Alfa Romeo experiences

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91

Sir,

My experience of Alfa motoring has been limited to one car, an Alfa TI Super. Nevertheless my comments about it may be of interest to your readers, as it was an almost unique model to this country—Super is to a TI what Lotus is to a Cortina. To date only two have been brought to England; one was purchased by Dunlop Experimental Department and the other by Maurice Baring (no connection with Maurice Barling). He most generously lent it to me to race during the 1964 season.

TI Super is an outstanding motor car, but in my case any benefits of the fine design and engineering were ruined by minor faults and total lack of after-sales service. My object in writing this letter is to criticise the service that went with the car and not to criticise the car itself, I will, therefore, not tell you of the mechanical faults that arose; it would not be fair to do so as the car was only purchased to race. Indeed, the only circumstance under which Alfa would sell a TI Super to an English customer was that it should be raced.

You can imagine that when Maurice Baring and I were first told of this condition of sale we presumed that were we going to get “the goods.” Maurice took the decision to buy the car in the middle of the 1963 season. It was ordered then, but by the middle of December we were unable to get any information about delivery from the Sloane Street Office. This did not concern us unduly. We made arrangements through the London office and flew to Milan, where we much surprised the Competitions Department who had forgotten all about the telegrams and telex messages of the previous week. We had to wait three hours; until nearly 5 o’clock, before the Competitions Manager returned from lunch. After much hand-shaking and polite conversation, we adjourned, dined in style at Sabini’s, and returned to the factory at 8.30 in the morning. We had arranged to see Conrero in Turin that afternoon, so it was necessary to leave Milan by midmorning. By 11 o’clock we had seen no member of the Competitions Department, although we had been most courteously attended to by a trainee salesman from an adjoining office and by a secretary, who provided endless cups of coffee and viewed the situation with even more humour than ourselves. We left, having settled nothing. That afternoon we visited the minute, but impressive, work-shops of Virgilio Conrero in Turin. We could not possibly have hoped to have met a more helpful, charming and capable man. He readily agreed to do all he-could to take delivery of the car on our behalf and then strip and rebuild the engine to produce a claimed 158 b.h.p.

Six weeks later we returned to Milan with the intention of acquiring axle ratios, broad-rimmed wheels, close ratio gears, and other spares which we would need during the coming season. We were able to get precisely nothing from Alfa in Milan. By this time any anger bad been replaced by good-humoured despair. In Turin once again Conrero revived our spirits and when he took us out in the motor car I certainly was very favourably impressed and delighted with it. We returned to England in the car, leaving Moderne at the French end of the Mt. Cernis tunnel at 10.00 in the morning, stopping for a superb two-hour lunch and arriving at Arras in time for an equally delicious dinner at 10 o’clock. Moderne to Arras is a distance of 493 miles, we took two diversions and covered about 530 miles. The first 60 miles were on sheet ice. We stopped and changed seats every 90 minutes, stopped to refuel three times, covered the last 60 miles in heavy rain and sleet in the dark with the headlights dipping the wrong way. At this time of the year the French roads were almost deserted and although I realised at the time that we were packing between 60 and 70 miles into sonic hours, I was quite staggered at the distance we covered in ten hours’ motoring without even trying. I have never had such a superb day’s motoring and would seriously recommend any lover of French food and Continental motoring to take his holiday in February.

Back in England we had to prepare the car for the first race, which was at Snetterton on March 14th. It was a very unkind debut, as the race was run in a torrential downpour. The car was as last as the Lotus Cortina in a straight line, but in all other departments came nowhere near the Cheshunt machines. Immediately after the Snetterton race we were in touch with the very helpful Sloane Street office. Telegrams and telephone conversations with Milan, once again, proved quite fruitless. Try as we might, we could not get a limited slip differential, a stronger clutch, broad-rimmed wheels, close ratio gears, softer rear springs, etc., all of which, incidentally, are homologated parts. This time frustration did not give way to good humour. I remembered the condition upon which the car was sold and felt, I think lust justifiably, exasperated that there was no way of getting the bits that were essential if any competitive success was to be achieved. After some more unsuccessful racing the car was sold to Terry Crozier.

I trust that you will find space to publish this letter, even though it may have little to do with the merits of the car. My frustration, I know, is only typical of many Alfa owners. The parent company in Milan make very worthy motor cars, but they let down their English office and customers by a service which is worthy of very little.

London, S.W.3.
Michael Cave.