The Scorpion is a well-designed little unit which seems to run extremely well. But at 8 mpg we think you'd want a little more push than this, and your own petrol tanker.

A few months ago Carlo Abarth enlarged his already wide range of sports cars and GTs with a new model, the 1300 Scorpion. Why he attractive vehicle will be clear if you drive it. The smart body is a creation of Francis Lombardi, a young Italian car couturier. The Scorpion attire was his crucial test, which he stood gloriously . . . or not?

There are available two mechanical versions, the 1300 Scorpion and the 1300 Scorpion S. Both have the same engine, the 1300 cc unit which gives 75 bhp at 6000 rpm, and is based on the Fiat 124. The original 1197 cc unit was increased to 1280.41 cc by boring the cylinders from 73 mm to 75.5 mm. The stroke, unchanged, remained at 71.5mm, while the compression ratio was upped to 10.5: 1.

The remaining engine features were also unchanged. It still has overhead valves with a sidemounted, chain-driven camshaft, aluminium cylinder head, five bearing crankshaft, and a horizontal twin-choke carburettor, model Solex C 32/PHH 6. Bearing in mind that the 124s twincam engine is based on the 124 pushrod unit, these relatively mild modifications don't encroach much on the large reserves of mechanical strength. By using a special bell housing, the engine is coupled to a Fiat 850 gearbox, with the following ratios: 1. 3.636: 1 -2. 2.055: 1 -3. 1.409: l -4. 0.963: 1 Rev. 3.615: l; with the rear axle ratio of 3.88 to an one.

The body is fully integral with independently sprung wheels on the four corners. The 'S'-version has Abarth suspension with coil springs and wishbones and standard mounted stabilisers. The other version has the original 850 suspension with a semi-elliptic front spring and rear suspension by wishbones and coil springs again. Another difference between the 'S'and the normal version are the brakes: the former has Girling disc brakes on all four wheels while the normal version is fitted with Fiat-Bendix disc brakes at front and drum brakes on the rear wheels.

It is hard to discover the engine location at first sight: the Scorpion could be mid-or even front-engined. In fact, the engine/gearbox is mounted in the rear. The car is incredibly low, but it has more inner space for its size than any other car. Getting inside is rather problematical, but once you're there you'll acclimatise quite soon. Not so astonishing, because Francis Lombardi has done everything to make the interior as comfortable as possible. The seats are a little thin-cushioned, but you won't even notice this, because driving a Scorpion is fascination!

Another first is the instrument panel. Fiat rocker switches work the various electrical stuff like lights, wipers, etc. The usual batch of gauges and meters is mounted.

The clear body lines makes the Scorpion a smart little vehicle. Particularly interesting is the sharp-edged nose with the small air-inlet without grille. Rather dull are the headlights which when switched on, rise above the hood, making the car look like a space-freak. The beltline is slightly bent. With the larger windscreen and the backlight, this makes a very attractive greenhouse in spite of the rather large blind quarter. The back panel is depressed, containing the number plate and combined rear and brake lights. Bumpers are not mounted. Air intakes are in the rear decklid and in the side panels just behind the windows.

Driving a Scorpion is unforgettable. The neat unit little engine makes a crisp thrum at high revs, though it's not unduly raucous. The engine is hinged at five points, almost totally isolating the vibration. The acceleration is quite vivid despite the modest horsenower: To 63 mDh within 12 sec. Not bad for such-a vehicle. The iop speed is also unique: 112 mph.

This equals the performances of some legendary sportscars, or even improves on them. The average fuel consumption was about eight mpg.

The Abarth Scorpion handles very well. The engine pulls strongly from low to top revs without using the gearbox. The steering is quick, but not as precise as a good rack-and-pinion linkage.

The roadholding is excellent within certain limits for the normal version. The 'S'type, however, doesn't give any troubles at any-speed or road conditions and the car remains pancake flat. . Though the Scorpion is a rear-engined car, the side-wind twitchiness is reduced to a minimum. The brakes, though very hard to handle, are excellent.

That's about all there is to tell about the Abarth 1300 Scorpion and Scorpion 'S': both are excellent vehicles with outstanding capacities. If you still don't understand why the car was named 'Scorpion', just drive it ...