Ryan’s Italian Job: Fiat Strada and Lancia Beta Spider

I was recently contacted by a chap from the States who felt encouraged to email PetrolBlog having read this earlier piece on the Fiat Strada. Turns out that the chap, a Mr Ryan Kooken, has a rather brilliant taste in motor cars. Not only does he own a Fiat Strada himself, but he also has a delightful Lancia Beta Spider. So that’s two Italian cars from the 1980s. Mr Kooken, PetrolBlog salutes you sir.

This ultra-rare fuel injected Strada has quite a back story. Ryan originally bought it in 2004 from a guy in Rhode Island who had originally shipped it in from California. Given the Strada’s reputation for rusting, you’d have thought that a Californian sourced Strada is going to be a slightly better prospect than one from Whitstable or Hastings.

Fiat Strada in the States
Home-brewing kit not a standard accessory!

Ryan believes that his Strada was originally a dealer car, saying that “this car was a dealer rep’s car, given to him by Fiat when they left the US. I guess they told the reps they could have any car they wanted, as long as it was a Strada! The rep hurried down to the docks to pick up his car personally. He also specified that the car had the optional Strada alloy wheels with no sunroof or air con“. An inspired choice and somewhat of a historic car, given the firm’s 27 year absence from the States. It’s the 500 that’s marked the return, but give me a Strada any day.

This particular Strada is said to be ‘rust-free’, two words that you don’t often hear in the same sentence as the car. It’s used daily and, according to Ryan, a marked improvement in quality over the Yugos that he owned previously. Not bad for $2,000. I’d go as far as saying that Ryan’s Strada is unique, being rust-free and praised for its build quality!

In the seven years that Ryan has owned it, the mileage has risen from 65k to 117k. It never fails to start and, thanks to a 5th gear, manages to return 35-40mpg. Could this be a prime contender for Bangernomics, US style?!

Fiat Strada - Abarth makeoverI have to say I love the car and with Ryan saying he’s treating the car to an ‘Abarth-style makeover’, complete with wheel arch flares and rear spoiler, I’ll be sure to keep an eye on progress. Oh and I absolutely love the rear plate!

But of course, Ryan isn’t content with just one Italian legend. He also owns a delightful Lancia Beta Spider. He purchased it back in 1999 for the princely sum of $1,500. At the time it was looking rather sorry for itself, but following some hard work, Ryan coaxed it back into life. For many years it was used as a daily driver with Ryan putting on a huge 80k miles in the process. But with the mileage now at 141k, the Lanica has been treated to a well earned semi-retirement and is now registered as an antique.

Given the choice of two ’80s Italian classics, I’d struggle to know which one to drive.

Lancia Beta Spider & Fiat Strada

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

22 comments

  1. October 3, 2011
    Joseph

    Hard one to choose between the two. Also, I’d probably hazard a guess that the Fiat is probably as rare as the Lancia in Britain nowadays! I see that the Strada originally came from California – as you say, this is probably the reason it survived! Good to see more eighties Italian cars featured. Just a thought – With the absence of the Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo brands over the years in the States, does that mean that Ferraris are the most common Italian car in the US?!

    Reply
    • October 4, 2011
      MajorGav

      Hmmm. Good question…

      Reply
  2. October 4, 2011
    Ian

    Absolutely inspired choice of cars there….. Of course, what makes a man want a Yugo over a V8 Chevrolet or Ford? Answers on a post card perhaps…..

    Anybody remember the film Dragnet where Tom Hanks and Dan Ackroyd kept trashing their police cars and ended up with a US spec Yugo 45?

    Perhaps a feature on European cars that oddly made it to the States is a worth go?

    Keep up the good work MajorGav, i’m loving every one of these blogs.

    Reply
    • October 4, 2011
      MajorGav

      Cheers Ian. Glad you like the blog. There’s lots more 80s and 90s stuff on the way, don’t worry!

      Reply
    • October 4, 2011
      Ryan Kooken

      V8 Chevys and Fords are a dime a dozen over here. They also have an incredible thirst for fuel, which isn’t cheap over here either. The Yugos were bought because 1) Fiat based, easy to work on, parts are cheap and 2) My first Yugo was a FI 5 speed good for 40-45 mpg.. not too shabby. The second Yugo was a automatic (sourced from Renault) good for high 30’s mpg. Less than 100 of those where turned out, so parts sourcing was a pain.

      Reply
  3. October 4, 2011
    Ryan Kooken

    Excellent write up! My Strada is one of a very few here in the States. Talk among the enthusiasts place the few remaining at about a half dozen or so. Many folks at the U.S. Fiat gatherings don’t even recognize it as a Fiat (hence the “NOTTA VW” rear plate) as there are many more 124 Spiders and X1/9s on the streets.

    As far as the Beta Spider, there is a pretty strong following for the cars here in the States, though the numbers are dwindling by the day.

    FIAT has returned to the States with the 500. Unfortunately, the Abarth 500 isn’t in the lineup *yet*

    I’m forever envious of the cars you folks have on your side of the pond. I’ve always pined for a Autobianchi A112 Abarth, Fiat Uno Turbo or a Lancia Y10. Cool cars that, unfortunately, never made it here.

    Reply
    • October 4, 2011
      MajorGav

      Hmmm…Lancia Y10. I’m off to eBay…

      Reply
  4. October 4, 2011
    Ryan Kooken

    I forgot to mention, the Innocenti Mini is another one of those cars that I’ve always lusted after.

    Reply
    • October 4, 2011
      Joseph

      Good man. Me too. A little bit of information which you may find interesting: The Innocenti Mini was said by many road testers to be a better car than the British-made Mini and Austin Metro (a hatchback made to replace the Mini – but it didn’t). The last of the line Innocenti Minis were built with Diahatsu engines, after Innocenti was sold to De Tomaso (3 cylinder engine). Before this, both 998cc and 1275cc A-series engines were available.

      It is a pity that many cars are not sold in the America – they would last a lot longer over there than they do over here! Can I ask, Is there many AMC LeCars left in America? – they were sold in Britain as the Renault 5.

      Keep up the good work of keeping these two brilliant cars on the road in the USA.

      Reply
      • October 4, 2011
        Ryan Kooken

        I haven’t seen a LeCar on the road in years. Though I remember being along with my father when he was looking for a new Jeep and seeing a long line up of LeCars in every shade of color imaginable. I tried to talk him into one but not too practical for shuttling a family of five about.

        The Innocenti Mini is a tough looking little car. Styled by Bertone (same folks who styled the Strada-you can see a few similarities in the two cars) Didn’t they throw a turbo into the Innocenti later in the run?

        Reply
  5. November 15, 2011
    Michelle

    Wow. What a pleasant surprise to come across this article.

    Ryan and I dated back when I was in my early -twenties. Oh, so this blog is supposed to be about cars? It is. I’m getting there, really. And if you must know details, at that time I had a Dodge Neon with a missing hub cap*.

    Okay, Keeping in mind that this blog is about cars. I won’t write about how Ryan was my first love.

    I’m going to stay on topic.

    If I hadn’t known (and yes, loved) Ryan, I would never have known the correct way of pronouncing Lancia and my Italian co-worker would’ve never understood what I was babbling on and on about. Come to think of it – he may not be paying attention because he never did bring me back that 1982 Lancia Zagato I asked for.

    I stopped to look at one of the new Fiat 500s. An older gentleman was there. I knew he was feeling the same way I was – pleasure alloyed with pain. He said to me, “I used to have a Fiat.”

    I replied, “I used to have a cool boyfriend.”

    * I’m older now and I have a much better car.

    Reply
    • November 15, 2011
      MajorGav

      Thanks for finding the site, Michelle! Sounds like Ryan and his cars had a lasting effect on you!

      And I love the Dodge Neon/I’m older now reference! 😉

      Reply
    • December 7, 2011
      Ryan Kooken

      Thanks for the kind words, Michelle. If you ever want to take the cars for a spin again, give me a call sometime!

