The latest Alfa Romeo Alfetta

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I was able the other day, after long experience of an Alfa-6, to spend a few days driving the latest Alfa Romeo Alfetta Gold Cloverleaf, courtesy of Huntsworth Garages, Marylebone. It seemed right to be in a twin-cam Alfa again, for this was the traditional type of engine of the sporting car from Milan since the “double-wipe” 1500 was introduced in 1927 to give Alfa a good firm grip on sports-car races. The modern Alfetta saloon uses this configuration in the well-known slightly long-stroke (84 x 88½mm, 1,962cc) four-cylinder, alloy-head, five-bearing engine which has been updated with Bosch Motronic fuel-injection (although the choke-out warning-light remains on the fascia panel!) and electronic ignition, both controlled from a central computer, the sensors of which ensure maximum running efficiency. In addition, there is the ingenious new VIVT variable inlet-valve timing, which by hydraulic means varies valve opening by some 16 degrees from around 1,650 rpm. This has made fifth speed less of a cruising gear, but the Alfa engine remains one in which power falls away at low speeds, as one would expect with maximum torque (134ft/lb) developed at 4,000 rpm. Although the engine will pull from about 1,200 rpm, nothing much happens until past 2,500 rpm, so it pays to use the gearbox. The gear change has been called ponderous but I found it acceptable, apart from the rather long lever movements, including across the gate, a baulking first gear and a knob that for slipperiness matches the simulated wood rim of the steering wheel.

The revised power-unit gives 130 bhp at 5,400 rpm, and goes to 6,500 rpm before the ignition cuts. This is enough for a top speed of over 110 mph and 0-60 mph pick-up in 9.7 sec and in 5th 60 mph (when the needle of the Jaeger speedometer is upright) equals just under 3,000 rpm. The first impression is that the notably flexible suspension, torsion-bar double wishbones in front, coil-sprung De Dion axle at the back, does not spoil the road-clinging, although its liveliness makes the ride rather tiring. This is typical Alfetta springing, now somewhat dated. More troublesome is the way in which the manual steering becomes heavy when combating the pronounced understeer. This changes to oversteer when cornering really fast, and might develop into a spin-off on a race-circuit. Having said that, there is no question but that this Alfetta cornering is very well-balanced and the road holding excellent. Appropriately, the test-car was on Pirelli (P5) 185/70HR 14 tubeless tyres. The all-disc brakes, inboard at the back, are usefully powerful.

The Alfetta Gold Cloverleaf is more a car for the enthusiast than for Mr Average-Driver, the willing response and sure road grip pleasing in the Alfa tradition. The four-door saloon has been given alloy wheels with plain knave-plates, and is somewhat restyled, but the four small but powerful Carello headlamps are retained. The Alfetta’s interior is of high quality, with wood surrounds, neat switches, and a new fascia. The Jaeger square-dial main instrumentation has over-many lines pointing to small green digits but the main readings in white are clear, when not blanked by the steering wheel. Triple control-stalks are retained, stowages are minimal, the door “keeps” ineffective. The effective heater incorporates five double-flapped outlets and variable-speed fan and the boot is openable only from a lever beside the driver. Seating is extremely comfortable.

If the price of £9,515 seems high for this somewhat dated offering, it has to be remembered that you get a De Dion transaxle incorporating the gearbox, central door locking, electric adjustment of the front-seat squabs and the height of the driver’s seat, electric window lifts (with the controls, and those of the roof lamps and map light unusually but conveniently “in the ceiling”, as Alfa put it) two internally-adjustable exterior mirrors, an electronic check-panel, and a multipurpose digital clock. Instrumentation includes a commendably accurate and absolutely steady-reading fuel-gauge (unlike the horror on the Alfa-6), a heat gauge normally reading 80 deg C, and an oil-gauge showing 6 bar. The rack-and-pinion steering takes 3.6 turns, lock-to-lock, and really needs power control; I would also have liked the accelerator set slightly more to the right. I was unable to do full fuel-thirst checks but was getting roughly 33mpg; the tank holds 11 gallons. The test-car had a Pioneer radio; stereo and the girls will love the full-width vanity mirror on the inside of the cubby-lid. I enjoyed being back in a twin-cam Alfa and one must hope that the revised Alfetta engine and the six-year anti-corrosion warranty will put new life into Alfa Romeo sales. — W.B.