The Fiat Strada was manufactured between 1978 and
1988, and for markets outside of the US and Britain,
the car was named the “Ritmo” (rumor
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
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
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.
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
Strada/Ritmo, 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.
the biggest innovation of the Strada / Ritmo was
not the car itself, which took the underpinnings
of the 128, but the way in which it was manufactured.
At the time Fiat was 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.
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
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.