If you want a hot hatch that’s a break from the norm, the Fiat Strada Abarth (or as it was known in Europe, the Fiat Ritmo) offers something completely different. While everybody else is scouring the countryside for mint 205 GTis, XR3is and Golf GTis, there’s a small but select band of Strada Abarth owners who know that their steeds are just as much fun – but overlooked and under-rated.
With quirky eighties lines, the Strada is marvellously dated aesthetically, but it’s a practical car, thanks to its three-door hatchback bodyshell. Not that you’ll have time to think about shopping with one of these as you’ll be far too busy having fun.
With a pair of twin-choke carbs, the Abarth’s twin-cam ‘four’ is much more responsive than most of the fuel-injected engines fitted to rivals. All Strada Abarths were fitted with either Solex or Weber twin-choke carbs, but with each choke supplying just one cylinder. By keeping the inlet manifold between carb and valve port as short as possible, pick-up is improved dramatically – and it shows.
Floor the throttle and the pick up is instant; the Strada surges forward eagerly and just keeps pulling right through the rev range. This is no one-trick pony though; the Strada Abarth isn’t just about going fast. The steering is weighted almost perfectly, with no trace of torque steer even through really twisty bends. What’s more enjoyable to exploit though is the handling, which is delicious – and that’s despite nearly two-thirds of the car’s mass sitting over the front axle. If there’s a fly in the ointment, it’s the ride, which can get fidgety on broken surfaces; it’s not uncomfortable, but the chassis is set up for optimum handling.
Which one to buy?
You can’t be very choosy when looking for a Strada of any kind, never mind an Abarth. A mere 1,791 examples of the 105TC were sold by Fiat in the UK, along with just 585 copies of the 130TC. But there are some good cars out there; it’s just that you’re going to struggle to find a minter.
If you do find one you might have to pay plenty for it, but you’re more likely to track down a reasonable example that will need some TLC. One of these will cost you significantly less, but it’s a seller’s market as there are so few of these cars left, and very few of them come up for sale each year.
Unsurprisingly it’s the 130TC that everyone wants rather than the 105TC, and because the cars are so unusual it’s hard to gauge values of the 105TC relative to the 130TC. The bottom line is that if you can find a really decent example of either you’re better off snapping it up, before somebody else does.
Performance and specs
Fiat Strada Abarth 130TC
Engine 1995cc, four-cylinder
Power 130bhp @ 5900rpm
Torque 130lb ft @ 3600rpm
Top speed 118mph
Fuel consumption 26mpg
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
Kerb weight 950kg
• Rust is the greatest adversary of the Strada owner. Fiat still didn’t have the tin worm licked by the mid-Eighties, so check everywhere for it. The plastic body mouldings can hide it convincingly, as can the factory-applied underseal, so do lots of prodding and poking.
• Check all the seams thoroughly along with the engine sub-frame, sunroof surround, bulkhead and A-posts. All the panel edges need careful inspection, especially the tailgate and doors along with the various window apertures.
• Keeping an Abarth in fine fettle is an easy proposition for the home mechanic, especially as there’s no fuel injection to worry about. However, while those twin carbs give fantastic throttle response, they do go out of tune all too easily. Your best bet is to budget for an annual session on the rolling road, unless you’re going to do hardly any miles each year – then you need to do it every other year.
• You won’t need any special tools to keep the car ticking over nicely, while parts are more readily available than you might think. It’s also easy to upgrade the Abarth with sportier suspension or more efficient brakes; your best bet here is to talk to Ricambio International. They can also help you with bits to make the engine even spicier, whether you want a wilder cam, some more free-breathing air filters or a rortier exhaust system.
• The interior can get damp as a result of holes forming in the panels; once that happens heavy condensation is inevitable. This in turn will lead to a sagging headlining, and it’s a real pain getting it all back into place.
• The rest of the interior trim isn’t especially durable; the seats can look tatty after less than 40,000 miles.
• The electrics can give trouble (this is an Italian car after all…), so check the dashboard instrumentation and switchgear are all doing what they should; it can be tricky sourcing some replacement spares and parts.
May 1981: The Fiat Strada Abarth 105TC arrives, with 105bhp. At this stage there are no Abarth badges; those would come later. The 105TC is significantly more powerful than its greatest adversary, the Escort XR3i, and cheaper too – but the Ford is faster. In fact the Fiat is slower than most of its key rivals
Oct 1981: There’s now a 1998cc version of the Abarth, badged 125TC. Another twin-cam screamer that looks much like its smaller brother, the 125TC wouldn’t come to the UK though, as the 105TC had proved such a poor seller for its maker.
Jun 1984: The brilliantly capable 130TC debuts. While it’s a fabulous driver’s car, only a third as many 130TCs were sold as 105TCs.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
With so few examples on the market, prices can be difficult to pin down. While standard Strada models generally don’t sell for more than £1500, the Abarth is a while lot more desirable with project cars commanding more than this. When they do crop up for sale, expect to pay £5000-£7000 for a car in great condition.
Words: Richard Dredge