      Reply
  6. December 7, 2011
    Alberto

    He has done a great job with this car. I know of 10 US Stradas in the USA (two imported Cabrios and one Abarth 125 not included), 9 of which are rust free California cars. The 10th? Well, that would be my car; an ex-Ohio state, winter, snow, salt, rain, pothole driven car. The only reason it survived Ohio is that it broke down in 1988 after a hasty bondo-over-the-rust-and-don’t-bother-washing-it-then-sell-it-before-it-breaks-in-half paint job and sat there until sold to a dealer and eBayed a few years ago. Now it is in California and its “weight-loss-program” (the way I see rust) has ended. I do love this car and will continue to funnel money into making its soft (literally) underbelly as perfect as Ryans (car!).

    Here are some pix:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/26161002@N03/sets/72157605560973624/

    Reply
    • December 7, 2011
      MajorGav

      Wow! That’s an awesome Strada – a real credit to you.

      I’m loving this quote by the way: “bondo-over-the-rust-and-don’t-bother-washing-it-then-sell-it-before-it-breaks-in-half paint job” – hilarious!

      Have you done most of the restoration work yourself?

      Reply
      • December 7, 2011
        Alberto

        Thank you very much MajorGav. You have to have a good sense of humor when you love a car that is ultimately worth less than the gas in the tank. But real car people don’t do this for the monetary return; the return you get is from a curvy mountain pass.

        Yes, I have done all the work on it myself which includes: adding 7 relays to the electrical system, re-grounding every earth point, cleaning and coating all electrical plugs. Then there was the 9 month “break” (no not brake) job that started with bleeding the brakes. That turned into replacing every last metal line with stainless as well as a new prop. valve, master, vac. boost, calipers, wheel cyl, braided lines and every last mother f&*$#@! bolt during that process. I’m serious, every bolt on that cars brake system snapped off. How do you east coast and European car people deal with this crap? It took over a year of dedicated work to make the car move in a forward direction with its own power. I have restored complete cars in three months, and this thing almost beat me. I still need to address the serious (for California) rust problems the car has and get it painted. The interior is next to mint and is one of two in the world with the factory sliding metal roof.

        I did meet the owner of http://www.ritmo-world.com and developed a wonderful friendship with him (he referred me to a sensational job at an engineering firm in San Jose, CA despite living in Frankfurt, Germany and will even be in my wedding party) because of this great car. In fact, I loved it so much that I bought its topless brother:

        http://www.flickr.com/photos/26161002@N03/sets/72157614733933890/

        Man I love these cars.

        Reply
        • December 8, 2011
          MajorGav

          I love your enthusiasm for the Strada. It’s enthusiasm such as this that keeps cars such as the Strada alive. The world needs more people like you, Alberto!

          Reply
      • December 8, 2011
        Alberto

        Just what I wanted! A bigger ego! Honestly, People who restore what they want and throw money and reason to the wind are way more fun to be around than those who restore what others agree is acceptable and cool. Lemmings.

        Reply
        • December 8, 2011
          MajorGav

          I totally agree. Thanks to PetrolBlog, I’ve been fortunate enough to drive some fantastic new cars this year. £100k Jags, Audis and Porsches etc. But none of them have given me as much pleasure as my £450 Saab 9000 is currently giving. With heated seats, new winter tyres and a sublime ride, it’s just about perfect for the British weather. It’s not depreciating, isn’t costing me a penny in finance and is relatively economical. What’s not to love?!

          Reply
          • December 8, 2011
            Alberto

            I agree. You may not be familiar with some of my other cars but one of my all time favorites is the Ford Pinto. Reputation wise, it is looked at (by those who cannot read and listen popular tripe) much like the Lada Riva (which I happen to like). I am the engineering manager at my firm. The parking lot is filled with Jags, Infiniti’s, Lexus’ and Benz’s. Trust me, no one understands my reasoning and nor would they. Most people will never understand…and that is ok by me.

            Here is a link to my children if you are interested:

            http://www.flickr.com/photos/26161002@N03/collections/72157607367687326/

            Reply
            • December 8, 2011
              MajorGav

              You are fast becoming a hero of PetrolBlog. I salute you sir – thanks for stopping by.

              Reply
    • December 8, 2011
      Alberto

      HA! I am always ready to stop in and cause problems… I mean have a good clean conversation!

      Reply

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