There’s Nothing Wrong with the Fiat 600 that a Moto Guzzi V-Twin Can’t Fix! [LeMons Insanity]
The 24 Hours of LeMons is the perfect venue for deranged engine-swappers, whether it’s a Honda Z600 with Saab 900 Turbo power or a twin-engined Toyota Corolla/MR2. Some teams have decided that motorcycle engines are the secret to LeMons success, and so we’ve seen a Honda CBR1000–powered Geo Metro, a Honda Magna V65–powered Honda Z600, and the Hell’s Treehuggers Harley-Davidson–engined Toyota Prius on the race track. One of the greatest LeMons motorcycle-powered race cars of all time drove in just a single race a few years ago, and LeMons aficionados still speak in awed, hushed tones about the Italian Stallions’ Moto-Guzzicated Fiat 600. Here’s the story!
The Italian Stallions first appeared on the LeMons scene way back in the early days, when they showed up to the 2008 Arse Freeze-a-Palooza race with this Fiat X1/9. The X1/9 has been one of the most heartbreaking heaps in the LeMons world, although it does offer some performance potential. Just last year, we saw an X1/9 win the Chubba Chedda Enduro at Road America, but that car had a potent V-6 pulled from an Alfa Romeo 164 and required a lot of races to tame its quick but ill-handling ways.
The Italian Stallions’ X1/9 was fairly quick for a stock-engined econo-Fiat, but it suffered from not-very-unexpected reliability problems. The team eventually swapped some motorcycle carburetors onto it and turned decent lap times in the brief period between the green flag and something breaking.
Nowadays, the Stallions run their X1/9 with Mazda rotary power, with results about as good as those of the Scuderia Craptastic Opel GT.
But let’s go back to 2010, to the Arse Freeze-a-Palooza at Buttonwillow Raceway Park, where we first laid eyes on the Italian Stallions’ 1964 Fiat 600D with Moto Guzzi 1000-cc motorcycle power.
The mastermind—if that’s the right word—behind this project was Italian Stallions team captain Chris Ice, who has been kind enough to write up the story of how this race car came to be:
We wanted to build an Index of Effluency car, and were trying to figure out a concept. We had already put motorcycle carbs on the X1/9, and the Geo was hammering it with a motorcycle engine. So what Italian car could we put a motorcycle engine (preferably an Italian motorcycle engine) into? A forum post [we saw] makes reference to a book, and that book suggests Fiat and Moto Guzzi had done experiments of putting a Guzzi 750 into a Fiat 500. Add to that, Carlo Abarth had hot-rodded the 600 to become the 1000TC, a car that dominated touring-car racing in it’s day. You can see where this is going—and thus the work on the 1000-cc Guzzi Fiat Berliner Kranzer (instead of Berlina Corsa) began.
I bought the chassis from a friend down in Santa Cruz, a 1964 Fiat 600D (the “family car” version of the 500). It had been sitting in a scrapyard in Modesto for about 20 years before it made its way to Santa Cruz, and it was just taking up space at the shop— cut a good deal and it was ours. We cleaned it out, caged it, and set out to fix the many flaws with the car in terms of suspension and brakes; this aspect turned out to be the least of the worries, as the car never went fast enough to test any of that stuff.
The engine came from Sonora, California; it was a Craigslist posting for a 1975 Moto Guzzi “Convert” (icondrometrico?), which is a 1000-cc two-speed automatic motorcycle, mainly used as the basis for police bikes in the US and Italy—certainly a leper among motorcyclists. The seller and I hauled it out from under his porch, where it had sat for at least 10–15 years. After nearly herniating ourselves getting the thing into the trailer, the process of getting the motor ready began. The pistons were seized in the bores, beat them out with a torch and a hammer. The piston rings came out in pieces. Forensics showed the bike had been parked because it had sheared one of its lifters off, and the cam and lifter were wrecked. We sourced used replacements from a friend down in Signal Hill, put the motor back together, and then started working on the adaptation to the 600.
Fitting it to the 600 turned out to be surprisingly simple. Since Fiat and Guzzi had proven the concept back in the day, all we needed to do was replicate that. The motor turned the right direction when facing backwards in the car; the crankshaft is inline with the input shaft of the gearbox so no chain/sprocket adapters needed; length, height, and width all work fine. So we hand-cut an adapter plate with a plasma cutter and drilled holes which sorted the bolt pattern between the Guzzi crankcase and the stock 600 gearbox bell housing—that was done in a day. Add some additional time screwing around with the throttle linkage—the Guzzi ran twin Dellorto 39-mm slide-carbs (straight shot to each cylinder), pulling up by two cables to a twist grip instead of down by a single cable to the pedal. We came up with a “balance beam” linkage to reverse the pull direction, and split it between the two carburetors. Then we moved on to the flywheel.
