First, I feel like I need to preface this by saying that I unashamedly love the Fiat Strada, also known as the Fiat Ritmo, and have always felt it was one of the best-looking, best-designed little hatchbacks of the late 1970s and early 1980s. I’ve gone on record stating this, and I’m willing to prove it with my tangelo-sized fists, if I have to. I can’t, however, say that I think these cars were actually good, at least in the sense of a car as an object that actually works, and doesn’t, you know, break down all the time or refuse to move or appear to have been built with something approaching the care of a chimpanzee tearing away drywall to get to some oranges hidden inside. A reporter at a Miami television station reviewed a Strada, and dear god this has to be the most disastrous review of a car I’ve seen. Holy crap.
Seriously, just watch this fascinating disaster:
I know we live in an age where people bitch about panel gaps and stitching and fan noise and other objectively minor details about modern cars, but holy crap I’ve never encountered a new car loaned to me as a member of the press as gloriously shitty as this poor Strada. Let’s watch the painful scene of the reviewer, Bob Mayer, trying to start it:
That sound! That sad sound of cranking, fecklessly, uselessly, only to have to start the car by getting the camera crew to push it:
They needed emergency services three times, a tow truck once, and two batteries? What the hellI? How was that possible? Why didn’t Fiat or the Fiat dealer they got the car from try to figure out what was causing a new battery in a new car to drain instead of just slapping in a new battery?
Incredibly, it gets worse. After generously noting that the car handles pretty well and has decent acceleration, Mayer points out that it’s hard to read the speedometer, because the steering wheel alignment is off:
Holy shit. That’s astounding. Just for reference, here’s how the steering wheel should be oriented when the car is driving in a straight line:
How is this possible? Again, this is a new car, one that Fiat knew was being used in a review! That wheel alignment is off by, what, 90°? That’s not slightly out of line, that’s what you’d expect to see if you had just finished driving over an entire playground and then drove over about a dozen set of railroad tracks at full speed before a quick, fun drive up a few staircases. This is absolutely absurd.
Oh, and they only saw about 20 mpg, aalmost 30% less than the expected 28. But, really, that’s the least of the problems of a car that had to be push-started in its own damn review. No wonder Fiat cratered in America in the ’80s. It’s like absolutely nobody at the company was capable of giving even the slightest, flimsiest of shits about quality control.
So why do I still want one so badly? What is wrong with me?
I adore these cars too (and still want one), but this is funny as hell. “Fix It Again Tony” and all that.
These Fiats started rusting the minute they left the factory. Every one I remember seeing all had major rust issues and I dont think any of them lasted more than 10 years.
Nothing’s wrong with you. Well, nothing in this specific context at least…
It’s a great looking, well handling, little car. For 1979 standards obviously.
I had a 1979 in blue as my first car in 1991. At 12 years it did need a couple of holes in the bottom welded up and all new brake lines put in (also rusted out). But that was all to pass inspection as required then when a car changed owner.
After those 12 years the seats were somewhat sagging, but since this was in North Europe, there was no air condition to malfunction.
The front brake calipers were worn out and needed massaging every two weeks to keep from sticking, and the engine ran only on three cylinders due to a bad spark lead and distributor. The first I could have easily fixed if I’d wanted to spend the money on it. The latter I only realized when I sold it – a potential buyer pointed it out.
It wasn’t fast, but even with only 3 cylinders and sticking brakes it got me where I needed to go every time. It always started, sub-zero temperatures was no problem. and all electrics worked perfectly. No, this it not sarcasm or a beginning of some joke. It actually did. Never had an electrical issue the 11 months I owned it.
my dad had one. Would not start if outside temperature was below 32F.
FIAT = Fit It Again, Tony.
Ha! Did you come up with that? Never heard it before.
Alt: Fix It Alla Time.
Not quite 21 mpg city observed? Damn. I know it’s 30 years newer, but my Accord V6 does better than that.
I’m always amazed at American commenters consistently and confidently stating that the Strada/Ritmo looks exactly like a Golf/Rabbit – no it doesn’t. It looks like nothing else in the world. It’s like saying an AMC Matador Coupe looks identical to a Ford Torino coupe just because it is a large two-door vehicle.
I love this post with every fiber of my being.
Even with your toenails?
Especially with the toenails.
Old Italian cars always require an aristocratic indifference to arriving places on time (or, in some cases, ever). Unfortunately this one has seriously un-aristocratic looks.
The jokes about Fiat reliability may seem like trite stereotypes but they really were that bad.
I always thought they were pretty ugly, but recently I can see the funky style they seem to going for. Still don’t think it is beautiful,but it certainly has character, but if I wanted an old Fiat would rather have a 124 coupe. And yeah, Fiat and many manufacturers at this time had some serious QC issues.
We owned a Fiat Strada for two years. 1980 if I recall correctly at the height of my Italian car addiction. Somebody sabotaged that road test car. Ours ran flawlessly for the two years that we owned it. Only problem that I can recall was the plastic round door handles broke in cold weather. True it was under powered but we bought it for a daily driver around town car. I’d remember if the mpg was that bad.
It’s things like this that make me wonder about the consistency of quality control in a lot of car brands. In particular, I always hear conflicting stories about British and Italian car brands, with some people claiming they’re reliable and others saying they were junk. I can only conclude that some of them were made extremely well and others were slapped together carelessly, depending on who was in charge of quality control that day.
