In what looks like a transcription of a period review, renowned motoring correspondent Archie Vicar peruses the interior and exterior of the Fiat Strada 75 CL and offers his opinions.
( The article first appeared in English Driver Monthly, a short-lived magazine from the Maxwell stable. Douglas Land Windingmere (sic) took the published photos. Due to cellulose oxidation of the originals, stock images have been used)
Although it has been on sale for a while (since 1978 in Europe), the Strada is new for us at English Driver Monthly and since Fiat UK offered us a test car to show off the revised shock absorbers (or some such) we could not say no to a road test report.
So, it was off to Dijon via Bruges, Brussels and Stuttgart to see if the Strada had it in itself to survive the depredations of the slumbering snapper, thousands of kilometres of motorway and the rough pavements of Burgundy’s capital. And speaking of which, the Hotel du Palais was a charming place to pull up, with the usual friendly staff to show us to our rooms. One even commented on the test car – they don’t really have a lot of Fiats in France, I suspect.
Launched last year as the Ritmo, the Fiat Strada came hot on the heels of Volkswagen’s dreary VW Golf, and clearly Fiat had no idea Volkwagen’s Golf hatchback would look so awfully drab. Only the Strada itself could have looked more surprised than Fiat’s engineering team, one feels. The Strada has five gears (very much a big car feature) and boasts a decent overdrive meaning that cruising at 80 mph the 1.5 litre four pot is only doing 4000 rpm. If you don’t like the trouble of stirring the gears yourself, a VW-derived automatic is available on the CL versions. Personally, no.
The Strada is front wheel drive and is constructed using a monococque chassis – these will catch on, I am sure. The paint adds a bit of strength too. Much needed. Lightweight? The brochure says so, about 17 cwt all told. Bantam. Good dinners at the Palais, I note. Pochouse (fish stew), beef in red wine, eggs in red wine, chicken in red wine, red wine in a glass or two. No wonder their cars are so dented – the Fiat’s bumper took quite a bashing at one point.
Sitting inside (no easy task after a meal and some drinks in the Palais!) one sees (eventually) a sensibly laid-out fascia (Austin, take note!) and well-presented, legible dials under a clear well-presented glass panel set ahead of the tester. However, it is very severe. Moving off, the engine responds well-enough but the gearchange is only as good as the driver. It doesn’t flatter to deceive and the light it casts on the Strada’s mechanical demeanour is a reflection of the ingenuity of the salesman as much as the customer.
If you want to convey some bottles of wine, remember that the tailgate can be left unlocked all too easily. Unusually, the back of the rear seat can be divided in two. Only the fact Land-Windermere needed to do some snoring there stopped me from availing of this feature and stocking up on some more wines and spirits. Still, I suppose they’d have been pinched too.
Even with several cases and luggage, the Strada returned 35 mpg, rising to 36.1 with an emptied boot (somewhere between Le Mans and Calais, I think). The bootlid must be a very quiet one, which is something.
The Strada still demonstrated very standard Piedmontese handling, despite the allegedly revised shocks and some will like the low-geared steering. At the back, mechanics will find a semi-elliptical spring doing some of the suspension duty and I think these don’t react well to heavy loads (five on-board plus wine).
All told, despite a few quality problems (see boxes page 73 and 74 – ed.) the Strada is not that bad but it does look simply appalling.