R.A-S.H: The Fiat Strada

Strada1

When asked if he’d ever read R.A-S.H, certificated non-murderer OJ Simpson told us “I’ll definitely check it out some time.” And here it is.

Way back over a year ago, Hooniverse’s Finlandanian correspondent V.I.S.I.Ted an extremely red example of the FIAT Ritmo. The car he found on the back of a trailer, which appeared to be at something of a lifetime crossroads as to whether it would end up whizzing around snowy Scandinavian streets, or stored somewhere, slowly sliding scrapwards.

All of which alliterative bollocks brings us to the subject of today’s trawl through the archives. The FIAT Ritmo, or Strada as we knew it.

Strada2

“The new FIAT Strada is a car unlike any other. One which tells a remarkable story of technological brilliance and foresight. Marking the evolution of a new, and distinctive species- the car of the future.”

Yes, it’s another one! These days firms seem to have decided not to bother with the idea of “cars of the future”, I guess they know very well that the shelf-life of a new car is ridiculously short due to the ceaseless march of technology and the relentless impacts of fashion. The Car Of The Future idea has been replaced by the This’ll Do For Now car of today.

To be honest, though, the very end of the 1970s marked an important turning point in the design of the car. Left unchecked we would have seen very little progress and the automakers of Europe and Japan would still be churning out fussy, chrome-tinged, three-box saloon cars until well into the ’80s. It was probably the increase in the use of computer technology that enabled manufacturers to have a total rethink of the way cars were designed and built. The project that led to the FIAT Ritmo and Strada was one of the earliest computer-centric car development programme.

Strada3

A serious need existed to replace the aged (but legendary) FIAT 128 series, and with it came an opportunity to create a product with a far wider appeal to compete against the Volkswagen Golfs (Golves?) and Ford Escorts of this world.

“The aim was far from modest. To provide perfection for the modern motorist of today- and tomorrow. An enormous undertaking”.

Indeed it was; though it was made easier by the fact that much of the mechanical package was warmed-over and re-served from the plate of the old 128; a fact that the brochure sidesteps nicely.

“A team of 1200 highly skilled stylists, designers, draughtsmen, programmers, analysts, engineers and specialists were selected”

Thousand of aesthetes out there would suggest that out of all those 1200 people it was the catering crew that actually performed the task of designing the thing; but I won’t.

Strada4

The Strada was a fabulously weird looking car, reptilian, round, inset headlamps integrated into grey plastic bumpers with vent slots cut through only where airflow was needed. There were bizarre round doorhandles, peculiar looking steel wheels with those strange black painted pressings, and the goofy offset intake at the trailing edge of the hood. In hindsight, looking at the Strada after most examples have long become washing machines, I rather like it. When new, though, I can understand why the conservative public was rather unmoved.

“The first colour sketches were now made. A few months later the best of these was selected for further development.”

I would love to have seen some of the rejected designs. How bad could they have been?

Anyway. When the dust settled and this astonishing new design was finalised, big plans were hatched on how the new FIAT was to be put together. But in this case there would be no gifted artisans painstakingly creating each masterpiece with flair, care and talent to spare. No, famously, the Strada was “Handbuilt by robots.”

“Robogate is an automatic welding system where even the most complex operations are carried out by robots working to a planned programme.”

It’s a shame that, when recruiting robots for their assembly line, FIAT chose Bender from Futurama as their model employee. The build quality of the Strada was completely whelming, only just approaching adequacy and the Strada certainly wasn’t destined for long-term resilience. Indeed, they rusted in the good old fashioned Italian tradition, with door hinges allegedly being particularly vulnerable.

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“So impressive was its exterior, that when it came to designing its interior, the Strada team were determined to excel themselves.”

Well, at least fabric and plastic don’t tend to corrode, and it’s fair in hindsight to see the Strada interior as having been relatively spacious and quite easy-on-the-the-eye, at least compared to some of the Japanese competition. To show off their terrific new interior, and to continue with the strange Lunar theme that pervades this brochure, FIAT chose to feature the most embarrassingly dressed family in the history of mankind.

“As we said at the beginning, the Strada is a car unlike any other.”

It was true. In the side view of the Strada our hilariously clad family should have been proud to have been travelling in a car with so many impressive and cunning features. Those stylistically challenged wrap-around front and rear bumpers, their matching sill protectors and those hideous round inset headlamps were extremely practical for a family car. They were scratch resistant, bouncy and cheaper to replace than body-coloured items, and how I wish they’d make a comeback. Aside from some of the new Dacias and the previous Ford Ka, hardly any manufacturer has had the gumption to feature them. Blame fashion.

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These images and words have all been culled from a launch brochure from ’79, but 1981 was the best year for the Strada. It was that year that the 105TC was released; the first ever real FIAT hot hatch. It would later be followed by the 130TC Abarth which was pretty legendary for its brutality and lack of manners, as well as its outright performance; which was brisk. As the years went by the Strada gradually lost a fair bit of its weirdness, starting with the first facelift in ’82 (when US imports would cease) and the second in ’85. Also to appear was a pleasingly ungainly saloon and station wagon spin-off; the Regata and Regata Weekend.

You can put the Strada down as another example of a car which may well have been outlived by its brochure.

<Disclaimer:- All photos were taken by the author and are of genuine original manufacturer publicity material. All copyright rights remain in the possession of the manufacturer, who are surely about due to do something else utterly insane any time now>

About RoadworkUK

RoadworkUK is the online persona of Gianni Hirsch, a tall, awkward gentleman with a home office full of gently decomposing paper and a garage full of worthless scrap metal. He lives in the village of Moistly, which is a safe distance from London and is surrounded by enough water and scenery to be interesting. In another life, he has designed, sold, worked on and written about cars in exchange for small quantities of money.

14 Comments

  1. Your best work yet! Totally forgot about this car–I guess that's not too surprising since probably only 112 were ever sold here.

  2. I like the goofy big bumpers and droopy headlights, though the Honda Today did the look a bit better. It's sort of like a faithful old dog who might be tired of your shit.

  3. The overhead shot of the creepy space family must have been done by a UK team with a subtle Britishism in mind: "Pants".

  4. My dad co-owned a small garage which did mostly repairs but also sold some new cars. He liked working on FIAT products, because of the way they were laid out (unlike, French cars, for example). So our family cars tended to be born in or near Torino…
    We had a Ritmo for a while but it did not leave a strong impression on me at the time (I was less than 10). I think it came in between a 127 and a 131. Or maybe it was just before the Panda? No, wait, it was 172, 131, Ritmo, Uno, Tipo.

  5. Designed On A Computer, and then photographed on top of a slightly newer computer.
    Oh, that's a stove?

  6. When these were new, I really, really wanted them to somehow be an exception, to show us that everything we assumed about Fiats was wrong, that Tony didn't always have to fix it again. Why? Because they were so CUTE. It was starting to appear that there would be only one acceptable shape for small cars, ever, that of the VW Rabbit/Golf, and only Fiat had managed to take that shape and make it FUN. Of course, we all know the sad way this story ends.

  7. I loved these when the were new (and I was 10).
    Turns out I still do. And now I'm going to mobile.de to find one that I can import. Not that I will, mind you. It's the idea and it'll pass as quick as my morning's desire for an 85 Honda City turbo.

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