The Fiat Ritmo is an automobile by Italian manufacturer FIAT, launched in 1978 at the Turin Motorshow. It was a small family car with an avant-garde design by Sergio Sartorelli who headed the Future Studies department at the Centro Stile Fiat. The export version for English-speaking markets was badged Fiat Strada. In 1979, SEAT Ritmo production started in Spain and was replaced by a facelifted version in 1982, the SEAT Ronda. During the Ritmo's production, which ran from 1978 to 1988, a total of 1,790,000 units were made. It was replaced by the Fiat Tipo.
Fiat started work on the Ritmo hatchback — as a replacement for the 128sedan — in 1972, at a time when the hatchback bodystyle for small family cars was still relatively uncommon in Europe, although Fiat had utilized it for its 127supermini. In the intervening years, however, rival European manufacturers began launching small family hatchbacks, the most notable being the Volkswagen Golf in 1974.
Prior to its launch, the press speculated that the project codename 138 would be the final production name, however, Fiat resolved to follow the precedent set by the Fiat Mirafiori by giving its new car the Ritmo name, rather than another three digit number. In Italian, the name translates to "rhythm", whereas the export Strada name used for most English-speaking markets (i.e. Great Britain, United States and Canada. Sold as Ritmo in Ireland) translates into "road".
Technologically, the biggest innovation of the Ritmo was not the car itself (since it was mechanically based on its predecessor, the Fiat 128) but the way in which it was manufactured at the Cassino plant. Fiat, in conjunction with its subsidiary Comau, developed the pioneering "Robogate" system which automated the entire bodyshell assembly and welding process using robots, earning the car the advertising slogan "Handbuilt by robots", immortalised in a memorable television advertising campaign showing the robots assembling the Ritmo bodyshells to the strains of Rossini's The Barber of Seville. The avant-garde nature of its exterior design is highlighted by large plastic bumper bars integrated into the styling (a trend that became an industry standard, thanks to this plastic's ability to absorb small impacts without damage, unlike the then more prevalent metal bumper bars), the manner in which these intersected the front round headlights and incorporated the rear taillights plus licence plates, and how round shapes (such as the headlights, door handles and the rear edge of the roof ending in an upward sweep) were combined within overall sharp lines (e.g. from those of the sloping rear hatch and slanted rear window corners to the badges and shape of the side indicators and rear view mirrors). Its aerodynamic design resulted in an excellent — for its era — drag coefficient of Cd=0.38,
The initial 4-cylinder engine range included 1.1-Litre (60 PS or 44 kW or 59 bhp), 1.3-litre (65 PS or 48 kW or 64 bhp) and 1.5-litre (75 PS or 55 kW or 74 bhp) petrol engines, which were reasonably refined and economical. Suspension was independent all-round, the braking system comprised front discs and rear drums and the wheels measured 13-inch in diameter. Gearboxes ranged from a standard 4-speed manual (5-speed optional on CL models) and an optional 3-speed Volkswagen-derived automatic. Its boot capacity ranged from 330 to 1100 Litres.
The Ritmo finished second in the European Car of the Year awards, finishing narrowly behind the winning car, the Simca-Chrysler Horizon - which was similar in concept. The initial range in Italy included the following models, whose designations reflected their respective engine horsepower (PS):
60 L (3 and 5-door, priced ₤4,407,000 to 4,608,000)
60 CL (3 and 5-door, priced ₤4,4679,000 to 4,879,000)
The CL range was the better-equipped model (with the 60 CL comprising 80% of total initial sales in Italy) and the whole range also distinguished itself by having numerous optional accessories unseen in past Fiat cars. These included: larger tyres; a rev counter; stereo system; safety seatbelts and headrests; passenger-side rear view mirror; split-fold rear seat; tinted windows; rear window wiper; rear window defroster; metallic paint; sunroof (the most expensive at ₤259,600). The instrumentation was incorporated in a rectangular pod with modular slots that could house various gauges and switches, either standard depending on the model or optional (e.g. digital clock and switches for hazard lights or adjustable-speed ventilation fan).
The colour of the interiors was determined by the external paint, as follows:
beige interior: Azzurro Rodi (light blue), Rosso Cina (red), Verde Kent (green) and metallic Verde medio (medium green);
blue interior: Bianco yacht (white), Blu lord (royal blue) and metallic Azzurro (light blue) and Alluminio (silver);
brown interior: Arancio Messico (orange), Grigio jet (grey) and metallic Rosso rame (copper).
