Video : Handbuilt by Roberts…

Fiat’s answer to the Golf – Fatally flawed but a brave try!

Fiat launched the Strada with one of the most memorable car adverts ever made. It shows the the company’s brand new car being built using its state of the art robots, to the sound of Figaro’s Aria from Rossini’s Barber of Seville, and presents the car as cute, cutting edge and just damned desirable. The advert was directed by Hugh Hudson and is, without doubt, a stroke of sheer brilliance – hence it being memorable (for anyone who was there) some 35 years on.

Handbuilt by Robots, indeed.

So, it’s no surprise that the advert flew into popular culture – and, as such, it became a target for the comedians of the Not The Nine O’Clock News team. They put together this wonderful skit on the advert a couple of years later, starring the workforce at Cowley alongside the Austin Ambassador…

You just have to love it: handbuilt by Roberts…

Keith Adams


  1. Oh yes it was a great advert no doubt but the product wasn’t as durable as it should have been,mind you I wouldn’t have said no to the Abarth Strada now that was a really hot hatch

  2. A year later, it was the Metro’s turn to be hand built by robots. And lonbridge became the most modern car plant in europe

    • ” And longbridge became the most modern car plant in Europe ”

      ….. my God, how things can change!!

  3. The ‘real’ Strada advert, “Hand built by robots”, also brilliantly clever.

    This opinion may be slightly controversial but I thought the original Sttada was visually attractive and innovative. The shape is very well proportioned and I like the quirky nose and tail treatment.

  4. During my Italian car phase I took a test drive in the newly launched Strada at Colmore Depot West Bromwich. Giving it some wellie round the M5 island the drivers door speaker fell onto my foot. I muttered so much for being hand built by robots and quick as a flash the salesman came back, “nah mate this one was built by Luigi”.
    I went for an Alfasud instead. That just dissolved in water like a soluble Disprin.

    • The self-dismantling feature applied to the Fiat Brava of the 90s, we received a new Brava as a loan car, 10 miles on the mileometer, it was a very nice car to drive, but cabin parts just dropped off by the day, and try as you may, they would never go back into place. The near nude Brava was collected after a week with a cardboard box of parts for the service bay to deal with.

      • The low selling saloon version, the Marea, is one of those extremely rare cars that would never gain any attention.

        • The Marea was also built as an estate IIRC, but both are hard to spot out & about.

          Fiat really seem to be jinxed in regard of bigger models.

  5. Makes you laugh, the supposedly futuristic Strada was a rust ridden pile of junk and looked like a golf ball. However, its one interesting point was it had an FM radio fitted, when most of its rivals still had MW/LW radios, and possibly the people who heard Figaro in the advert could enjoy listening to Radio 3 on FM on the hard shoulder. Atrocious cars to say the least.
    OTOH the Ambassador was quite a good car, a massive hatchback that rode like a Rolls Royce and deserved to do better. Also made by Roberts could also mean it was made by a company that survives to this day making high quality hand made radios. Interestingly on my travels, I still see the occasional Ambassador, but never a Strada, or any other of Fiats hopeless products of this era. And people think British Leyland were bad.

    • “…I still see the occasional Ambassador, but never a Strada, ….”
      Really??? I absolutely refuse to believe there are any Austin Princess/ Ambassador in Italy.
      OTOH I am happy to believe there are some Ritmos over there.
      So to draw conclusions about either the Austin or the Fiat based on what you see on the roads is not very scientific.
      Especially since car purchases at this era were heavily influenced by Nationalism.
      Indeed. It may be safe to say that the only Country in Europe which has/ had a Motor Industry in Europe and whose customers do not put much store in nationalism would be Britain.
      I accept that other Countries are changing for example the number of Smart cars seen in Rome etc. points to this being so.
      Countries like Denmark, Ireland and to a lesser extent Holland have gone their own ways.
      Ireland went Japanese well before any other Country in Europe.
      I would say Ford seems popular in Denmark.
      And VW in Holland.. quelle suprise.

      And Yes BL were really that bad. No excuses.

  6. It’s a shame the Strada didn’t live up to it’s state of the art production methods & styling.

    I’ve heard of rust showing after a year, & having to be written off by 5 years.

    Lucky for Fiat the Uno came along a few years later to give their reputation a boost.

    • I’ve seen a clip of the roadtest, Fiat banned Noel from their stand at the next motorshow IIRC!

      I presume BL were in on the Roberts joke, quite a funny one.

  7. I remember the Not the Nine O’clock News sketch well!

    I’m pretty sure it was aired a couple of weeks before the Ambassador had actually been launched, I guess BL saw the show as good publicity!

    • Your right, this did air well before even the official launch – in the days when cars where kept secret and only launched as they went on sale. I also remember seeing the MK4 Cortina for the first time a good 6 months before launch in the guise of Van Der Valks Taunus. (sorry off topic I know)

      • The Ambassador was a slight surprise, as while a hatchback Princess was widely expected, the other changes were quite significant!

  8. Given BL had such a terrible reputation at the time and were getting the mickey taken out of them constantly by the media, it’s intriguing why they allowed this to be filmed on their premises in the first place – it’s almost an admission that “we know our cars are crap, lets celebrate it”

  9. @ Richard 16378, you could overlook some of Fiat’s shortcomings with the 127, which was one of the first superminis and drove well and was interesting in GT form, or the 128 that preceded the Strada, which was a fairly good fwd saloon, it’s just the Strada looked too weird, rusted even more than its predecessors and had awful build quality. However, the use of galvanised steel and better build quality made the Uno a serious competitor and the Tipo was always underrated.

