It was born in Italy as the Ritmo, but in Britain and North America it was called the Strada. For several years from 1978, this small family car appeared in equally dull versions whose only real claim to fame was that, thanks to Fiat’s pioneering investment in automated assembly, it could be advertised as ‘handbuilt by robots’.
There was one exception, the 105TC sports model of 1981, intriguing enough to bring tuning and sports specialists Abarth into a collaboration with Fiat that produced the 2 litre Ritmo Abarth 125TC. It was good, but Abarth quickly saw it could be better. By 1982 they created the 130TC, a seriously hot hatchback with performance figures to see off contemporaries like the VW Golf GTi and Ford Escort XR3i. The Fiat Ritmo/Strada Abarth 130TC was not an easy option. It had to follow where the standard Fiat Ritmo led, since so much of it (and all of the shell) was shared.
Apart from the discreet spoiler on the hatchback, the wheels and interior trim, you couldn’t tell that a veritable tiger was lurking under the bonnet. The Ritmo (Series 2) body was both blessing and curse. It was lightweight — the Ritmo’s appeal had always been based on keeping it cheaper to produce than other comparable cars — so little of its power was dissipated just carrying, and its speed and acceleration were amazing. But the same manufacturing economies made it difficult to handle.
Improved suspension and other tweaks couldn’t compensate for the lack of rigidity or cornering balance needed to easily control the available surge of energy. Britain in particular loved it. The Strada Abarth 130TC came with Recaro seats as standard, and that, together with the minor 1985 facelift, was good enough for the boy racers who made its tyre-shredding screech their calling card.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Italy
FIRST MANUFACTURED: 1982 (as Ritmo) 1984 (as Strada) (until 1988)
ENGINE: 1,995 cc DOHC Straight Four
PERFORMANCE: Top speed of 121 mph (195 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 7.8 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW: The Fiat Strada Abarth 130TC was the only 1980s hot hatch that never used or switched to fuel injection. Instead, it came with twin carburettors, either twin Solex ADDHE or Weber DCOE40, and electronically controlled ignition timing.