Handbuilt by robots and now all but forgotten. PetrolBlog asks: whatever happened to the Fiat Strada, a car known on the continent as the Fiat Ritmo.

Remember the Fiat Strada? If not, let me jog your memory. It was the car that bridged the gap between the Fiat 128 and the Fiat Tipo. Built between 1978 and 1988. Called the Ritmo everywhere other than the UK, US and Canada.

Not remembering it? Maybe this advert will jog your memory:

Undoubtedly a classic advert – maybe up there with the most iconic car adverts of all time with the famous line of “Handbuilt by robots, driven by Italians”. In the UK, this immediately became rich fodder for the comedy circuit, with “driven by idiots” fast becoming the sign-off. Cruel.

This wasn't the only joke the Strada had to endure. The name Ritmo translates in Italian to Rhythm. Nothing funny about that I hear you cry. But unfortunately it was also the name of a sanitary towel sold in the US. Oh dear.

Still, at least all of this took the attention away from the Strada's rather oddball looks. I could never quite come to terms with the front end, looking, as it did, like a pre-cursor cousin to the Fiat Multipla. Many hatches from the 70s and 80s have grown old gracefully and like Gary Lineker, actually look better today than they did then.

[caption id="attachment_26844" align="aligncenter" width="1920"]Fiat Strada aka Ritmo Rhythm is a dancer[/caption]

But not with the Strada. The mild facelift in 1982 brought with it twin headlights which certainly improved things, but it was still no looker. And those alloys? For me, they're a close second to the Fiat Panda's Italia 90 efforts when it comes to crassness. But there's no festival of football to excuse these wheels.

That said, there's something effortlessly cool about the Abarth version. Sold between 1984 and 1987, the twin carb Strada Abarth was quicker than the iconic, fuel injected MK2 Golf GTi. It was also well received by the motoring press. Unfortunately, years of reliability and corrosion issues had dented the Strada's reputation, so sales suffered.

Fortunately, enthusiasts have kept the Abarth version alive so there's probably more hot versions around than the lesser models. I could only find one for sale, this left hooker, one owner from new finished in grey. The only problem? It is currently sat in Italy. But look on the bright side. You'd have an epic drive home and it looks exceptionally good on original Italian period number plates.

[caption id="attachment_308" align="aligncenter" width="468"]Fiat Strada Ritmo For Sale Italy Just think of the journey back home[/caption]

But like any self respecting hot hatch of the 80s, it looks much better (and somewhat faster), when finished in red!

[caption id="attachment_309" align="aligncenter" width="468"]Fiat Strada Abarth in red Red adds another 10bhp...allegedly[/caption]

Picture courtesy and copyright of Tony Harrison of www.betaboyz.co.uk

The Fiat Strada is perhaps another example of a car that left me cold when it was available new. I never liked the standard car's looks and even as a nipper, I somehow knew that the car's lack of corrosion protection would see the cars meet their maker long before their German rivals.

But if I saw one on my way into the office tomorrow morning, I know for certain that it would bring with it a feeling of glee and admiration. For an original Strada to still be alive in 2010, it means it has enjoyed life with a number of careful owners and is therefore one of the great survivors. Even better if it doesn't have the kudos of the famous Scorpion badge on the grille and rear end.

But all things considered, I'll take the Abarth thank you. In red. With Italian plates. Thank you.

Update 15th November 2010:

Delighted to say that James Coghlan has been in touch with pictures of his rather lovely Fiat Superstrada Cabrio. Both photos taken at Westonbirt this year. Thanks for getting in touch, James. Lovely example.

Fiat SuperStrada Cabrio

Fiat Superstrada Cabriolet

Read more: