Abarth tuned Fiats. FAZA tuned Abarths. FAZA was a small shop and race team founded in the early Sixties in upstate New York, consisting of little more than its founder, one Albert S. Cosentino, and Kuro-san, a black labrador retriever. Cosentino claimed a personal connection with Carlo Abarth himself, as well as good relationships with Fiat-adjacent companies like Campagnolo, Alquati, and Collotti. If you threaded your Fiat through a sea of Biscaynes and Galaxies, you had Al's phone number written down: for the small but dedicated Fiat tifosi in America, he was a lifeblood to the motherland, a source of only the rarest go-fast kits. FAZA, incidentally, stood for Fiat Abarth Zagato Allemano and therefore combines some of the most mellifluous words in automobildom. And the shop existed to prop up one of the most storied careers in SCCA history.
Carlo Abarth could wring shocking amounts of power from the littlest Fiat engines. And FAZA, with Cosentino behind the wheel, could race them to remarkable success. In SCCA's D Sedan class, Cosentino won 34 out of 35 races with a Fiat Abarth 1000TC Berlina Corsa. Behind the wheel of , and later X-1/9s, the team dominated. He worked with Fiat to develop the , or what could have been the World Rally Championship car to replace the 124 Abarth; when Fiat destroyed its prototypes, Al kept his.
"51 NATIONAL WINS IN OUR FIRST 53 RACES," , a triumph oft-proclaimed by keepers of the FAZA flame. We did a little fact checking behind this lofty claim. Indeed, Cosentino did in the National Runoffs in 1968 and 1970, along with a third-place finish in 1966. But that claim of 51 wins? We're not sure.
"It's possible Cosentino did triumph at the individual national events over the outlined period of time without taking a Runoffs win," said Jim Llewellyn, PR Manager for the SCCA. "However, the SCCA does not have records for these individual events going back that far."
Cosentino was a brimming fireball of energy, always energetic, sometimes bitter, as enthusiastic and passionate as we expect from Italians. During his years in the SCCA, he was constantly being hounded by competitors who couldn't believe a small little Fiat could go that fast. He believed the regulators and rulemakers were out to hold him back. Fiat of North America didn't care at all, according to one acquaintance of his who preferred anonymity: "He'd mail them his race results looking for some support—be it parts, cars, money, etc. Fiat couldn't care less. Ultimately, Karl Ludvigsen (who was Fiat's PR guy in the '70s) and Al had a huge blowup."
The story from most Fiat enthusiasts is that the SCCA banned him, as well as the Abarths. (The SCCA .) "He had been a boxer, and would threaten to fistfight people trackside," named Greg, who runs a Fiat tuning shop himself and later went on to edit Cosentino's books. From there, Cosentino moved to rotary-powered Mazdas, beginning by entering an RX-3 in IMSA; he later said that he was the first person to ever run an RX-7 at Daytona.
Cosentino married a Japanese woman named Fumiko. He moved around. From upstate New York next door to Connecticut, then to Florida, then to Southern California, where he bought a house in the hills of Thousand Oaks. He brought some agonizingly rare machinery with him: a Lancia 037 Stradale homologation special and a , originally built to replace the 124 Abarth in rallying, a project Cosentino claims to have worked on. He fell out with potential business partner after potential business partner and became a recluse. Then it was just him in a house full of parts "stacked up six feet high around the pool, throughout the living space of the house, and floor to ceiling in the garage," said his acquaintance, repeating what he had heard from Cosentino's few visitors.
But from atop his high castle, the business continued. He wrote dozens of books about Fiat Abarths—model histories, profiles, how to extract the most power out of them—most notably the FAZA Abarth Bible, which could run hundreds of pages long, usually with little regards to layout, photography, or coherence. FAZA's catalogs were little more than collage-pasted leaflets, stuffed with his racing results, tips for making your Fiat faster—especially with parts that he sold—and his own illustrations.(He had been an illustrator in the Army, a fact that filled him with immense pride.) He was prone to ranting in any medium, occasionally even about cars: most notably in crowded ads he took out in the back of Road & Track, which Fiat enthusiasts remember with great fondness. "I remember when I was at Al's house in 2003 he had so many cases of these books that they formed a staircase to the attic," .
Years later, when Cosentino discovered eBay, his writing found a whole new outlet, but made no changes to his style. Here's for a book about the great Italian Grand Prix driver Tazio Nuvolari.
