Fiat Strada / Ritmo
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: forget it
The Fiat Strada was manufactured between 1978 and 1988, and for markets outside of the US and Britain, the car was named the “Ritmo” (rumour has it the Ritmo name could not be used in the US due to it conflicting with a feminine hygiene product).
Styled by Bertone
, the Strada/Ritmo was a distinctive small car designed to compete with the ever popular Volkswagen Golf. Unfortunately it was bereft of the Golf’s quality, durability or dependability. And to further add to the cars many failings, the use of low-grade Soviet steel and inadequate attention to rust-proofing would see them quickly perish, although some would argue that was a good thing.
It would be difficult to determine whether it was the Alfasud or the Fiat Strada that won the “race to rust” championship, but both were worthy contenders and near the top of their field in their ability to self destruct. Sticking with small car conventions, the Strada/Ritmo was a front wheel drive and was in nearly every way very ordinary. At least it could be said of the car that it was consistent, unfortunately it being consistently bad.
The ride was choppy, the steering
vague, imprecise and sloppy, the damping inadequate, the engine insipid and underpowered, the NVH atrocious and gearbox a damn disgrace. Commentators of the day were quick to point out the cars many MANY faults, and few buyers were tempted to part with their hard earned cash – thankfully.
In 1980 the Strada/Ritmo was fitted with a 1714cc diesel
engine (taken from the 132). The following year the Strada / Ritmo Super was introduced, it including a variety of small changes and, most significantly, revised engines with 75bhp (1300) and 85bhp (1500). Also for 1981 was first sporting the 105TC, which was fitted with the Fiat 1585cc DOHC engine derived from the 131 and good for 105 bhp.
A few months later the Strada/Ritmo Abarth 125TC was introduced, this heavily modified iteration being fitted with 1995cc DOHC engine good for 125 bhp. Also on the inclusions list was ventilated front discs, a new ZF gearbox, revised suspension
settings and strengthened components.
Technologically the Strada / Ritmo took the underpinnings of the 128, already an industry pioneer in automated assembly. However for the Strada / Ritmo Fiat took the ambitious step of making it the first car to be almost completely built by robots. The advertising campaign was memorable for showing the cars being assembled to the strains of Rissini’s “The Barber of Seville”, then seemingly driving themselves in unison, much like synchronized swimming. The advertising tagline “Hand Built by Robots” was clever, but unfortunately the robots were getting it entirely wrong. It should have been "Hand Built by Robots - Shoddily".
The robots may have made the car cheaper and quicker to manufacture, but the build quality, unreliability, fragile interior trim, and electrical problems were to only remind any owner why the likes of Rolls Royce still hand-built their cars. The resulting bad publicity severely dented Fiat's reputation in export markets, and although it was successful in its home Italian market, the car failed to make much impact elsewhere in the world. The severe rust
and unreliability problems for which the car was infamous, led to Fiat's withdrawal from the U.S.
While we may now accept that a car can be “cheap and cheerful”, it remains no excuse to have a car so easily succumb to the kryptonite of metal. Re-sale values plummeted to virtually nothing, as the serviceable life of the Strada was appallingly short. Thankfully they would not be sold in Australia, but even if they were, there would be none left on the roads today. By any definition, the Strada / Ritmo was forgettable. All that remains, apart from bad memories of the car itself, is the wonderful advertising campaign.