Most of those most familiar with the Carrera Abarth GTLs agree no two were exactly alike. That’s not so surprising for a small run of aluminum-bodied cars hand-hammered over a wooden buck in Italy. Just 20 or 21 examples were built, beginning with chassis 1001 and ending with 1021. Some say the final chassis (1021) was a reconstruction of 1019 after the latter was wrecked, while others suggest the VIN was assigned to another car. Either way, though, the model remains one of Porsche’s rarest production-based racers.
Though the GTL was built on a standard 82.7-inch 356B steel floorpan, it had considerable aluminum interior reinforcement. Porsche asked Wendler, fabricator of the 550 Spyder’s body and then still making RS61 bodies for Porsche, to bid on a lightweight shell for the car. It also asked Zagato for a bid, and the Italian firm’s was preferred. Political considerations meant someone else would actually build the cars, as the Turinese shop was producing bodies for some of Porsche’s competitors.
The body design is generally credited to Zagato employee and former Bertone designer Franco Scaglione. The first prototype may have actually been built by the shop of Viarenzo & Filliponi, notes Porsche historian Karl Ludvigsen, sourcing Abarth expert Peter Vack. Others suggest that another small Turin shop, that of Rocco Motto, actually built the first three bodies before the work shifted to Viarenzo & Filliponi. While Abarth and Zagato badges are found on most — but not all — GTLs, Motto’s “CaMo” emblem did not appear on any of them.
The slippery two-seat aluminum bodies were more than five inches lower and about 4.7 inches narrower than a standard 356B coupe, allowing a 16-percent smaller frontal area and a bit less aerodynamic drag thanks to features like near-flush door handles and no bumpers. The car’s low roofline dictated shorter drivers — or rather uncomfortable taller ones.
The first Abarth Carrera GTL weighed just 1,762 pounds, 50 more than the FIA-imposed GT class homologation minimum. Later cars were a bit heavier. Even so, the GTL was 90 pounds lighter than the 356B Carrera GT and nearly 300 pounds lighter than a standard 356B. As with the GT, the GTL benefitted from the use of plastic side and rear windows and a bare-bones interior. Several were clearly intended for road and rally use, being delivered with relatively full interiors and lightweight carpeting. The seats were simple, thinly-upholstered shells and the door windows from GTL chassis number 1002 on were raised with leather straps, which was standard 356 GT weight-saving fare.
The GTLs proved extremely successful, their 692/3A four-cam engines of 1587 cc producing some 135 horses at 7400 rpm with 44-mm Solex PJJ-4 carburetors and open exhaust — enough to propel the cars to nearly 140 mph. A Häusermann A-12 single dry-disc clutch transferred the engine’s power to a fully-synchronized four-speed Type 741 transaxle. A few late cars got 2.0-liter engines, and with some 160 horsepower they were potent.
“It is little wonder drivers adored the Abarth Carrera,” wrote the late Porsche scribe Jerry Sloniger. “It was rugged, versatile. And it won.” Even so, Porsche was not ready to continue its dealings with the Italians. Ongoing quality-control issues were one problem, but a bigger one for the Abarth Porsche was the imminent — and far more advanced — 904, the first of the mid-engined “plastic Porsches.”