What is it?
The Romeo Ferraris Cinquone S is to a Fiat 500 Abarth as an Alpina or RUF is to a BMW or Porsche – externally similar, but legally a fully homologated road car separate from the vehicle that spawned it.
For more than 50 years, Romeo Ferraris has been tuning road cars, competing in various motorsport series around the world and – just because it’s cool – racing offshore powerboats. The eponymous Signor Ferraris founded his company in 1959 as a humble engine-builder. He quickly diversified into tuning and racing, forming close relationships with Fiat and BMW.
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Romeo’s son Mario has since taken over the reins of the family business. Now based in Opera, near Milan, the company continues to race and tune road cars. With the Cinquone S, Romeo Ferraris is now a car manufacturer in its own right.
Engine, transmission and 0-60 time
The Cinquone is available in three states of tune: a 158bhp entry-level version, a 207bhp S (driven here) and a range-topping Corsa model, which puts out a decidedly punchy 245bhp. With a kerb weight of 1030kg, the S has a power to weight ratio of 204bhp/ton.
All versions are remapped with Ferraris’ own software, while the more potent models also get a bigger turbo, an upgraded fuel injection system and a more freely flowing exhaust.
The latter two are capable of out-sprinting Fiat’s own Abarth 695 Biposto – 0-62mph takes a claimed 5.7sec in the S, and top speed is a quoted 144mph.
Taking an Abarth 500 as the starting point, Romeo Ferraris makes extensive modifications throughout, applies a new chassis number and reissues registration documents.
The homologation process is an expensive and arduous one made necessary by Italy’s draconian legislation that prohibits the modification of components away from OEM specification. In simple terms, Romeo Ferraris couldn’t legally sell tuning components in its homeland for road use, so it instead built a modified Abarth 500 to its own specification and homologated the thing.
It looks impossibly wide and pugnacious on the road, like an irritated bull terrier. It’s certainly the most aggressive 500-based road car we’ve ever come across; its gender realignment has been more comprehensive than Dame Edna Everage’s. The bespoke bodykit adds 26.6cm to the car’s overall width, with the arches filled by 18-inch wheels on a wider offset.
The Cinquone is certainly not all skirt and no balls, though – a great deal of work has gone into the drivetrain and chassis as well. The suspension has been uprated with Bilstein dampers – developed specifically for the Cinquone – and Eibach springs, while the brakes are by Brembo.
What’s it like to drive?
The quality of the craftsmanship within the cabin is really very good indeed and buyers can customise to their heart’s content. More impressive still is the ride quality around town. Clearly there’s not a great deal of suspension travel, but the damping is fluid enough to soak up all but the biggest bumps and potholes. There’s very little body roll in corners and good stability, too, so the Cinquone really darts towards the apex and carries alarming speed.
Despite the short wheelbase, the pivot point is still closer to the rear axle than the front, as it is in the donor car, so it’ll settle into understeer before it rotates itself. It shares the 500’s slightly rubbery steering system and its spongy gearshift, too.
With 207bhp from a 1.4-litre engine there is, naturally enough, a degree of lag in the lower reaches, but it’s not as marked as one might expect. From 2000rpm there’s a useable dose of torque, but from a little over 3000rpm the turbo really starts boosting and the car pulls very hard indeed.
Fiat’s own ludicrously expensive but hugely fun Abarth 695 Biposto is probably closest in spirit. Tick all the option boxes and the price approaches £50,000, but the open-gate dog-ring gearbox, polycarbonate windows, a data logger and other race-inspired components add immeasurable levels of theatre to the driving experience.
The company is now selling the Cinquone internationally and has a distributor in the UK – and you’ll pay about 60,722 euros (£44,700, as of March 2015) for the privilege.
As a result, it’s nigh impossible to recommend it in purely objective terms. Instead, Romeo Ferraris is surely banking on there being a number of enthusiast buyers for whom the sense of fun and exclusivity are more of a draw than the price tag is a deterrent.
|Engine||In-line 4-cyl, 1368cc, turbo|
|Power||207bhp @ 5200rpm|
|Torque||229lb ft @ 3500rpm|
|Top speed||144mph (claimed)|