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.