How Many Left? 1981 Fiat Strada

While it may be a surprise to learn Fiat actually sold this car in the U.S., this unusual Strada five-door was, in fact, a car you could walk into any Fiat dealer in 1984 and buy. The reason you don’t see very many is that it wasn’t exactly a huge hit with consumers, owing to the less than stellar reputation the brand has for quality control. Regardless, if you’re a Fiat fan, finding one of these unusual economy cars today represents quite a find, especially when it’s in driver-quality condition like this specimen here on craigslist that the seller claims is a garage find with just 49,000 original miles. He’s asking $2,500 and just remember: looks aren’t everything.

I only have one other frame of reference for these charming Italian oddballs, and that’s of a Strada rotting away in an obscure junkyard in southeastern Massachusetts. I have no idea how it got there, but it even still has the dealer sticker on the back taillight panel that proves it was bought and sold new near Fall River, Massachusetts. The Fiat Strada was more commonly known in overseas markets as the Ritmo, and it used running gear from the X1/9 to get it down the road as efficiently as possible. The car’s bigger calling card was its overall packaging, with a roomy passenger compartment to make commuting a more pleasant experience. Bottom line: not a lot of power and this one is sadly equipped with the archaic automatic transmission.

So, what does this mean for you: well, you weren’t going anywhere fast before, and you surely won’t be now with that gearbox. I hate to say it – because I really do like oddball survivors – but this is going to require finding a caretaker who totally digs unusual survivors. With a five-speed, you might be able to entice someone to give it a try who just wants to experience a car few others have and the stares it generates at Cars & Coffee. It’s too bad, as the Fiat does appear to be in good condition after its years of hibernation in a California garage. The interior is in nice shape and the incredibly cheap plastics in the cabin all appear to be holding up well. Given it’s been stored indoors, sun damage seems to be minimal.

It even looks mildly sporting on those awesome alloy wheels that somehow complement the its funky appearance. The seller reports it runs and drives on the highway without issue, but that the brakes are in scary enough shape that the Fiat should be towed to its next owner’s garage. All it needed was a new fuel pump and ignition switch to run, so hopefully the brake job is short and sweet as well. The asking price seems fair to me, but I fear given the small pool of potential buyers, he’s going to have to drop the price even further. Thanks to Barn Finds reader Otto M. for the find.


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  1. Euromoto Member

    I live within 10 miles of this and have been looking for a new project. But the autobox kills it for me. Too bad, because this vibes cool 70’s Euro design.

    Like 8
    • nlpnt

      Even Gianni Agnelli didn’t drive a Fiat automatic in this era, preferring to operate three pedals with his one good leg. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of their slushboxes.

      Like 4
      • Whopper

        Who is Even Gianni Angelli?

        Like 1
  2. Laurito

    That doggie is cooler than the car.

    Like 18
    • SebastianX1/9

      And faster!

      Like 5
      • Ike Onick

        “La voz de su maestro”

        Like 2
  3. JoeNYWF64

    I’m trying to think of an American car that had a full size spare tire under the hood, even under a huge hood with lots of empty space there & rear wheel drive.
    Or for that matter, 1 with front door “vent” windows that don’t open up.
    Can’t recall even one.
    Both dumb designs.

    • Chris Webster

      Ford Escorts Mk 1 & 2. Hillman Hunters. 1990s Buick Park Avenues. All had ‘non opening vent windows’

      Like 2
    • Chris Webster

      Some Corvairs had the spare under the (rear) hood. And Mk 3 Zephyr/ Zodiacs (British, I know) had the spare under the hood of a front engined car.

      Like 3
      • alphasud Member

        Don’t forget the Subaru crowd. They had fuel size spares under the hood.

        Like 2
  4. anm

    I think you mean Italian, not French.

    Like 7
  5. Gregg

    “This posting has been deleted by its author. ” A sure sign that it has already been sold. That didn’t take long!

    Like 2
  6. Jim

    Now THERE’S a car you don’t see very often……even in 1981!

    Like 2
  7. local_sheriff

    Not many left of these – I think it’s safe to assume it’s only due to the Cali climate + it’s a slush box it’s still around. These were starting to rot away already in the mid 80s.

    It should’ve been mentioned in this write-up that there was a performance version – Abarth – made of this design.

    One has to be more than average fan of Italian cars to hang onto such an oddball for so many years. Definately not my cup of tea but as a car community we should appreciate there are actually individuals who – for some reason – are willing to keep and maintain these Fiats as this facelift version proves

  8. joe

    My friend owned one and after 2 or 3 years everytime you closed the hatch rusted metal would fall out. In the winter it would not start unless you had battery cables and jumped it with another car. The battery was good, just needed the extra power to fire it up. It was pure junk and not cheap.

    Like 1
    • JoeNYWF64

      No more rain driving of this car will stop the rust.
      Today’s cheapest $55 walmart compact battery with side terminals is 600!! cca – back in the day – maybe 400. Should be more than enuf to start the car with some new side terminal battery cables.
      & a fresh starter might not be a bad idea.

  9. Steve Clinton

    2 dogs!

  10. Ike Onick

    I still prefer Charles Atlas’ Escort.

    Like 4
  11. Craig Kingsbury

    We bought one brand new in 1981. Ran great and awesome traction in winter. However the heater was a bit lacking on real cold days. Parents kept it quite awhile. It was a 5speed got great gas mileage. I think they had it 6 or 7 years was still running great when they sold it to one of their friends. Was finally put to rest after in was run into. Odd car indeed but I liked it.

    Like 1
  12. Robert L Roberge

    So, that’s where AMC got the idea for the face of the Pacer.

    • Allen L

      The Pacer debuted in 1976, the Ritmo in 1978, so if there was any copying done, it was by FIAT.

      • SubGothius

        Not to mention the ’74 Matador coupe.

        Like 1
  13. Beyfon

    The Ritmo and it’s Regata sibling were certainly the worst Fiats I’ve owned. Slow, plasticky interiors, and just not fun to drive. Lots of understeer, heavy steering and terribly vague shifters. Definitely the “malaise era” for Fiat. There are reasons why today these are rarer than 1960’s and early 70’s Fiats.

    Like 1
  14. Bunky

    Friend of mine bought one of these in the mid eighties for $1300. (Not sure why I remember that?) He is an excellent mechanic and likes to tinker- a match made in heaven. It was his wife’s daily driver for a few years. They both loved it.

    Like 1
  15. Michael L Gregory

    I test drove a brand new one at our dealership in Wichita. I was completely hooked on the idea of owning a European car, but I just couldn’t afford to buy the Strada. Probably a good idea. I did, however, buy a new Renault Alliance in 1984, so I got to scratch that itch, then switched to Asian cars for the rest of my life.

    Like 1
  16. Ensign Pulver

    Not enough metal anywhere to get a magnet to stick…

  17. Rob

    Fiats are Italian. Not French.
    This is back from the day of ‘Fix It Again Tony’, It was not. ‘Fix It Again Thierry’.

  18. DennisW

    The auto trans in these cars came from one of the French manufacturers (R,P, or C) can’t remember which one. Knowing might help find parts or data needed for service. FIAT probably can’t help now, if they ever could.

  19. t-bone BOB

    Located in Los Angeles, CA

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