He called himself "," uncouthly in reference to how hard he worked, and how much of a solo operation it was. He claimed racism from Caucasians, which was unusual, as he was a Caucasian himself. ("It had to do with his belief that some white people actually descended from Phoenicians who were actually black people who appeared to be white, or something like that," .) He was paranoid about people ripping him off and people finding his . "His anti-Semitic comments were getting out of hand and he could be tough to talk to," said our source.
"He was like a flywheel disintegrating at 10,000 rpm," wrote the Italian car publication , "his energy and emotions went everywhere, flying here, there and everywhere, yet totally focused on Abarth."
The story of FAZA is all documented on loosely aggregated with period press photos, scattered race results, , various car show film photos, the occasional , and actual piles of non-sequitur Sixties manly lifestyle catalogs—all of which recall the best of late-90s conspiracy theory Geocities pages. Look, it may not be up to us to find out whether the scorpion in Abarth's logo has anything to do with Opus Dei, and its connection to the color of Sergio Marchione's sweaters, and if the Fiat 500 is not a , then it may be a Time Sphere. But it's probably in this webpage somewhere.
There's another, (pictured above). Parts of it, like his early life and birth in 1929 New York, make sense. But other parts, like the constant shouting of EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS WRONG, draw more questions than answers.
The legend of Cosentino has continued to grow. In one 2003 thread from a Fiat X1/9 forum, a Fiat enthusiast was staying at Cosentino's home and arranged a meetup in Los Angeles. The praise spoke of him as a rarefied figure. "I only know him by phone and letters,and have read many of his books, but have always admired him," said a user by the name of Albert Alvarez. "Imagine him autographing your car or his books for you guys. Even better, a picture of you and him, the whole group too. Great chance don't miss it."
"Al C is one of the 'old school' Fiat fanatics in the USA who has attained something like legend status over the years, not only because of his books, but because of so many strange and wonderful (some good some not) stories about him," explained another user.
"And yes, have him sign the books (and car) if you get them," advised another, "you never know what they`ll be worth in the future."
And one man by the name of Mark Seelbinder put it simply: "You can't call yourself an if you don't know who Al is!"
Cosentino passed away in 2012, after battling health issues for five years. While he was sick, his wife Fumiko ran the business. But a year before his death the company's inventory was . "FAZA is in the process of moving to its new owner," reads the website, before displaying the email address of , in Melbourne, Australia.
It was the end of an era. Talk to anyone involved with Fiats in the Sixties and Seventies and they'll most likely tell you that FAZA was an underdog, fighting the good fight. And the image is romantic, after all: a fast Abarth waging war against giants, tilting against windmills! Fiat enthusiasts never enjoyed the support reserved for even the British (Triumph, MG) or the Japanese (Datsun, Mazda). Cosentino granted Fiat enthusiasts a source of their enthusiasm when there were precious few places to turn. He was a supremely talented racer, an expert Fiat tuner, and above all, passionate to the end—and dozens of Fiat enthusiasts hold him and his various eccentricities in the highest regard.
"Every call I would make to Al looking for parts, he would always end the call asking if I wanted to buy his business," .
"I once spoke to Al trying to locate a car part," said another. "He got off on a tangent about the ancient Etruscans, if I remember correctly. I ended up getting a bunch of free material in the mail from Al about that. I had to buy the car part from someone else."
"In the dictionary under rant it should say see Al Cosentino," said another.
The man we initially talked to, our source, is a fellow automotive journalist with a penchant for all things Fiat. When he was 19 years old and living in Los Angeles, he owned a Fiat X1/9 and had heard of Cosentino through various forums. They told him, if you want parts, you call him up, tell him what you wanted, and he'd meet you in a van in a gas station parking lot in Thousand Oaks. It didn't get much simpler than that. As shady as it sounded, it beat sending money through the mail.
He found Cosentino's number in the back of an advertisement, gave him a call. Sure enough, he answered.
"I just wanted to know what kind of suspension setup he'd recommend for my X1/9 but over the next hour or so, I don't think he ever touched on that. He rambled from subject to subject in about Fiats, Mazdas, his racing days, people in the Fiat circles, etc. Sometimes he'd break into laughter, sometimes he's seem genuinely angry. At the time, I was working summers at a Fiat shop in Santa Cruz, CA and I mentioned that to him. He then went into his huge anti-Semitic spiel about the owner. Finally, I got him to give me some information on buying one of his Fiat 'bibles' and got off the phone, totally exhausted. The whole conversation was a total whirlwind and I was left kind of stunned.
"These years later, I'm glad I got a chance to talk to him."