with period competition history for a client looking to build a collection of historically significant Italian rally cars. We knew G7 was the perfect candidate and were able to successfully negotiate to acquire the car on his behalf.
Before we delivered this Stratos to its new owner, we sent chassis 001915 to the renowned Baldi twins in Turin, the foremost Abarth experts, for a thorough inspection and service. We subsequently commissioned PubbliMais to refinish the car in its exact livery from the 1976 Tour de France Automobiles. The Torinese company famously applied the liveries for Lancia’s Works competition cars through the decades – who better to restore the visual glory of this ultra-special Fiat?
Genuine factory-prepared Fiat 131 Abarth Rallys with period competition history are incredibly rare beasts. But to find one with the stellar record of G7 and with such a strong connection to one of rallying’s all-time greats is near unheard of. Michèle Mouton’s victory in the 1978 Tour Auto driving this very Fiat was a major milestone in her career.
A true trailblazer who, remarkably, remains the only female to have won a World Rally Championship event, Mouton is quoted as saying that the 131 was the car which made her realise she could compete squarely with the best male drivers. As G7 demonstrated, that the ‘Queen of Speed’ most definitely did.