In certain parts of Europe, the recipe for racing on a budget is always the same. You take the least expensive, smallest car you can find and swap its engine to the freshest rev-happy bike engine you can find for cheap. Then, you hang a good-enough suspension and tire package, add a few homemade-yet-imposing wings for safety, and go nuts at your nearby slalom race or hillclimb.
In the UK, the obvious donor for such a conversion is a Mini or maybe a Smart; but in Italy, the local Proto P2 class welcomes everything from mental Fiat 126s, 600s, and 500s to rarer specimens like an Autobianchi A112. As long as a body shell is extremely light, it’s game.
As the sometimes-proud owner of a final year A112 Abarth wannabe, I can tell you that the Autobianchi A112 was designed by either Marcello Gandini or the janitor at Bertone. Launched in 1969, it remained in production through 1985, by which point over 1,115,000 nearly identical A112s had left Milan.
Since then, as is the case with most economy cars, base A112s turned into a pile of iron-oxide, while the spicier A112 Abarths got totaled both on and off tracks before they had time to die of natural causes. Yet no matter how rare they get elsewhere, Italy continues to have a massive supply of A112s that are just about good enough for a serious bike-engine swap.
The Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14 is a 186-mph sport bike mostly thanks to its water-cooled DOHC 1.4-liter engine, which revs to 11,000 while producing over 190 horsepower. This one, however, is stroked to 1.5 liters for a total of 230 horsepower. To put that into perspective, the most powerful Autobianchi A112 Abarth had 69 horsepower from the factory—from a 1.05-liter OHV engine with a three-main-bearing crankshaft, a design which originated in 1957.
I would say the difference is noticeable.
Your chances of running into an Autobianchi A112 in the U.S. are fairly slim—although, quite recently, two road-legal examples made their way to Bring a Trailer. The first was a late Abarth in mint condition with an Illinois title that sold for $9700. The second, a probably-1977 car titled as a 1973 in California, failed to meet its reserve at $6700. It also featured a regular hose as its crankcase emission-control system—a clear indicator that it needs a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14 engine.