Strada - Ritmo
sporting fiats club Thursday, June 29, 2017

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Introducing the Strada - Ritmo
'They drive an awful lot better than they look' said one SFC stand observer in front of a Ritmo.

There was a lot of refinement put into the Strada package.

Still reacting to the fuel crisis aftershocks of the seventies, and a growing difference between the expectations of their home and overseas markets, Fiat always seemed to be in reactive mode with the Strada. Their improved trim levels were later than the German hatch variants, their hot hatches were later on the scene, revised production and finish arrived but a few years behind. And they lost the US market hold they had established.

There was nothing wrong with the Stradas - they did the job they were designed for. Its just the level of driving experience from the 127 Sport and GT, the 128 3P Coupe, the 131 Mirafiori Sport and Abarth - all being produced in this era - was better. Then Fiat went into overkill with the Strada 130TC (the two Strada Abarths deserve a separate page).

But this is also the start of the 'non - driving' demands era. Style, status, a car to be seen in, to shop in, to work every time. The basic engineering package is not as important. A smooth ride is more important than an informative one. It was a life-style thing. Fiat's home market would not take up this sort of expectation for a decade yet.

The times were changing, the Strada was a car trying to bridge them.

Strada History

The Turin motor show in 1978 saw the announcement of the Strada. Fiat had moved the development of all aspects of the car on from the 128 saloon. The Strada was a 'two box' modern hatch back design with either three or five doors, transverse engines and two trim layouts in 'L' or 'CL' form. The Strada was launched with three models - the 60, 65 and 75.

Engines used were the 1050cc Brazilian (from Spring '79) to accompany the famous 1301cc and 1498cc Single OverHead Cam engines derived from the 128. These highly successful engines and boxes will also be familiar to X1/9 and Uno Turbo Mk1 owners.

As a name Ritmo was thought too Italian for some, so in the UK and States they were marketed as Fiat Stradas.

In 1978 Fiat lauched the Ritmo range with front wheel drive 1100, 1300 and 1500 single overhead cam engines. They were available in 3 door or 5 door versions with either ’C’ or ’CL’ interior layouts. And named the Ritmo/ Strada 60, 65, 70, followed by the 75. There were a wide choice of options extras. The 3 speed automatics had VW transmissions, and the ‘60’ was equipped with a 1050cc Brazilian made engine from 1979. In 1981, the Super 75 / 85 were introduced. Over 1300 000 were produced up to 1982 , 200,000 were diesels mostly sold in Italy.
From 1982 the second series was marketed as ‘the new Ritmo/ Strada‘ range – based on a revised and slightly larger body. Often this second series was also called the Super Strada shape. A term more accurately applied to two of the later versions.

Extensive use of external plastic mouldings and its angular shape was not too popular in the UK. This sort of shape might be OK for a VW Golf or Polo, but the buying public expected more curves from their Italian work horses. In Italy they were a huge sales success, 1.3 million were sold before the body shape changes in 1982. 200,000 of these had the 5 speed 1714cc ex-132 deisel engine option made from the start of 1980.

In 1979 the Strada Targa Oro was introduced to the US market  with the 1500cc engine strangled to meet emissions regulations, and then a special edition 'Ritmo Targa Oro' in black or metallic brown. The Super 75 and 85 series were produced from 1981 with Oro trim and seating levels as standard. The Supers also had improved response and power and as well as a 5 speed box as standard. All these variants were discontinued in 1982 with the arrival of the new body shape.

From 1982 the second series was marketed as ‘the new Ritmo/ Strada‘ range – based on a revised look, and many production and weight saving improvements (many derived from the Ritmo VSS prototype of 1981). The new range basically carried the same designations as the first range. The ‘60’, ‘ES’ (energy saving/ low fuel consumption– a first for Fiat), ‘70’, super 70, super 85 and deisel. The petrol engines are designated as type ‘138 B’ for the mark 2.

Strada 105TC
In May 1981 the first ‘Sport’ version of the Ritmo/Strada was produced as the 105TC. It had a 1600cc twin cam engine (type 138 AR.000), originally deigned for the 131 and 132, with electronic ignition and a Weber DAT 11/251 carb. This version is not easy to distinguish from a fully optioned normal mark 1 Ritmo – it has spot lights and a three door body and of course 105TC badges and wheels.

Beneath its skin was uprated suspension (with front anti roll bar) 5 speed box and revised final drive ratios, equal length drive shafts, and uprated brakes.
In March 1983 at the Geneva Motor Show a new body shape version of the 105TC was launched. It had all the features of the new Strada shape, as well as a spoiler above the rear hatch window.
Mechanical modifications include ‘Digiplex’ electronic ignition, a slightly higher final drive (from 17/64 to 17/61), improved braking and a lower kerb weight. A total of 1791 105TCs were sold in the UK from February 1982, making it by far the most popular of the hot hatch Stradas.

The UK annual registrations of the 105TC are given here.

While a comparison of hatchback performance at the time in provided here.


Bertone Strada Cabriolet

At the 1981 Frankfort Motor Show , ‘Carrozzeria’ Bertone displayed the first Bertone prototype cabriolet based on a 4 seater Strada body. Bertone then began small scale assembly that sold in Europe through Bertone agencies. Before this, the last Fiat cabriolet (the Fiat 1400) had ceased production in 1954!
The car had a reinforced floor pan and roll bar, 4 layer hood and unique upholstery design and was mechanically based on the ‘Super 85’ mark 1. 4000 were built.
In 1983 the second series of Bertone cabriolets were launched, derived from the new shape 1500cc Super Strada 85. 103 mph top speed and 83bhp engine. An improved hood locking system, new colour and a revised upholstery range was included. They have proved popular in Europe, but rarer in the UK. In all about 200 were imported to the UK.

