It’s April 1978 and the doors are about to open to to the first bi-annual Salone dell’Automobile di Torino or Turin Motor Show. This is easily the most exciting time to visit any auto show – the news crews have yet to pitch up, the crowds haven’t invaded, and the cavernous motor show halls echo to the beautiful sound of silence. It’s a lovely place to soak up the atmosphere cast by the troubled and wonderful Italian car industry.
This one’s going to be special. Fiat is about to pulls the covers off its exciting new Ritmo – its first entrant into the fiercely competitive family hatchback market. It will effectively be a radical-looking rebody of the groundbreaking Fiat 128 – one of Dante Giacosa’s finest creations – but it also ushers in a new-era of fully robotised production for Fiat. It would go on to be launched with the most fantastic advert.
Since the arrival of the Volkswagen Golf in 1974, the template for this market sector has been set – smart two-box styling, front-wheel drive, a wide-opening hatchback and three- and five-door options. It’s not surprise that the Ritmo was very much the same. It would go up against the aforementioned Golf, the Renault 14, the Talbot Horizon (which pipped it to the 1979 Car of The Year award) – and, later, the Vauxhall Astra Mk1, Ford Escort Mk3 and Austin Maestro. Arguably, the family hatchbacks of today still follow the same formula. But for how much longer?
When the Ritmo went on sale in the UK in early 1979, it was marketed as the Strada and made quite an impact. However, its early promise translated into poor sales on the back of its indigestible (for many buyers) industrial styling penned by Sergio Sartorelli and uninviting interior. That’s a shame, because there was a lot to love about the Strada – and it would go on to sell 1,790,000 copies in its ten-year production run.
So, tell us about the cars
Oh, to be strolling through this picture now…
Our picture’s been taken at the other end of the main hall to Fiat’s big splash, and it’s the pride of Milan – Alfa Romeo – that dominates. In the foreground, we’re treated to a selection of Naples-built Alfasuds including the recently-launched Sprint. A sectioned bodyshell is there to show you the lengths Alfa Romeo went in ensuring the best rustprooofing. Also at Alfa Romeo are examples of its newest car, the wedge-shaped Nuova Giulietta, and the Alfetta saloon it’s so closely based on.
For AROnline fans, the Nuova Innocenti stand will be a delight. In 1978, memories of BL ownership and Geoffrey Robinson’s starry-eyed promises will be a fading memory. Instead, under the ownership of Alejandro De Tomaso, the company is concentrating on its excellent 90/120 hatchback range, including the recent new Innocenti Mini De Tomaso, which takes pride of place on the stand.
Further back, we can also see Lancia’s stand – Gammas and Betas form the backbone of its offerings – and we’d have to wait another year to see the lovely Delta. You can also see Autobianchi, which is signposted as Lancia-Autobianchi. Fiat is to the rear of that, where you can just see a Ritmo behind the Nuova Innocenti sign. Ferrari is there, too, while the likes of BMW and Mercedes-Benz are tucked away to the side – interesting, as it’s the first time that the new W123-series would be seen in Italy in estate car form.
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