Broken Rhythm

The early promise of Fiat’s X1/38 design theme was quickly extinguished within centro stile Fiat. Was it a loss of confidence or something more seismic?

Still want that Regata? An unattributed styling proposal for a three volume Ritmo. Image credit: (c) Pinterest

It was perhaps Fiat’s misfortune that the Ritmo arrived at a point where the design zeitgeist was shifting away from the stark modernism of the early ’70s to a more polished, yet more conservative aesthetic. This shift is vividly illustrated by the transition from Ritmo to the three volume Regata model upon which it was based.

Arriving to market a some five years later than its hatch sibling, the slightly larger Regata model displayed a palpable retrenchment in stylistic terms, one which not only reflected the more conservative customer base for saloons, but also a more fundamental shift within centro stile Fiat from the progressive design themes of the 1970s.

1983 Fiat Regata: honest john

However, there is evidence to suggest this hadn’t been the original intention. The image appended above shows a styling prototype for a three volume Ritmo derivative offering a similar industrial style to its hatchback stablemate. Indeed, it was reported in 1979 that Fiat was working on a 132 replacement which would also follow this product design theme.

In light of this, it’s not only quite difficult to refute the notion that the production Regata was an even more reactionary piece of work than first imagined, but also suggests there was more than a simple change of ethos; perhaps a schism which saw centro stile sidelined in favour of the external carrozzieri.

Open Design Ipothesi by Aldo Sessano. Image credit (c) archivoprototipi

If the stark product design ethos had fallen out of favour by the early 1980s, it was largely replaced by overt studies in aerodynamics, most pertinent of these being that of Ford’s 1982 Sierra. First shown the same year as Merkenich’s slippery landmark, Open Design’s Ipothesi was a concept exploring the next generation of Ritmo, marrying functionality with the latest wind tunnel-shaped forms.

Styled by the talented (and largely forgotten) former centro stile Fiat chief stylist, turned freelance product designer, Aldo Sessano; the 1983 Ipothesi exemplified his industrial design ideals, Sessano telling Car Styling, “No matter how complicated the mechanisms contained in a tool or a machine might be, the exterior has to be simple.”

Image credit: (c) allcarindex

The Ipothesi was certainly striking, even if it retrospectively appears more of a candidate for DTW’s Cars That Could Have Been Citroens series than anything intended to bear a Fiat badge. But for its period, it remains a cohesive piece of work.

1983 Pininfarina Brio Coupe. Image credit: (c) allcarindex

That same year, Pininfarina also employed a Ritmo platform as basis for a speculative styling concept. The Brio’s dart shaped outline reprising the carrozzeria’s 1981 Quartz concept; itself more akin to a Cambiano rendition of an aria more associated and arguably better rendered by Moncalieri. One by the name of Asso Di Picche, perhaps? (As against the better known Motorhead classic).

Ritmo Cabrio by Bertone. Image credit: .auta5p.eu

Across town at Caprie, carrozzeria Bertone lopped the roof off the production Ritmo, which was first shown in 1979 but wouldn’t enter production until 1981. It remains unclear as to whether the design originated at Bertone or centro stile, but while it bore a strong visual resemblance to Karmann’s accomplished Golf Cabriolet, the drophead Ritmo, which was built at Bertone’s Grugliasco facility before losing its Fiat badging entirely in 1982 was neither as well executed, nor anywhere near as well made.

It could be argued that neither centro stile Fiat, nor the Italian carrozzieri stepped up to the stylistic gauntlet thrown by Sergio Sartorelli’s original Ritmo design – after all, it was most likely viewed by Fiat management as a relative failure, especially in light of the earlier 128 model’s sales figures, a matter which was likely to have been ascribed (rightly or wrongly) to the car’s styling.

Whether this might explain the subsequent loss of centro stile’s influence remains debatable, but it equally could be suggested the Torinese styling houses (particularly Ital Design and later IDEA) simply sniffed the change in wind direction and acted upon it in a decisive manner.

But either way, while the Fiats which followed were professionally designed and in some cases very fine indeed, there would be no more Ritmo-esque design statements from Turin.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

5 thoughts on “Broken Rhythm”

  1. Eóin, this is a great find, I’ve never seen this proposal before. Of course there is no doubt that I’d prefer this car over the Regata by a large margin. It’s just a much more coherent and interesting piece of design. The Regata seems to come from the same school as the facelifted Ritmo, although it’s not quite as bad – at least it got rid of the googly-eyed look and the strange indicators. And I can understand that they wanted to differentiate the saloon / estate variant from the hatchback. It had to compete with not only with cars like the Jetta or the Orion (C-segment saloons), but also with D-segment cars, as the Argenta and later Croma was already half a class above this.

    Whatever has made Fiat turn away from the boldness they showed with the Ritmo, one has to admit that the new direction also led to great results – I’d still rank the Uno and the Tipo among the best small car designs of the 80s. And they were infinitely better made than the Ritmo, employing galvanized steel for example.

    1. Completely agree about the Uno and Tip-of the 80’s, the former in particular was a landmark in my mind; it’s entrance to the market made every rival look instantly old – and I include the 205 in that statement.

    2. The main case against the Open Design is not that it is bad in itself – it is rather pleasing. It is that it has strong overtones of Citroen and also would have been hard to integrate into Fiat´s existing range. Fiat has pretty much always been about accessible popular design more than high-concept design, with the odd surprise thrown in now and again. The Uno and Tipo were very neat yet also not hard to digest for Mr and Mrs Daily-Toast

  2. The Uno’s top performer, the 70S, had only one rival in the UK: Suzuki’s Swift — which continues to the current era.

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