Buying the Ritmo/ Strada Range
Made without galvanised panels the Strada body shells are prone to rust and flex cracks.
In all honesty the shortage of good Strada bodies means that any good cars are probably candidates for conversion into Abarths. There are very few UK examples left that approach this sort of quality.

Body Notes

Sill strengthening of the Bertone Cabriolet was good. Testing these cars for flex should produce acceptable levels of rigidity providing the seams have not been exposed to rust. Check the underseal carefully. At this age the Fiat underseals dry out and crack from below. This can give the impression of a solid surface - particularly if additional coats of sealant have been added. Actually the underseal has often allowed a film of water/salt to stay in contact with the body and travel some distances - causing extensive rusting.

At this age you should be budgeting for a rolling restoration. I'd advise not to buy on a whim, or for a season. Panels are available through the club and specialists – but you are unlikely to see any large financial gains afterwards.
Look at the car's stance. It should not be low at the rear (sagging rear leaf spring). A full seam inspection is needed from below – so get it on a professional garage ramp.
If the structural seams are rusting (lifting the under seal along the seam) then the panels need replacing even if they are solid elsewhere. Take someone who can cost this along. Here's the Strada top ten rust areas:
- anywhere under external plastic trim
- fuel tank, boot floor and seams
- outer panel at window above rear wheel arch (then suspect the rear suspension turrets too)
- front inner wings, esp. below battery box & front turrets
- A posts/B posts especially around floor & inner sills
- Engine sub frame
- Windscreen scuttle (stone chips & clumsy screen changes)
- Floor at gear box & seat mounts
- Door frames - especially the rear hatch
- Sun roof surround (if fitted)
Interior – if it gets damp long enough, the roof lining will part company from its backing, check this hasn't begun… difficult to glue back. Sit in the back seats and check for bulging & partial detachment of the roof lining.
- Check to ensure plastic push fit parts are present.
- Check switch gear, switches and dash warning lights.
- Rev counter is electronically fed from the Engine Control Unit suspect the Digiplex unit if its jumping around (non trivial and expensive a good ECU box costs up to £300.) Don't let water get behind the Digiplex unit (105TC) - corrosion on the terminals is a common failure point.
- Check all electrics operation, dash warning lights & suspect the earth points & loom
- Column controls and plastic items are difficult to source.
Mechanicals
- Don't expect main dealers to help or care. Budget for a rolling road session annually with a Weber/ Solex specialist to get the best performance. The accelerator cable is prone to stretching so check that with the pedal pressed to the floor, the carb butterfly valves are fully open.
- Check for induction and exhaust leaks. The vacuum servo take off hose from the induction manifold needs to be good quality preferably Fiat too.
- Carb jet & gasket kits are still around but scarce
- The oil breather pipe blocks up every 80k (mesh filter) but much quicker if the crank case is over pressurising. Check in the carb air box for oil residue.
- Budget to replace all the suspension bushes – it's only half the car without new ones.
- Bushes need to be press fitted to the rear suspensions arms – the arms can be badly weakened through corrosion too. So the lower wishbones on all four corners need careful inspection.
- Shock absorbers - Konis work well on this car if no Fiat shocker available and they can be rebuilt by one of the UK Koni specialists. Rear shockers play a big part in the dynamics of the rear suspension, as there are no coil springs – check for wear, adjustables are a good idea.
- Rear leaf spring can be re-tempered, remember it is acting like a beam axle and springs in other makes of hatchback so be careful to stay close its original flex characteristics if re tempering. Note by how much the spring has sagged, I'd suggest lowering the front coil springs by the same amount (When new there was about 30mm clearance between the top of the rear wheel arch and the top of the rear tyre.)
- Budget to replace the electrical ancillaries every 70,000 miles or 6 years of life.
Brakes – are basic but competent.
Engine/ Box and Transmission
Engines will happily run to 150,000 to 170,000 miles before re build providing they are well maintained. Then top & bottom-of-bore wear and piston ring breakage is usually involved. Before then the head and valve seats will need overhaul, and before the head, the carburation and fuel system, and oil cooler circuit. Check all of these.
- Inspect the cam/s, cam box and oil filler cap. Black deposits on all of them mean the oil has not been changed regularly enough - bad news.
- Check the air box. Extensive oil deposits in here means oil driven up the breather pipe...
- For the belt driven engines, Fiat say change the cambelt at 35000mls, change it at 24 to 28000 instead, and don't buy a cheaper one from the motor factors. Use the Fiat cambelt.

Check inside the yellow belt cover, there should be no signs of belt particles when you inspect. Change the cam belt as soon as you buy anyway.
- Don't skimp on the head gasket either – cheap motor factor ones won't last. If the gasket blows have the head checked – if skimmed flat make sure the chambers are the right volume too and don't have too much removed (re: piston/valve clearance)
The gearboxes are strong and well up to its task throughout the life of the engine - with the exception of the synchros. Check the condition of seals and oil level in the box.
The weakest part of the gearbox is probably its synchros. Check if over-keen drivers have tried to force changes and beat the synchro especially in third and fourth. Box re builds would start at £500 and go to around £1000
The transmission is robust so there should be a supply of good second hand ones still around if needed. Clutches are ok and fairly cheap. Clutch cable problems are most likely due to hot spots by the engine or a distorted attachment fork at the top of the pedal.

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