By on April 16, 2019

Today’s Rare Ride wears a lot of different badges. The most important ones are Fiat, Ritmo, and Abarth. Come and check out the sportiest version of the final evolution of Fiat’s replacement for the long-lived 128.

By the late Seventies, Fiat’s 128 was getting long in the tooth. The company needed a new small family car to take the brand through the Eighties. Hatchbacks seemed to be the wave of the future, as Volkswagen paved the way with its new Golf in 1974. Fiat’s own hatchback design was ready early in 1978, debuting at the Turin Motor Show.

As the Ritmo went into production, Fiat implemented a new robotics system at its factory in Italy. Construction of the body shell and welding was automated, allowing Fiat the fun new tagline “Hand-built by robots.” Said robots put together three- and five-door hatchbacks. A convertible version was added in 1982, but was designed and built by Bertone and branded as such. North Americans knew the hatchback versions as Strada.

With the first run of hatchbacks a success, Fiat began designing a revised model known as “series two.” On sale for 1983, the second album had improved NVH levels, and was intended to take on the Ford Escort and Opel Kadett. The Abarth version also appeared in 1983, and Fiat wasn’t finished with Ritmo developments.

There was one more revision in 1985; this one focused on visual changes rather than engineering ones. New door handles for the five-door hatch joined reworked bumpers. Engines were shuffled as well, with a smaller displacement diesel joining other gasoline offerings. Depending on market, engines ranged from 1.1 to 2.0 liters of displacement, the largest of which featured twin cams.

At its debut, the Abarth was the hot hatch of the Ritmo range. With the largest 2.0-liter twin cam engine, horsepower measured an impressive 128. Top speed was about 121 miles per hour, and acceleration to 60 took just 7.8 seconds. All transmissions in Abarths were five-speed ZF manuals. Though performance was considerable, the tech underneath was a bit behind the times (the Ritmo Abarth was the only European Eighties hot hatch to use carburetors throughout). The Ritmo kept its carburetors until 1988, when the model was phased out in favor of the Tipo.

Today’s rare graphite beauty is located in New York and contains a charming glove box flashlight for when your Italian car breaks down. It asks $13,000.

[Images: seller]

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18 Comments on “Rare Rides: This 1987 Fiat Is Ritmo, Abarth, 130, and TC...”

  • avatar

    Anorak time:
    The Abarth 130 TC did not have a turbocharger to achieve 128 hp. It just had twin carburetors and twin cams.

    The Ritmos were not the only ’80s hot-hatches bereft of fuel injection. In Europe, the Ford Escort XR3 had carburetors until the XR3i reached production for the ’83 model year. In the US, the Omni GLH was carbureted in naturally aspirated form. There were probably others.

    I used to like spotting these cars when I lived in Europe. They were not common outside of Italy though. In recent years I’ve seen a surprising number of oddball survivors on websites such as BringATrailer; everything from Peugeot 405s to Lancia Beta saloons. I don’t think I’ve seen a single Strada in the US or evidence of one surviving since the ’80s.

  • avatar

    That looks like a riot! Do they offer weekly rentals? :)

  • avatar

    I love it. Neat little car, bet it’s a blast to drive.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Blast from the past…These things were all over when I was in Naples back in the late 90’s.

  • avatar

    Ladas had carbs well into late 90s.

  • avatar

    These cars, in particular the original 1978-1982 first generation Ritmo, have all disappeared from European roads pretty much in the early 1990s. The ‘R’ in ‘Ritmo’ may as well have stood for ‘Rust’.

    I remember these cars well as I was a car enthusiastic child in the early and mid-1980s. They may have been built by robots but quality was nonetheless abysmal, and the aforementioned rust issues sent most of these to an early grave. However, the Ritmo was praised by reviewers for its confident and engaging handling, particularly the late-model 1982 Abarth 125TC.

    I must confess that as a teen I liked the unique snout and design of the 1978-1982 Ritmo. In its day it was a visually interesting car, or so I believed. Today it is one of those cars which makes me wonder what I was thinking when I was young.

  • avatar

    Cheerful, even in grey, but probably not cheap. How in tarnation did this thing survive 28 years in the Rust Belt?

  • avatar

    I always thought the Fiat Strada was a great-looking car. Wouldn’t mind a “last and best of breed” but not for 13 grand.

  • avatar

    “Hatchbacks seemed to be the wave of the future, as Volkswagen paved the way with its new Golf in 1974. Fiat’s own hatchback design was ready early in 1978, debuting at the Turin Motor Show.”

    The first Fiat hatchback I can think of was the 127, the hatchback version was introduced in 1972. When the Golf/Rabbit was first introduced, some wags dubbed it the “Wolfsburg 127”. Fiat did a lot of innovating in the small car space, but ultimately lost out, probably due to its indifferent build quality.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Nice-looking car, and it would have been a worthy successor to my former 1974 128SL.

    This copy looks exceptional, but no old Fiat is worth $13k unless it’s a Dino.

    • 0 avatar

      I bet Mephistopheles has a fair chance of selling for deep into seven figures.

    • 0 avatar

      Oh, I don’t know. I went to the free Fiat museum (i.e., Centro Storico FIAT) in Turin not long ago. It is only open on Sundays and despite living on the same bus line, I didn’t know it even existed. I guess the national auto museum up the road eclipses it. Anyway, there were some great surprises… who knew they made refrigerators and jets?

  • avatar

    Curious where people get these maintained and serviced, if you don’t self wrench. Even within 100mi of metro NYC (which used to be Italian car ground-zero), I think I can count the number of recommended vintage Italian car specialists on 3 fingers. I bought my ’14 500 Abarth from a guy in north NJ who had a handful of old Lancias and Fiats, and even he basically just farmed out different aspects of repair/rebuilds all over the place, as his budget, time and interest level saw fit.

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