The Guzzi Convert has a teensy little torque converter which makes the automatic part go. It looks like a standard, yet shrunk, automotive torque converter with a stand-off adapter that hangs it off the crankshaft. We unbolted the torque converter, leaving this adapter, then centered the adapter on the back of the stock 600 flywheel and marked and drilled holes in the flywheel such that the adapter could be bolted onto the back of it. Then we bolted it all up to the Guzzi motor. The stock 600 clutch disc, pressure plate and even throw-out bearing could be used.
Bolt flywheel to motor, bolt motor to transaxle, and hang it in the car. Rear engine mounts were fabbed in a half a day. Stock clutch actuation, stock gear selector, stock axles, hang some glass-packs off each cylinder—all a matter of hooking up the necessities, and we’re good to go. Astonishingly, we had the 600 together and drivable in far less time than we’d figured. Then the real problem started: cooling.
The Fiat/Guzzi experiment was shelved because it was impractical to cool. Even the stock rear-engined 600 was water-cooled, with a small radiator at the back of the car. The Abarth version of the 600 (the 1000TC) had a front-mounted radiator. What was was impractical for a street-car could certainly be hand-waved away in a race car, so how hard could it be?
Off the line, the car would hammer up to an imagined 7K-rpm redline, and would in fact pull strongly through all the gears. With about 65 hp (more than double the stock number), the car was a real surprise. However, after about 1/4 to 1/2 mile, cylinder-head temperatures would skyrocket to 400°F or more if you kept your foot in it. This was a no-go.
We tried ducts, fans, clever aero tricks, shrouding, water spray—every idea you could think of, none of it worked. We continued to battle cooling right up to practice at race day, we threw two electric fans on it, said some Hail Marys, and sent him out. Still overheating, and eventually we decided to just run it. As long as the car kept running, we’d keep driving it.
The alternator died because we were overtaxing it with the two fans—we swapped batteries at each driver change. The oil-pressure gauge started showing zero psi, yet it kept running, so we kept driving it. Eventually, it crossed the finish on day two with the checkers.
In the end, we finished about 70th out of 130 cars (Editor’s note: it was actually 105th out of 173), which had us beating half the pack, while turning two-times-longer lap times than the lead car, and had an overall stronger showing on its debut than the X1/9 had on its debut with the stock driveline.
The 600 won everybody’s hearts (including those of most of our team members) and garnered nothing but praise and respect from all who witnessed the majesty of the little car that could. It was probably one of the most rewarding, yet most taxing, projects we’ve undertaken in our seven years of running Lemons. New safety rules mandating a minimum 82″ wheelbase mean that the 600 can no longer be raced, which I would wholeheartedly agree with. The overheating is likely due to a setup problem with the motor—incorrect TDC markings on the cobbled-together flywheel, improperly set valve clearances, old carbs that don’t meter properly at high RPM. The car is available for anyone who wants to sort it and put it back on the road or use as track mule, and of course pays cash.
Chris is being modest here, because he doesn’t mention that the Italian Stallions’ “Blue Meanie” Fiat 600 took the top prize that LeMons racing has to offer in that race: the Index of Effluency. In winning that trophy, the Italian Stallions beat out one of the strongest IOE fields in LeMons history, taking the win over such machines as Pendejo Racing 1980 Maserati Quattroporte and the Rolling Chicane Limo Service Lincoln Town Car full-stretch limousine.
Here are the specs for this car, as provided by Italian Stallions World Headquarters:
Chassis: 1964 Fiat 600D
Engine: 1975 1000-cc Moto Guzzi Convert (a.k.a. “round fin, big-twin” engine)
Carburetion: dual Dellorto 39vhb slide carbs
Transmission: Fiat 600 (non-D) gearbox, 4-speed (synchros on 2-3-4)
Clutch: Fiat 600 flywheel, pressure plate, clutch disc, Guzzi Convert “adaptor bell” bolted to fit
Electrical: Stock Guzzi alternator, theoretically 14 amps, in reality maybe half that
Front: transverse mount leaf spring, drop-ear hubs, Panhard rod to keep the spring from sliding around
Rear: Semi-trailing-arm suspension, with a camber change of about 10° from full drop to full compression
Front: Ford Fiesta calipers on X1/9 rotors
Tires: 13-inch “Roosevelt” mags, with some flavor of Sumitomo tires
0-to-60 mph: 10 sec (est.)
0-to-overheat mph: 8 sec (est.)
Top speed: mathematically 80 mph, or until fear of death kicks in