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Grandmother’s Abarth in San Antonio Texas

2870 Views 13 Replies 10 Participants Last post by  Julia DeGrace
To be fair, I’m not your average grandmother. I’m a 75 y.o. retired automotive research engineer who did a lot of rally and autocross driving when I was much younger. This is not my first rodeo with a sports car.

I got the bug to buy a Fiat 124 in March 2020. It took two months to locate and drive all 6 variants so I could decide which one I really wanted (3 models x 2 transmissions) Then it took a couple months to find a car to buy. I agreed to buy this one owner 2018 manual transmission Abarth in completely stock condition and with 8,565 miles early June, 2020. The seller needed almost a month before I could take possession, so I had plenty of time to do more research and acquire parts before it was mine on July 2

My car has every option that was available in 2018 except for the Recaro racing seats and Record Monza exhaust.
I chose the Abarth over the Lusso because I like the more aggressive look. Plus, the Abarth has the following standard features not offered on the Lusso: limited-slip differential, switchable sport mode for the engine computer, front strut towers brace, slightly freer flowing (and only slightly louder) exhaust that provides a slight increase in engine torque, actual tire pressure sensors, and a couple of cosmetic features I like such as the red colored tachometer and the 4-tip exhaust. My Abarth also has Brembo brakes, Abarth racing seats, and the black painted hood and deck “heritage stripe”. The Abarth can also be fitted with pieces from the 2019 optional Valeno Appearance Group which I’ve already purchased from a British supplier.

During my first three weeks of ownership I added several small (low cost) accessories and changed out the suspension:
2-inch Stubby antenna
Seat belt sleeves
Magnetic cell phone holder
(2) simple black license plate frames
Red inner door panel piping trim
Red starter button overlay
First aid trauma kit with blood clotting bandages and tourniquet
Fire extinguisher bracket mount and extinguisher at front of driver’s seat
After market accessory shelf mounted in center storage compartment
Dash mounted automatic recording camera (auto on/off and Bluetooth connected to cell phone)
Special tire patch mushroom plug kit added to the roadside emergency tire inflation kit
Bright white LED lights for map, trunk, and license illumination
Front and rear tow hooks (not the expensive $150+ ones, these may be only cosmetic items)
Smoked lens sequential side signal, and smoked lens rear side marker lights with LED bulbs
Italia plaque on engine cover
GFB Company’s improved turbo boost relief valve for better turbo performance
A Sila Titanium turbo blanket (heat shield) to reduce the extreme under hood temperatures

I have some red parts from the optional Valeno Appearance group, (tow hook cover & lower grill trim) That red does not match the car’s red paint so I will probably paint them gunmetal grey to match the mirrors and windshield surround.

Abarths come stock with what I expected to be desirable Bilstein performance shocks and I, as others, expected that the spring rates would match the shock rates. After driving the car for a week, I found the ride to be uncomfortably harsh on local rough roads. The springs were too soft and the shocks were too stiff. They did not complement each other.

I spent 3+ hours one evening charting the MoPar stock numbers for springs and shocks for all the 124 years and models. I found that, with but one exception, all the cars have the same springs. There are only two front spring numbers and two rear spring numbers. They are applicable to every model and year. The two numbers probably vary slightly in spring rate due to manufacturing tolerances. I found that all years Classica, Lusso, and Urbana have the same Tokico shocks. All the Abarth years have the same Bilstein shocks.

At my age I don’t want an autocross car; I want a grand touring sports car. In a leap of faith, I removed the Bilsteins from my Abarth, replacing them with the much milder OEM Tokico shocks off of two extremely low mileage (1,000 and 5,000 mi) wrecks.

At same time, of course, I replaced the springs with aftermarket Eibach Pro springs; those springs are about 16% stiffer front and 6% stiffer rear than stock, and they lowered the car 7/8 - 1 inch.

First test I did was just pushing down on the fenders to test the springs. Before, I could not push down at all. Now, even with stiffer springs, I can push down maybe 3/8 to ½ inch. I noticed an immediate improvement in the ride. Ride is still firm, but not jarring on rough roads as was with the stock setup. The car is now suspended by the springs and controlled by the shocks. As a bonus, the lower center of gravity and the stiffer springs allow the car to corner with less body roll than it had before. Testing the cornering in an empty parking lot, I found the car in normal engine control mode handled pretty neutral; no apparent understeer nor oversteer. This was not expected. I think the improvement came from the after-market springs stiffening the front spring rate more than the rear spring rate. When switched to sport mode, which reduces the amount of traction control the car does oversteer. I can feel the rear end getting loose and correct it before it completely looses traction.

Since I drive all the time in Sport mode, I’m leaning toward a front sway bar. It will be the mild Cusco front bar which is about 50% stiffer than stock. (all other available sway bar options are 200-300% stiffer than stock. I would not put them on my street car)

Will be driving the car as is for 4-500 miles, after which, I will get an alignment by a local shop specializing in lowered/drift cars.

While the trunk liner was apart for shock replacement, I installed sound deadener in the trunk to control the excess exhaust pulse noise being transferred to the cabin. It took only 3 ½ sheets of Noico 80 mil butyl rubber material to do the job, covering about 80% of the area. (I did not want to try just 25% coverage. Material is cheap and not so heavy as some worry about.) I also put Noico material on the gas filler pipe shield which had a lot of resonance by itself.

I’m going to paint the three dash AC outlet trim rings red to match car’s red paint as soon as my special order paint arrives. Can’t accept the $180 price Mopar wants for this option.

Up to this point, I’ve spent $1,800 improving and personalizing the car.

