The Tipo was first revealed to the public in January 1988. An all new design to replace the Strada/Ritmo it was initially available with only one body style - a five door with a drag coefficient of 0.31. It won the Car of the Year award in 1989 and was greatly praised for it's class leading interior space (especially the boot), accessibility, handling and drivability. The styling was rather less conventional, but was accepted as a step in a new direction, designed to be compact, aerodynamic and roomy inside with excellent visibility. Safety, with optimisation of the deformation in the event of an accident, and durability, all external parts were galvanised (over 70% of the entire bodyshell) also featured highly on the agenda.
At launch the engines comprised three petrol (1.1, 1.4 and 1.6 litre) and two diesel (1.7 and 1.9 turbo) units, all developed specifically for the new car, and mated to a new 5-speed manual gearbox. Suspension was independent all round, with MacPherson struts at the front and a trailing arm arrangement at the rear. A conventional front disc/rear drum brake setup was joined by an optional Antiskid (as ABS was then known) system from Bosch.
Two trim levels were offered, the base level ('standard' with the 1108, 1372 and 1697 diesel engines) and the 'Digit' (with all engines), which soon became the DGT. The latters main claim to fame was it's digital instrumentation, the first series production digital dashboard on a European hatchback, but it also benefitted from electric windows, central locking and various other extras.
Production was at the Cassino factory, with the assembly line significantly rebuilt and automated for the Tipo, with over 403 robots in the Tipo bodyshop (welding, holding, fastening, priming, painting, testing) alone, monitored by 49 video cameras. The plant also contains 1720 AGVs (Automatically guided vehicles) !
November 1989 saw the first 'hot hatch' in the range, the 1.8ie 16V. Using a 1756cc 16v dohc unit with 136bhp it was also equipped with disc brakes all round, whilst ABS was optional. 1990 saw more powerplants arrive, a normally aspirated 1929cc diesel unit with 65bhp and a 1929cc turbodiesel with EGR (with 82bhp) joining the oil-burners, whilst the petrol range expanded to include 1756cc (109bhp) and 1995cc (113bhp) units, both with electronic fuel injection and the latter also with a three-way catalytic converter. The 1372cc and 1581cc engines also increased in power to 76bhp and 84bhp respectively. The catalysed 1600 adopted the 1581cc sohc unit with 77bhp, replacing the 1585cc dohc catalysed unit. The transmission options also broadened with the arrival of the Tipo Selecta, using a CVT. This was available with either a 1372cc or 1581cc engine.
The Geneva show of 1991 saw a new model at the top of the Tipo range, the 2.0ie 16v (or 'Sedicivalvole') complete with environmentally friendly catalytic converter and EGR system. The heart of the new version, the engine, was a 16v version of the twin-cam unit in the 2.0ie car, in this installation producing 148bhp. The new car also featured uprated brakes, an optimised chassis, bigger alloy wheels etc. Rave reviews in the press followed, and the car was universally praised.
Slightly later, in September of the same year, the 1.8ie 16v was dropped from the range, being made redundant by the new 2-litre unit. In that month, at the Frankfurt Motorshow, the entire range was mildly tweaked, mainly regarding the badging. The base and DGT were replaced by the standard (the old base), S (electric windows, central locking) and SX (the old DGT plus power steering) trim levels.
The second series of the Tipo arrived in 1993. A major overhaul of the product was most immediately recogniseable by its new grille. The main changes were concentrated on improving the safety of the car, with a heavily revised structure including side impact bars, deformable zones, height adjustable seatbelts, seatbelt pre-tensioners, energy absorbing steering wheel, airbags etc. The most interesting evolution for car enthusiasts was the addition of a three-door body style. In total, as well as the two body styles, 8 engines and 3 transmissions, it was available in 5 trim levels (S, SX, SLX, GT and 16v).
Mechanically, all the engines were catalysed (except the diesels), the range comprising the 1.4ie (1372cc sohc with 71bhp), 1.6ie (1581cc sohc with 76bhp), 1.8ie (1756cc dohc with 105bhp), 2.0ie (1995cc dohc with 115bhp), 2.0ie 16V (1995cc dohc with 142bhp), 1.7D (1697cc sohc with 58bhp), 1.9D (1929cc sohc with 65bhp) & 1.9 D GT (1929cc sohc turbo with 92bhp). Alongside the conventional manual 5-speed transmission a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) and a 4-speed automatic were available (the former with the 1.6 engine, the latter with the 2.0).
Production continued until 1995, when it was replaced by the Bravo/Brava pair. The Tipo floorpan proved a highly successful design, also being used in the Tempra (basically a Tipo saloon), the Coupé, the Alfa Romeo 155 and the Lancia Dedra.