Whilst well received in the key Italian and German markets, the first series of the Ritmo was criticized for its basic interior trim (e.g. no fabric on door panels) and other assembly shortfalls. As a consequence, Fiat quickly responded in 1979 with various revisions and the introduction of the Targa Oro ("Gold plate") range. The latter was based on the Ritmo 65 (or 75 for export markets) and was distinguished by, among other things: a mink paint (or black for the 3-door version), gold striping plus accents in the alloy wheels, foglights, dark bumper bars and velour trim interiors. That same year, the 65 CL range could also be had with a VW-derived automatic transmission, and a 1,049 cc petrol engine built by Fiat of Brazil that had the same power and torque figures as those of the 128-derived 1.1-litre engine, was also introduced to power the "60 L" models available in some markets.
At the 1980 Geneva Motor Show, a 5-door only diesel version — marketed as the Ritmo D and available in both L and CL trim — was introduced with a 1,714 cc engine (55 PS or 40 kW or 54 bhp). To accommodate this considerably heavier engine, the steering rack was slowed down (from 3.5 to 4 turns) and the suspension adjusted. Nonetheless, a 65.5% forward weight distribution was hard to mask and both handling and braking suffered when compared to petrol-powered Ritmos.
In 1981, the Targa Oro and 75 models were replaced by the 5-door only Ritmo Super (or Superstrada in some export markets). They brought higher specification and fittings (from chrome trimmings to a more complete instrumentation and optional central locking), larger 14-inch wheels and, most significantly, revised engines with 75 PS (55 kW; 74 bhp) (1300) and 85 PS (63 kW; 84 bhp) (1500). This extra power was gained through slight alterations to the camshaft profile, a twin carburettor, and a twin exhaust system. Other differences included lower profile tyres (Pirelli P8) and a close-ratio 5-speed manual gearbox. The steering was also somewhat faster. By this time, the Ritmo range in Italy also included 3- and 5-door manual versions of the 75 CL and 3-door 75 CL Automatica, with the price of the popular 60CL now ranging from ₤6,868,000 to 7,180,000 for the 3- and 4-door versions, respectively.
In May 1981, the first sports version, the Ritmo 105 TC, was launched. Available only as a 3-door, it was powered by a 105 PS (77 kW; 104 bhp) Fiat DOHC engine with a displacement of 1,585 cc, which was derived from that used in the 131 and 132 models. This car had the same 14-inch (360 mm) wheels as the Ritmo Super, but with black centre hubcaps. British and Irish models had black and silver Speedline alloy wheels (5.5 x 14) as standard. Other distinguishing features relative to the normal range included: front fog lights integrated into the front bumper; integrated front spoiler combined with wheel arch extensions; black lower door paint; black mesh air intake; rear spoiler at the base of the rear window. That same year, Fiat also launched the Ritmo Cabrio.
In September 1981, Fiat displayed the Ritmo Abarth 125 TC at the Frankfurt Motorshow. This model was not available for right-hand export markets because the position of the exhaust downpipe did not allow for a relocated steering column and system. The 125 TC was a modified and revised 105 TC with a 1,995 cc DOHC four with 125 PS (92 kW; 123 bhp), ventilated front discs, a new 5-speed ZF manual gearbox, revised suspension settings and strengthened components. Outwardly, the 125 TC differed only slightly from the 105 TC - it gained the chunky four-spoke 14 in alloys later seen on the Bertone Cabrio models, featured an "Abarth" red and black badge on the rear hatch, and the side badges featured the Abarth "Scorpion". The 125 TC version had a top speed of 190 km/h (120 mph) and it could accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 8.7 seconds. These cars were the last ones assembled on a separate Abarth production line, following the Fiat buyout in 1971.
