Alfa-Romeo-Alfasud-TiOne heard terrible stories about Alfa Romeos around the time of the Alfasud, which was early 70s to late 80s. Rust was the biggest issue, the much circulated joke was; Question: what do you call four tyres lying in a driveway? Answer: An Alfa Romeo with the rust cut out. I was once told by an un-named and highly unreliable source that this was because Alfas bound for Australia were stored on the docks until they got a ship-load, which meant some of them were parked in all that salt air for many months, but more likely was the use of economy-class steel from Russia. There were other jokes too, about reliability, build quality and warranty. When I first became a motoring writer Alfas had a warranty period of six months.

Despite all this people kept on buying them, and those people were died-in-the-wool enthusiasts who would have heard all the jokes but spent their money anyway. I found out why when, as a spotty-faced youth with no fear of dying, I drove one of the first Alfasuds off the boat. It was a revelation. Back then front-wheel-drive cars were frowned upon by the motoring cognoscente, and yet the sud could outhandle practically any other thing on the road. It remained at the top of the front-drive handling tree for a decade, sticking to the road like paint. And you went for it. The motor, a 1200cc four-cylinder boxer, just kept on sounding better all the way up to the 6500-rpm red line and then some. It made a manual gearbox utterly compulsory – you didn’t change gears because you had to, you did it because it was so much goddamn fun.

The handling was down to MacPherson struts at the front and, probably more important, a beam axle and Watts linkage at the rear. It had four-wheel disc brakes, highly unusual at the time, and rack and pinion steering that spoke to you.

Alfa_Romeo_Alfasud

But it also sold because it was an Alfa at a bargain price, an entry-level model from a brand that had never had an entry level car. Okay, it wasn’t cheap, it cost as much as an optioned-up Holden and way more than all the other four-seat hatchbacks on the market, and so retained a good deal of prestige as well as heaps of street cred.

In 1982 I was invited to Italy to try out the ultimate sud, with a 1500cc motor that developed 77 kilowatts, Alfa’s entry into the red-hot market for hot hatches. If 77 kW sounds a bit thin bear in mind that the sud weighed comfortably less than 900 kg. By far the most memorable part of that trip was going to the test track and seeing each and every sud that rolled off the line being taken for a couple of laps and then undergoing a session on the skidpan. Every one of them. Thus a motor that had never been run before was redlining for much of this exercise. Any car that behaved below peak-Alfa was sent back inside for re-education; the rest were shipped off to the nearest port.

Funny, Alfa never publicised the fact that your brand-new sud had already been exposed to a workout that was likely far more ambitious than anything you’d be brave enough to try.

Trivia point: The name Alfasud was typical of a company that cares far less about marketing than it does about, say, valve timing and spring rates. For those who are not aware ‘sud’ is Italian for south, Alfasuds being made in Alfa’s plant in Pomigliano d’Arco in southern Italy. Creative this name was not.

Posted August 2020.

 

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