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?
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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).
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.