I find the amber glow coming from the interior of that blue Fiat rather telling.
It’s either on fire or blushing out of embarrassment.
Nah, that’s just the warning lights.
I can’t help but wonder if a Lada of the day might somehow do better (we know it had thicker steel). The later 70s and early 80s really were the nadir autodom.
Good question. How much of the questionable quality of a Lada was Soviet worker and Soviet management vs FIAT equipment and basis of design vs just general 1970s and 1980s (except Japan) auto manufacturer malaise? After all its not like US or UK manufacturers were doing better. Even Cadillac was putting out crap.
I think I’d have to say that Cadillac was being murdered before our eyes. Slap a badge and a few other items on a Chevy and Bob’s your uncle (Smith that is).
Well, many Western European Lada importers would essentially rebuild the cars before shipping them out to buyers. These exported cars were highly prized in Russia after the wall fell, as you got all the advantages of a Lada but kinda properly put together. Even better were the Lada Samaras which were fully assembled by Valmet in Finland; they have all been snapped up by discriminating Russians and Ukrainians.
The steel really was very thin, so they all rusted up quickly. But that also ment it was light and was quite quick even with 60 hp, while it was there.
The ignition lock grew old and kinda non functional, so you were always able to start it with a popsicle stick. Probably would have gone with some lubrication, but it was more fun just starting it with something you picked up from the floor or the ground.
I still remember the sound from closing the door. Most hollow thing ever, and I used my friend’s aluminum bat in little league. It was the first bats available in America
For the auto journos who read this site (and I know there are a lot): can you imagine getting a press fleet car this bad in 2023!?
Jalopnik’s 1,700 mile Alfa Romeo Giulia press car went into limp home mode and broke down on the Interstate minutes into their test drive
But at least the wheel was aligned correctly?
I remember that car was distinctive for making it onto both their best and worst car of the year lists. Despite breaking down during their review, I guess it was just that much fun to drive that it made it onto their best cars list anyway.
While not this bad, I’ve seen some stuff in my previous road-testing gig. One stereotypically-reliable compact sedan once refused to fire up on my driveway, eventually erupting into a flurry of warning lights and malfunctioning safety assistance systems. Needless to say, that one didn’t get a review. Another time, a press vehicle with electronic door latches had the interior door release fall into the door cavity after experiencing light pressure from my thumb. Oh, and an HVAC vent on another vehicle once fell out on the highway.
” that one didn’t get a review”
It ocurs to me this fiat reviewer may have forged ahead instead of asking for another.What better way to warn people off?
I loved his smile when he introduced the segment. Very foreboding.
I’m not sure this was a press fleet vehicle. I think the reviewer got it on loan from a local dealer. Press vehicles don’t come with the Monroney sticker on the window. They leave a small stack of them in the glove box.
I don’t want to hear any bullshit about how bad Italian car workers were in the 1970’s, wildcat striking all the time and shit.
Watch this (it’s less than 2 minutes) to see exactly who to blame.
And my Italian grandmama says that no one polite EVER mentions THIS:
I’ll cheerfully tell you about my great uncle the horse thief, but this we don’t talk about.
The pitch: “Buy a Fiat, built by robots. It is WAY better than a Triumph, built by UK autoworkers.”
That commercial was supposed to be reassuring – “we promise, no Italian factory workers touched this car, it was built by robots, so this one will be reliable, unlike all those previous Fiats”
The main reason why I love the Ritmo, is the design of those asymeteric steel wheels. I like to think of them as the result of a long and venerable linage of great italian designer, from Gio Ponti, Dante Giocosa, to the Castiglioni brothers and Mario Bellini. A truly mass produced Objet d’art.
Yeah but they clearly didn’t include the mileage from bump starts, pushing and tow trucks. That’s free money right there.
I have to start by saying that I absolutely love my 2017 FIAT 500e. It’s a great car with excellent build quality and it’s a hoot to drive. That said, I know they have not historically been known for good quality. Back in the 70’s a friend of mine owned some horrible little FIAT coupe that was the worst car I’ve ever personally ridden in. He lived on Santa Rosa Island off the Florida panhandle, and had to go over a high arched bridge to get home. In order to get over that bridge, he had to get the car up to its top speed of around 50 mph, turn off the AC, radio, lights, etc., and it would be going about 20 by the time it reached the top of the bridge. If another person was in the car, it would be going so slowly by the time it was 3/4 of the way up that they had to get out and walk, or perhaps push, to get it the rest of the way. The downhill side was even worse as it picked up speed and felt like it would shake itself to pieces and you had to worry whether or not the brakes would live up to their name. So yeah, this review brought back some memories.
Anyone remember the 1986 film, Gung Ho, starring Michael Keaton? Toward the end of film, Fiat Regata, based on Ritmo with the “Latin butt”, disintegrated as Michael drove it off the assembly lane. That scene was probably the final nail in the coffin for the American market…
Fiat had already withdrawn from the US market in 1982-3. The Regata was chosen to “play” the fictional Assan cars because they had access to the factory in Argentina for filming and it was sufficiently unknown to need a minimum of mocking-up. If you’ve seen “American Auto” you know how badly that can go.
The Ritmo was built by robots. Bad robots.
> No wonder Fiat cratered in America in the ’80s. It’s like absolutely nobody at the company was capable of giving even the slightest, flimsiest of shits about quality control.
Little has changed.