In October 1982, the Ritmo was re-engineered and restyled to improve its competitiveness against rivals, which included the MK3 Ford Escort and the first front-wheel drive Opel Kadett (Vauxhall Astra in the UK). The chassis was lighter by 70 kg and benefitted from better Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) control. Suspension mounts were altered and the spare tyre was moved from the engine bay to the boot, along with a relocation of the fuel tank to ahead of the rear axle. The fuel tank move resulted in the fuel cap being moved right side and under a lid instead of remaining exposed. The facelift saw the Ritmo acquire a more conventional look. For example, the round headlights no longer intersected the bumper bar but were rectangular and now integrated in a separate grille, and the taillights were similarly integrated into the body instead of inset in the rear bumper. In addition, all models now featured the Fiat's new corporate five-bar emblem at the centre of the grille, with base models featuring single round headlamps and all other, double round headlights (in Britain, all models of this generation featured twin headlamps). The bonnet no longer had an air scoop and the roof was now completely flat (with the upward sweep of the first series found to cause vortexes and contribute to dust and water over the rear window). The 1,049 cc "Brazil" engine was discontinued.
The 105 TC was relaunched with revised interior trim, a dashboard similar to that of the earlier Ritmo Super and an upper hatchback spoiler in place of the lower one. In Britain, 7-spoke alloy wheels replaced the earlier Speedline ones. In British advertising the car was named "Strada II", but it was badged as the Strada. The North American version was unchanged but was finally discontinued at the end of the 1982 model year (at which time the Fiat range included only the X1/9 and the 124 Spider).
In 1983, Fiat completed the range with the Ritmo ES ("Energy Saving") models and the hot hatch, Ritmo Abarth 130 TC. The latter was based on the 125 TC but was powered by a 1,995 cc engine with power output increased to 130 PS (96 kW; 128 bhp). This was achieved by replacing the single Weber carb used in the 125 TC with twin Solex/Weber carburettors on a side-draught manifold, and via improved cam profiles. The 130 TC had a top speed of 195 km/h (121 mph) and accelerated from 0 to100 km/h (62 mph) in 7.8 seconds. It was fitted with Recaro bucket seats in Britan (optional in Europe) and it remained the only 1980s European hot hatch to continue utilise carburettors instead of fuel injection, coming with either twin Solex ADDHE or Weber DCOE40 carburetors. Ignition timing was controlled electronically. Although appearing outwardly similar to the restyled 105 TC with its lower door & wheelarch trims, the 130 TC could be distinguished by its polished four-spoke alloy wheels (continued from the earlier 125 TC), aerodynamic perspex front door wind deflectors, and lower hatchback spoiler. The powerful twin-cam was mated to a close ratio 5-speed ZF manual gearbox and had superior performance to its contemporary rivals, which included the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Ford Escort XR3i, Vauxhall Astra GTE and the MG Maestro.
There was a minor change in the spring of 1984, mainly consisting of a new range hierarchy. Aside from the 3-door, four-speed "L" versions ("60" and "Diesel"), all non-sporting Ritmos now had 5-speed manual gearboxes and 5-door bodywork. The upper-class 85 Super version was dropped in Italy, where smaller-engined versions ruled the marketplace. The 1.1 litre 60 Super models were new to the lineup.
1985 saw a minor facelift to the Ritmo range, featuring new rectangular door handles on 5-door versions (the 3-door retained circular door handles), shared with the Regata — the Ritmo-derived sedan. Other changes included restyled front & rear bumpers, and lower plastic panels on the doors (again, taken from the Regata). The rear bumper now housed the number plate at low level, whilst the space between the rear lights was filled with a plastic panel. The 1,714 cc diesel engine was replaced with a 1,697 cc unit from the Uno 60D, developing 60 PS (44 kW; 59 bhp). The 3-door 105 TC model was replaced by the 5-door Ritmo 100 S (also fitted with a 1,585 cc DOHC engine). The 130 TC Abarth benefitted from the same external changes as the other models, in addition to new wheels and interior trim. In 1986, a new diesel version was launched with a 1,929 cc intercooled turbodiesel (80 PS (59 kW; 79 bhp)), and was badged as the Ritmo Turbo DS (as a 5-door only). While marketed across continental Europe, the 100 S and the Turbo DS were not sold in Great Britain or Ireland, nor were any of the fuel injected models. The latter included the 75 i.e. and 90 i.e., which had lower outputs due to their catalytic converters fitted to meet tougher export markets' emission regulations. By this stage, however, Ritmo/Strada sales were declining outside Italy, not helped by its reputation for unreliability and rust, nor the growing number of competitors which were appearing. Compensation for the Strada's falling popularity in these markets was compensated for by the growing success of its smaller Uno.