  10. Just to say, Van der Valk’s Cortina/ Taunus would have probably been made in an assembly plant in Amsterdam, which survived until the eighties.
    Indeed older people on here tend to think of the Dutch car industry as DAF, or the Volvo 343, but over the years they’ve produced Fords, Mitsubishi Carismas and Volvo S40s, so have a bigger presence than people realise.

  11. The italian Allegro?

    Still, I think it’s an innocent and rather charming looking thing…

    • I had thought it more of an Italian Golf, as the Renault 14 was a French one, which also had some rust issues.

  12. Yes, I bought a nice 3 door when four years old and was chuffed with it. Much better value than a mk3 Escort used and quite well equipped with a 5 speed box, FM radio, digital clock and rev counter. It went well in 1.5 form but alas the rust soon appeared in structural areas around the door apertures and roof, but not the wings which were protected by plastic liners.
    I replaced it after 4 years with an Uno, which was a super design, but I never really bonded with it.

  13. I did know someone who bought a CL variant of a Strada in January 1980 and it was well equipped for the money( possibly the same model Robert menioned above), drove reasonably well and was economical, but rust started to appear at six months old and the car was notorious for its numerous squeaks and rattling trim. They ditched it eight months old at a big loss and bought a Golf.

  14. I suppose the, ‘Built by Roberts,’ dig was a swipe at Red Robbo as the public were well and truly sick of strikes and general complaining. The Fiat Strada, seen a good few in Italy a couple of years ago. Not a great car, in the late 1980’s and early ’90s you couldn’t give them away, likewise the saloon version the Regatta, or ‘regretta’ as I heard an owner saying. The 127 seemed to stay intact much longer for some reason, was great to drive and had a brilliant wee engine.
    The Strada/Ritimo was, I guess, made for an era where finance was not so easy to get as today or rather from the mid-1980s on. R14, Talbot Horizon, Fiat ‘worse than death’ Strada they were built cheap for cash strapped customers and in the case of Fiat they did manage to make a profit so in that respect the Strada was a success. Credit then became much easier to get and so customers could afford better built cars. VW cleaned up and today the VW group threatens even the world No.1 spot. Problems BL/AR had were many, and the strong Pound pretty well ended any serious european export potential around about the time when the Strada was well into production. Who in France or Italy would buy a Metro/Allegro/Ital, which were not the most long-living cars either, when a Strada or Horizon was cheaper.
    There was a lot of cheap steel used in the car industry overall in the late 1970’s and early 80s. Unfortunatly BL products fell into the unreliable and rusty bracket but without the competitive price then add into this old engines and whiney out of date transmissions. Sadly you can see how laughable cars like the Strada or ‘the pear’ R14 killed BL’s European market.

    As for using factory assembly footage for TV adverts, well here was the one Britisher that could have been a global Corolla beater. It always starts, good to drive and had a fairly reliable reputation. Not a BL. The strong Pound in the 2000’s killed this factory also.

  15. I remember the Ritmo/Strada selling well here when new in ’79/80, it was no beauty but was available in a range of trendy colours, which made it look more modern than most rivals – and of course the great TV ad helped no end.

    Unfortunately it was probably the worst design FIAT ever made and a strikingly similar story as the Allegro, (maybe they copied BL?)

    It’s hard to believe now that such a poorly-developed pile of junk was meant to replace a ground-breaking, popular design, (I this case the superb 128 rather than the 1100/1300)
    Also like the Allegro, the makers did their best to sort the Strada out with the later versions – and likewise it was all too late.

    A bit of trivia – Gary Linekar was given one of the improved Mk.2 Stradas, a basic 3-door, emblazoned with club graphics whilst he was playing for Leicester City, (who?)
    – no reports of what he thought of it then as a young man.

  16. My ex-girlfriend had one. It made my dad’s Marina look well screwed together. It was nicknamed Fix It Again Tony as I used to spend Saturday mornings screwing the things back on that fell off. At varius times I fixed the door trims, speakers, parcel shelf, seat runners, interior light, door locks, rear wiper and sundry interior and exterior trim items.

    I remember it being very average to drive other than a rorty engine (not much pull but it sounded good) — until we found the hole in the silencer.

    Then the MOT man found terminal rust in the sills at 6 years old.

    I was glad to see the back of it and soon afterwards it was followed by seeing the back of that girlfriend — which unfortunately didn’t stop her coming round with her next piece of rolling scrap metal until told not to darken my drive again (but that’s another story).

  17. @ Tony Evans, Fiat was as big a joke as British Leyland outside of Italy and also they had a terrible reputation for going on strike. Apart from the rather good Uno, a Metro competitor, the rest of their range of cars was dismal in the eighties: absolutely no one except car anoraks like me remembers the 132 replacement called the Argenta, a real pile of rubbish that became the subject of jokes on Terry Wogan’s show when one enraged owner used to write to him about the car’s numerous failings. Then there was the Montego rival, the Regata, that was just as unreliable and badly made and the Argenta replacement called the Croma that depreciated like falling concrete and fell into banger territory after 5 years.

  18. Lancia in the same period we no better, my Dad worked with someone who had been banned from 2 dealerships because he kept bringing his car back to be sorted out!

    The Regata was in effect a Strada with conventional bodywork.

    The Strada’s replacement was the Tipo an enlarged Uno with something approaching rustproofing.

    The saloon / estate counterpart was the Tempra.

    It does the the bigger the Fiat the worse they get.

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