The continuing series of features about cars on the endangered list in the UK, according to data supplied by the brilliant How Many Left? website based on DVLA data.
11: Fiat Strada 60ES
Yet another car from our series of seemingly extinct vehicles that rightly or wrongly have ended up as bean tins or razor blades. Often regarded as Fiat’s Allegro – The Strada/Ritmo promised so much and potentially could have been a world class car yet missed the mark by a country mile.
But wait! forget hybrids or Bluemotions, Fiat’s ES range was there years before.
Trends come and go, where once we were Cortina crazy, saloon cars have been given the boot seeing the market place flooded with people carriers and other dreary hunks of silly van like cars with sliding doors. How people ever managed to squeeze 2.4 children and a pushchair into a Hillman Avenger seems amazing, yet somehow we did. In a world of ever changing trends or fashions, one thing remains a constant, and that is the small hatchback in three- and five-door form.
Volkswagen legitimized the concept with the Golf in 1974 after a number of false starts, and other makers fell in line – Ford created the ‘Erika’ Escort MkIII. The Golf and Escort were joined by the Astra, and the three marques became the standard for others to follow here in the UK, selling handsomely. But socio-economic troubles were never far away – tales of strife and union unrest within our own British Leyland are of legend, but over in Europe, Fiat had the capacity to even more strikes than BL.
Bleeding money, Fiat went through its own shake up and re-organisation almost the same time as BL entered the Michael Edwardes era. Just the same way as Longbridge saw robots and huge capital investment, Fiat actually beat BL to the robot race as it introduced its own family-sized hatchback to battle against the ever conquering VW Golf. Wolfsburg’s world beater sold in huge numbers in Italy, and not wanting to be outdone, Fiat using all this new computer power and high-tech wonderment launched the Ritmo (Italian for rhythm) on the marketplace in 1978.
Here in the UK, the Ritmo was named Strada. This strange looking car, with oddly designed wheel rims and clothed in huge amounts of grey plastic, claimed to be futuristic and managed to sell reasonably well – for a short time anyway. Not long after launch, it became common knowledge that this all new Fiat was underdeveloped, poorly built, prone to rust and unreliable. So much money had been poured into the project that the car simply had to soldier on regardless, gaining Fiat a certain reputation for frailty that still lingers to this day.
In a bid to spice things up slightly, Fiat unveiled a facelift for the Strada in 1983 to coincide with the launch of the Uno. It offered a more conventional-looking looking nose, tidied up rear styling and a much improved facia. Two important newcomers were the rorty twin-carb 130TC and the Strada ES – the latter being a brave yet flawed Energy Saving concept. But it was not all doom and gloom for the Strada, the 130bhp 130TC for example was by far the best performing car in its class, with the 60mph sprint achievable in a staggering 7.7 seconds.
The revitalised Strada was well appointed featuring power windows, cord seat trim and other luxury touches, and unless you plumped for the 1100cc base model, it actually drove reasonably well offering a pleasant ride comfort and nippy performance. It was the terrible reputation of the earlier models that did the bulk of the damage to the car’s image and sales – and the class leading Uno was More than enough to steer any potential loyal Fiat customer away from Strada.
Competition simply pulled away. Ford’s marketing force made sure the Escort stayed at the top of the charts. Furthermore, the second generation Golf was a universal lesson in quality and brand perception. The poor dumpy looking Strada never stood a chance in the UK. This was a shocking body blow to Fiat, considering all the money invested into the car but it wasn’t just the Strada which failed to make the grade. The Regata fared better but also well below expectation in terms of units sold. The Croma failed to make any real impact either, despite the car being vastly better built than any Fiat before. But no one bought big Fiats – just look at the sales of the 130, 132 and Argenta…
The now-extinct ES model was based on the 1300cc model. Its larger saloon counterpart, the Regata, even had stop/start. Stradas were known for rampant rust and faulty electrics with questionable looks, some similarities can be compared with the Austin Maestro with product development, quality, styling and long term reliability all being well below par to guarantee any form of sales success.
Looking back, was it really that bad? Some would say yes, and if the Strada wasn’t bad enough for your taste, you could always sink to unheard depths of dismality by purchasing the Seat Malaga – a car based upon the Strada or Regata with hideous re-styling touches.
Fiat deleted the Strada and replaced it with the Tipo in 1988 – Lest we forget!
You might enjoy the 1979 launch advert of the Strada – UK viewers loved it.