To spur more sales, in 1986 Fiat launched two limited editions:
the Ritmo Team (with 60 and D engines and based on a 5-door CL) in May; and
the Ritmo Super Team (with 60, 70 and 100 engines fitted with central locking, power windows and adjustable steering wheel).
Early in 1988, the production of the Ritmo ended after 10 years. In its place, as the new contender in the European C-segment, Fiat launched the similarly avantgarde, Tipo, which took inspiration from the smaller Uno with its design and style.
The Fiat Ritmo Cabrio was originally displayed as a concept at the 1979 Frankfurt Motorshow but went on sale in 1981. It was assembled by Bertone and, coinciding with the 1982 facelift, was badged as a Bertone instead of a Fiat. It was cheaper than, and competed against, the Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet but was not up to Volkswagen standards in terms of quality or ability, despite the fact that the German rival was not built in-house, but by Karmann.
The Bertone Cabriolet was sold in various European markets in petrol-engined form only (75S, 85S, 100S; some with fuel injection) until 1988. There were various special editions including the Ritmo Cabrio Chrono and Ritmo Cabrio Bianco (all white).
A sedan version, the Regata, was launched in 1983 with limited success outside of Italy despite being sold more globally, including in Australia. Mechanically similar to the Ritmo, the sedan was offered with 1.3, 1.5 and 1.6-Litre petrol engines, and diesel 1.7 and 1.9-Litre or 1.9-Litre Turbo diesel engines. A station wagon version—badged the Regata Weekend—was launched in 1984 and a unique design feature was represented by its folding rear bumper section, which created a level loading bay. The Regata received a minor facelift in 1986 (bumpers, doors and interior) as well as fuel injection fitted for some engines — most notably the 1,585 cc "100S i.e.".
The Ritmo was sold on the British market as the Strada from autumn 1978 until it was replaced by the Tipo in June 1988.
In North America, the Fiat Strada was introduced for the 1979 model year to replace the 128. Available with either three or five doors, it used the same 1.5-litre SOHC engine as the X1/9 coupé (generating 69 hp (51 kW)) and featured a standard five-speed manual gearbox. A three-speed automatic from Volkswagen was optional equipment. For 1981 the engine gained fuel injection for all states, meaning that power increased to 75 hp (56 kW). In spite of a roomy interior and comfortable ride, the Strada failed to convince enough buyers to forget reliability issues from previous Fiat models and was withdrawn from North America in 1982. Strict North American collision standards resulted in this Strada featuring extended plastic bumper bars.
Anecdotally, the reason for the name change in the North America is rumoured to have been an association with the menstrual cycle – either because of its "rhythm" translation or "Ritmo" branded sanitary napkins.
Spanish car maker SEAT began their history as a Fiat licensee from 1948, manufacturing clones of the Italian cars. From 1979 to 1982, a Spanish version of the Ritmo, the SEAT Ritmo, was produced in Spain near Barcelona. The original SEAT Ritmo was equipped with license-built pushrod engines from the old Fiat 124. The end of the above partnership began in 1982, coinciding with a new SEAT logo and the launch of the "System Porsche"-engined SEAT Ronda, which remained in production until 1986. An intellectual property dispute arose and was ultimately resolved by the Arbitration Chamber of Paris in 1983, which found that the Ronda was sufficiently different from the Ritmo (much to the angst of Fiat due to rumours that its restyle was very close to that of the Ronda). As part of this dispute, SEAT changed just enough components and showed to the press a black Ronda with all the in-house developed components painted in bright yellow, in order to highlight key differences between the two products.
In 1982, SEAT entered into a new licensing agreement, this time with Volkswagen. In 1984, SEAT manufactured the new Giugiaro-designed and "System Porsche"-engined Ibiza, which still had Ritmo underpinnings. Moreover, mirroring the Regata, in 1985 SEAT also developed and launched the 4-door Málaga sedan. All ties with Fiat underpinnings were finally severed when Volkswagen took majority ownership of SEAT in 1986 and began producing cars in Spain based on German-developed platforms.
The Ritmo name was revived in Australia by the Fiat importer, Ateco Automotive, with the launch of the new Fiat Bravo sold as the Ritmo in October 2007. This rebadging was due to the fact that, in Australia, Mazda had been using the name Bravo for its B Series pickup. Although pre-launch indication were that the Ritmo name would also be used for New Zealand, this never eventuated since the car was able to be badged and sold as the Bravo.