Two Alfa Romeos
Alfa Romeo are making serious attempts to increase their UK sales, with the fine new Edgware Road premises, ex-Jaguar man Bob Berry in command, and the ever-staunch Alfa PRO Barry Needham very much in control. So I thought I would have another look at two typical products of the famous Italian manufacturer. In spite of the very attractive recent sales inducements to those thinking of buying a Giulietta 1.6, I chose an Alfetta and an Alfasud for my reappraisals.
The Alfetta turned out to be the 2000L model, the four-door, five-speed saloon that costs £6,865 without the optional sun-roof, leather upholstery, or light-alloy wheels, etc. Although it is now becoming old-fashioned in terms of its date of introduction and appearance, the Alfetta is modern technically, with its twin-cam engine producing 130 DIN b.h.p. at 5,400 r.p.m. and its de Dion rear axle. I was not impressed by the wood decor on instrument panel, fascia, even on the door arm-rests, for this class of car, and disliked the odd protrusions of this embellishment to the centre of the speedometer and tachometer dials. But the driving seat, velvet-upholstered, and the Alfa's fitted carpets are acceptable; and once one becomes acclimatised again to the triple bi-door vents on the fascia, speedometer and tachometer needles opposed in their movement (the former starting from the base of the dial, the latter from the top, although both move clockwise), and the little choke and hand-throttle levers just below the fascia on the right, the joys of once more driving behind the classic short-stroke twin-cam engine surpass minor annoyances.
The Alfetta 2000 accelerates (to 60 m.p.h. from rest in 10 sec.) with that subdued but pleasing snarl, and the road-holding is cleverly allied to a comfortable ride over all save really rough surfaces, with the proviso that I thought the suspension a little less supple than that which once characterised such Alfas, thus emphasising their impeccable road-clinging, and that initial understeer has to be allowed for, through the accurate rack-and-pinion manual steering. The test car was Michelin-shod and notably "sure-footed".
The willing engine will rev. safely to 6,500 r.p.m. but top speed (109 m.p.h.) must be of academic interest in these days of misplaced caution. More important, at an indicated 70 m.p.h. the crankshaft speed is only 3,500 r.p.m., or at 60 on the clock a mere 3,000 r.p.m.
The Alfetta speedometer dial lacks 30 and 70 m.p.h. figures, as on a 'Sud, and the fuel gauge reads "l" when the 49-litre tank is full. There are triple-stalk steering-column controls, of which the short l.h. one works the turn-indicators. The bonnet release is on the near-side and the fascia cubby, with a wide vanity mirror-on the lip of the lid, is unlockable. The three horn-pushes are on the spokes of the steering-wheel and small coloured tumbler-switches for the driver's right hand look after hazard warning, rear fog-lamp, and rear window demisting. The wipers swept well to the right of the windscreen but were not very effective.
Another odd feature was the way in which the base of the unenclosed steering column fouled one's left shoe toe-cap, which might infuriate drivers addicted to wearing costly hand-made shoes - my Loake brogues didn't suffer. The fuel low-level light insisted on flashing at tank 1/4-full.
The five-speed gearbox has admirably-spaced ratios and the change is generally smooth, but with long lever movements, and too-quick selection of bottom gear beats the synchromesh. I see from the Alfa Romeo OC magazine that I am not alone in finding 1st gear engagement baulky on these later Alfettas. The engine started without choke even after a night out in the chilly British summertime, which suggested possible over-richness. Nevertheless, I recorded 24.4 m.p.g. in fast motoring and 25.3 m.p.g. under "shopping" conditions, a commendable overall figure of 24.8 m.p.g. That a twin-o.h.c. engine need not be thirsty for oil was emphasised by none being needed after more than 1,000 quick miles. In searching for the bent-wire dip-stick, the four separate off-side exhaust pipes are impressive, but be careful not to burn your hand! Which brings me to the neat minor instrument dials, with very clearly-seen white needles that centralise when water temperature is at the normal 175 deg., oil-pressure at approx. 80 lb./sq. in., and the fuel tank half-full. A clock is included among these dials and the fuel tank has a lidded screw-cap.
Somewhat dated the Alfetta may be, but the eager desire it imparts to go quickly, the instant acceleration when it is most needed, the powerful all-round disc brakes, and the safe cornering from family-car suspension flexibility, still combine to make me enthuse about this 98.8"-wheelbase, 1,962 c.c. Alfa Romeo. At times I got too much cool air in the face, for the ventilation system needs much initial adjusting (eleven swivelling outlets), but air-conditioning is available, unlike automatic transmission for this model, which only those finding the clutch somewhat heavy for traffic driving will worry about. The efficient engine breathes through twin double-choke horizontal carburetters, the exhaust valves are sodium-cooled, and Lodge Golden Spica spark plugs are specified.
