Sabelt S.p.A., a company created through the enthusiasm and experience of Giorgio and Piero Marsiaj, was incorporated on 20 September 1972 and began making seat belts under licence from the UK company Britax. This was about the time that the culture of car safety began to take hold, and Sabelt (the name comes from “Safety” and “Belt”) was destined to be a pioneer, taking just a few years to become a leading player in the cinture di sicurezza sector in Italy.
The first factory was a small rented lock-up at Mirafiori in Turin, situated opposite the FIAT plant; it afforded 700 m2 of floor space, and was quickly outgrown. The intuition that a new market was about to develop proved correct, and the nascent company soon demonstrated its ability to seize the emerging opportunities for growth in the automotive sector.
With its first order in March 1973, for Lancia, the company began producing 3-point seat belts, which in that same year were fitted to the Lancia Fulvia Coupé Montecarlo.
The culture of safety was gaining currency in the institutions and in factories, but no less in the world of sport. And indeed it was the company’s involvement in racing that gave impetus to its image and reputation. In 1976, with calls from the FIA for standardization of the release system on safety harnesses, Sabelt introduced the rotating buckle, which was destined to set a benchmark for years to come. In these years Sabelt embarks on his own journey of partnership with Ferrari, supplying the F1 harnesses.
Likewise on standard production cars, seat belts were becoming more and more widespread. Sabelt became established in just a few years as the leading supplier of seat belts to the major Italian car makers: Fiat and Alfa Romeo. From its very beginnings, the company displayed a knack for taking the chances offered by the economic and industrial growth that had taken place in the aftermath of the Second World War, providing its customers with products of high technology and quality that responded fully to national and international standard
It was in 1981 that seat belts became compulsory on new cars in Italy, following the example of France and the UK, and the Fiat Uno was the first car to be equipped as standard with Sabelt seat belts. The success of Sabelt during that period was driven by a constant focus on research and development — the company’s prize asset — which was instrumental in securing prominence as a maker not only of seat belts for production vehicles, but also of harnesses for competition cars, and thereafter as a designer and producer of restraint solutions for children — the Sabelt “child safety system”.
This would remain one of Sabelt's key areas of activity well into the future, ensuring that the expertise acquired by the company, and the quality of its offering, always had the better of its competitors.
At the beginning of the 1980s, after its rally debut, Sabelt moved on to Formula 1 cars where it started out as an Alfa Romeo supplier, and later for Renault, Williams, Ligier, Arrows, and other stables. For the final consecration of the Turin company in F1, it has to wait till 1982, when Keke Rosberg won the world championship driving a WIlliams.
In 1985, the majority interest in Sabelt was acquired by the US corporation TRW, one of the world’s leading suppliers of auto components. This gave Sabelt access to the highly advanced seat belt and airbag technology of the American company, and the chance to achieve still further qualitative growth in its chosen sector.
In 1988, after the Ministry of Transportation made safety belts mandatory on all car models in circulation, Sabelt recorded a boom in sales in the aftermarket segment.
In the early 1990s the great growth of the group continues with the production of restraint systems for children, already begun in the mid-80s. Transferring in this area the experience acquired in the field of safety belt for passenger and racing cars, Sabelt soon became a leader of reference.
In 1998, after 13 years, a diversity in industrial and strategic outlooks led Sabelt and its American parent to part company. The activities and know-how associated with seat belts for the OE are hived off and flow into TRW, while the brand and activities in the field of child safety and competition remain in Sabelt, now again controlled by the family Marsiaj.
The following year, Sabelt integrated and expanded its activity by distributing an entire range of accessories for the racing world, all approved according to the FIA standard: seats, uniforms, gloves, specific technical clothing for drivers and mechanics, shoes, steering wheels, helmets, pedals, reinforcement bars and suspensions.
During the 2000s Sabelt became an official partner of the Ferrari Stable which led the company to supply not just safety belts, but also uniforms, footwear and accessories to drivers and pit mechanics.
After having gained significant experience in designing and manufacturing carbon seats for races, Sabelt decided to transfer this know-how to mass produced cars. The OEM, business unit was established to join the "Racing" and "Child Safety" business units, aimed at manufacturing OEM seats for passenger cars. The first cars to be fitted were the Ferrari 430 Scuderia and the 458 Challenge, fitted with a special seat designed and conceived in collaboration with Pininfarina.
In 2008 Brembo and Sabelt signed a joint-venture agreement in order to integrate and develop their special component and accessory businesses for the automotive market. The Brembo Group enters the capital of Sabelt with a majority stake.
Sabelt's vocation to combine technological innovation with a vocation in racing was also confirmed in the following years. Over the past few years, research on materials has permitted a reduction of over 50% of the weight of the belts Sabelt for Formula 1.
Next year will witness the new seat “Abarth Corse by Sabelt”, a technologically evolved product which is the result of a joint endeavour of two Italian brands who share the same technology and racing values.