Fiat Strada: Rhythm is beautiful

The Fiat Ritmo – or Strada, as it’s known on these shores – doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Nearly four decades on from its launch, the Fiat Strada is largely forgotten – a victim of corrosion and a general attitude that kids of today may describe as ‘meh’.

But seriously, when was the last time you looked at the Fiat Strada? Forget the oh-so-desirable Abarth and the facelift versions for a moment, and marvel at the simplicity and charm of the original Strada in its naked form.

Note the circular door handles and the bonnet air-intake, mounted seductively off-centre for that off-the-shoulder look. Witness the little kink at the rear of the roof, along with a similar treatment at the base of the passenger side window. The beauty of the wheels has been documented before, not least on the pages of PetrolBlog.

Fiat Ritmo 65

You’ll also notice the wraparound bumpers, designed for drivers who go into battle on the streets of Rome, Turin and Milan. Who said grey – and later, black – bumpers can’t be cool? Face it, those robots did a good job piecing together the marvellous vision of Sergio Sartorelli – the designer responsible for the Ritmo of 1978.

Things could have been so different for the Fiat Strada. Work started on the project way back in 1972, when the world was still obsessed with saloon cars. By the time the Ritmo arrived in Italy in 1978, the Volkswagen Golf had been on sale four years, while the front-wheel drive Mk3 Ford Escort was being readied for launch just two years later. As a result, the Ritmo/Strada was forever playing catch-up.

Things were worse for the UK-market Fiat Strada. It didn’t arrive until March 1979, by which time the Golf had cemented itself as the most exciting thing since the Berni Inn added a maraschino cherry to the melon boat. It meant that Fiat UK was forced to go on the offensive.

Early ads spoke of more interior space than the Golf, while another, in 1982, pointed to the “excellent, but little” Ford Escort. The most curious ad was the one in which the copy described how the Strada offered as much front legroom as a Jaguar XJ, more rear legroom than a Peugeot 504, and more headroom than a Mercedes 450SEL. The Chevette, Escort, Golf and even the Allegro also warranted a mention.

Fiat Strada

The ads reeked of desperation when Fiat should have been more positive. Heck, it even went as far as predicting the oil wells would run dry by 2019. Eat your heart out, Nostradamus.

This desperation was accompanied by a self-deprecating tone. Line four of a glossy double page press ad, read: “True, the Strada may seem a bit stark”. In fairness, Fiat was referencing the lack of “sexy bulges” and “chrome embellishments”, but come on, don’t tell would-be punters the Strada is a little stark.

Little wonder the Fiat Strada spiralled into oblivion quicker than you could say ‘corrosion issues’. Today, the Strada is living on borrowed time and the patience of a select group of loving owners. The Strada – which looked like it was born to be a BBurago model – would start to rust as soon as Michael Fish had muttered something about light drizzle, while parts aren’t exactly available off-the-shelf. No, to keep a Fiat Strada alive requires effort, especially for models less desirable than the Abarth or Cabriolet.

But why the sudden outburst of support for the Fiat Strada? Quite simply, because PetrolBlog stumbled across this delightful promotional video from 1981. It’s very of its time, featuring an Italian proving ground manned, or rather ‘womanned’, entirely by a group of Italian ladies wearing jumpsuits. Blue Nun doesn’t do proving grounds, but if it did…

The six-minute video is strangely hypnotic, kicking off with a Phil Collins-style drum solo, before switching to something resembling the theme from Knight Rider. If you like PetrolBlog (more fool you), you will enjoy this footage.

PetrolBlog would like an early, left-hand drive Ritmo, with the original off-centre Fiat badge and those wheels. Oh, not forgetting a set of period Torino number plates. Definitely a car that deserves a home in the PetrolBlog Museum of the Ordinary. What do you think?

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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.

4 comments

  1. August 5, 2016
    Trevor Nightingale

    Benidorm, the summer of ’82, and I remember being a disappointed eight-year old when my ol’ man chose a Fiat Ritmo as our hire car for the week instead of the Citroen Mehari I was pleading with him to get. Looking back I shouldn’t have been surprised as sitting at home in the driveway was his 132 Twin Cam and Mum’s bright orange 131 Mirafiori estate.
    Your article has got me dreaming now of Stradas (or Ritmos) now….. https://www.classic-trader.com/uk/cars/listing/fiat/ritmo/ritmo-75/1982/40216

    Reply
  2. August 5, 2016
    Ben

    32 years ago my teacher when I was 7 had a brown Strada. My mum knocked off its door mirror in our Mk2 escort one day on the way home from school. I learnt early about the lack of robustness of Fiats!

    Still love this car in its original form.

    Reply
  3. September 19, 2016
    Mark Poynter

    Had a blue 3-door 1300 back in 1984 as my first sensible car, followed a couple of years later by a silver 5-door 1500 Superstrada. Both good cars at the time – more interesting than an equivalent Escort or Golf.

    Reply
    • September 19, 2016
      Gavin Big-Surname

      Yes, absolutely right about the Escort and Golf. A fact that seemed lost on the majority of critics.

      Reply

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