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Next I tried the Alfasud 1.5 Sprint Veloce. I had driven previously almost all the other versions of the delectable smaller Alfa Romeos and have always enjoyed the experience. The Sprint Veloce is one of the quicker of these splendid little cars, and also usefully sparing of fuel in this era of again-rising petrol prices. It is also the greatest fun, without being unduly noisy for a small car, so giving the lie to the need for a big-engined car if you are in something of a hurry. It is nice, also, in this age of universal small-car transversity, to find the 'Sud's flat-four o.h.c. engine mounted normally to drive the front wheels.
There is evidence that the 'Sud comes from a different Alfa factory from the Alfetta in its controls. There is a similar gear lever controlling the five-speed gearbox but only two minor stalk-levers below the steering wheel, the l.h. one of which works the turn-indicators and the lamps when its knob is twisted, the r.h. one the horn (conveniently) and the two-speed heater fan (unusually), and also the wipers on rotation, the knob the washers. The hot/cold air vents are less prolific, but effective, and a more conventional speedometer (on the left) and Jaeger electronic tachometer are hooded, with the oil-pressure gauge, one of the warning lights, and the temperature-gauge between them. Oil-pressure is normally 55 lb. I sq. in., temperature approx. 180 deg.
There is not a great deal of stowage space, but a big (but unlockable) cubby and centre well are provided. Although Alfa Romeo have recently introduced Hatchback 'Suds, the rear window of the two-door Sprint Veloce lifts to give access, admittedly over a high cill, to a roomy box-like boot, and has a Hatchback's area of glass. There is a high-quality cover over the aperture, but its "stiction" seal can make for sticky figures. The shortcoming of all this is that the glass panel can be released only by using a lever beside the front passenger's left hand, so if the driver is alone he has to get out and go round the car to open the rear window. The tiny lever requires quite a strong pull to get any result, which was trying on the fingers, especially when its knob came off. The rear window then stays up automatically, on German-made gas-struts. The bonnet-release is on the "wrong" side for a r. h.d. car.
Full marks, however, for a comfortable rear seat, access to which is easily obtained as the front-seat squabs fold forward easily on pressing down easily seen buttons. The 'Sud's pedals are small and close together, apart from being biased to the left, and I can sympathise with the driver of that new AM Lagonda who trod on two pedals at once at Monaco and crashed into the Armco, because when a motor coach drew out of a side turning into the Veloce's path I did just that, before becoming used to the layout!
I have praised the road-holding, cornering, and the sheer joy of driving an Alfasud too often in the past to want to reiterate it. As the Sprint Veloce with its 84 x 67 mm. (1,490 c.c.) 95 DIN b.h.p. (at 5,800 r.p.m.) engine, safe to 6,500 r.p.m. and smoothing out above 2,500 r.p.m., does 106 m.p.h., has 0-60 m.p.h. in 10 sec., and its all-round disc brakes are highly effective, all I need say is go out and enjoy it! It is comfortable, not noisy, and it gave me 27.8 m.p.g. which improved to 28.9 m.p.g. for less exuberant driving, fast runs equalling the best times of far bigger cars, and the manual choke again not being much used. The tank holds 50 litres, one more than the Alfetta's tank, and no oil was needed in 550 miles. This is the most expensive of the breed; but is really a Hatchback in its own right and it still costs only £5,760. I have reason to believe that the anti-rust treatment is now very thorough. The test car was shod with Goodyear 165/70S R13 Custom G800 Rib radial tyres, and a Blaupunkt Coburg CR stereo/radio, with roof aerial like the Alfetta. As with the Alfetta, it required a firm thumb to operate the peculiar, but flush-fitting, external door handles. The fascia carries a Jaeger clock matched by the cigarette lighter. The front-hinged bonnet is self-supporting and fillers, battery, Bosch coil, distributor, and electrical fuses are accessible, but the sparking plugs for the near-side cylinder bank are buried, nor is the dip-stick on the opposite side of the engine easy to replace. There are four Siem headlamps and an unusual item is that speedometer and tachometer both zero at "5".
At first I found the gear-shift for the five-speed gearbox somewhat sticky and the clutch awkward; but any Alfasud repays concentrated driving and once away from the fatuous evening crawling go-stop-go of the A40 out of London, almost to the beginning of the M40 and doubts changed to sheer bliss. The Alfasud is that sort of motorcar. - W.B.