Future mods to do when Bridgestone tires wear out:
Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, 215/45-17 (for better performance and better ride than the OEM Bridgestones) (also more expensive)

O.Z. Ultraleggera white painted, 12 spoke, aluminum wheels 17x7, +37 mm offset (they are 6 pounds each lighter than stock, and should greatly improve ride) (expensive, about $1,150) (these wheels are fitted to the 2020 Abarth “Rally Tribute” special edition, limited to 124 units.)

I’ve greatly enjoyed the information and owner comments found in this forum’s pages. Glad to have my own 124 Abarth now. I expect to drive it about a year or two before physical limitations will make it too difficult to get in and out of it any more. At that time, the next owner is likely to get one hell of a deal. Until then “smiles”.

Memere Julia


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My kinda grandmother! I hope your Abarth affair lasts longer than two years.

I'm curious about the new springs. Stiffer, but now possible to push the car down? That seems contradictory. Maybe they're variable rate?

Are you, by chance, a Denise McCluggage fan?
Welcome Julia!

Great post and great work personalizing the car!
Great write up. You wont regret the Pilot Sport 4 in 215. There is a reason they win so many group tests.

Enjoy all those miles !
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Now "HOW" did I miss this thread Julia ?.........."Gobsmacked" is an International and appropriate word to use in your company "Gal" ! I started a thread called "Brexit Mods" a while back tracking the route (and why) I took with my 124 Classica and some of what you say sounds like exactly how I felt. Surprised the Bilsteins and springs did not satisfy..I nearly removed my Tokico's but decided to just swap out the springs for the Eibach Pro-Fits and see, Yep, that was the difference. The Bridgestones...again, off and Michelin P4 215/45 17"'s..Perfection. No Record Monza..Good, what did you get...say Good-Win..Please..... Manual Gearbox..Spot On and a list of "Mods" in focus, Yep.
Now Julia...I can HELP YOU (and other Senior on...............
Whilst swapping out my suspension, brake pads and exhaust working in my single and crammed garage, for the first time ever...I started to stiffen up in the joints, bit by bit and slowly and at aged 69 yrs having always played Sport, was annoyed with my body, I ignored it and it got worse, until...and this is someone who NEVER gets ill and NEVER takes medication......I discovered FISH OIL OMEGA 3 capsules. I bought some and popped 1 for a few days only before finding that my joints partly eased up, went to 3 daily and now am like a young Gazelle once more, in fact..found a Special deal where 1 x Super strength 1200 mg capsule daily has got me wanting to sign up for Liverpool FC, My Boyhood Team. Champions League, World Club Team and now Premiership Champions, all in one season !
So, No need to even consider selling the 124 Abarth, "Ever"....just get your subscription in, your garage tools cleaned and racked and some new overalls, in Red ! Cheers
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My kinda grandmother! I hope your Abarth affair lasts longer than two years.

I'm curious about the new springs. Stiffer, but now possible to push the car down? That seems contradictory. Maybe they're variable rate?

Are you, by chance, a Denise McCluggage fan?
The Eibach Pro-Fit have the same lower stiff portion as any other spring but a "Tuned" to the Spider upper section that is flexible and moves along with the suspension / chassis so the vehicles moves smoothly into the "twisties" and produces that wide grin that you see that is not wind. Hence the slight bounce. Cheers
My kinda grandmother! I hope your Abarth affair lasts longer than two years.

I'm curious about the new springs. Stiffer, but now possible to push the car down? That seems contradictory. Maybe they're variable rate?

Are you, by chance, a Denise McCluggage fan?
It's because of the Bilstein shocks! The springs are definitely stiffer, that was obvious when comparing the springs side by side during assembly of the new springs to the Tokico shocks. I think the Bilstein shocks are so stiff that I could not push down on the fender with them installed. I have no way to prove that. Just my opinion.

Not a fan of Ms McCluggage in that I did not follow her career. I do admire her courage as a pioneer in womens' equality during a time it was so difficult for women. I'm glad my 4 granddaughters have so much opportunity today.
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De Grace, grand maman Julia. Like I have said, age is just a number, what you feel inside is what counts. I am pretty sure you would put to shame some of us oldies. LOL
Memere, is a French expression to address a Grand Mother, do you have any French blood in you.
Lots of French blood and a little bit of Basque. My grandpepere brought his family to the US from Canada in the 1930's. A middle aged sea captain with wife and 5 children; they actually walked the last 30 miles according to research my daughter and cousin have done.
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Returning to the forum after some time off and enjoying the last years of my kids at home...some familiar names still around here and very happy to see some new ones. Loved reading your posts Julia DeGrace and mad respect for your knowledge. Also will second your statements re greater opportunities for your granddaughters...I feel the same for my girls.

You'll keep this car well past the next couple of years! My own mother has many, many, many years on you and she's still going strong. Enjoy the car and please post more updates as your continue with your mods.
Great! One of the most informative posts written. Well done, Julia. Don't be a stranger.
Julia, I truly hope we cross paths some time in the future. You’re a genuine charm!
Best regards
Great write up! I have to ask? Did you swap the springs your self?
Great write up! I have to ask? Did you swap the springs your self?
RexRacerx9, The Tokico assemblies sent to me by Redline Auto Salvage in Florida were so clean that I took them in to my living room. The temp outside was in the upper nineties so my AC living room was way more comfortable. I took the assemblies apart and installed the Eibach springs myself. Putting them on the car was a different story. I had a shop do that for me. My body is too worn out by now for me to try to do that on my knees using floor jack in my garage.
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