A year ago we had a good deal to say about the then-new Alfasud, that near-mass-produced small car from the new Alfa Romeo factory near Naples, after a colleague had tried the normal version of this interesting newcomer, with its Citroen GS-like (but water-cooled) flat-four o.h.c. engine driving the front wheels. He was seriously inconvenienced when carburation trouble, not then cured, intervened. This did not endear him to the latest Italian product from a long and illustrious line of race-bred motor cars. But soon he was en route for Naples to try the slightly more powerful and distinctly better appointed Ti model, which he found such a worthy little vehicle that he described it as the best small car in the world.
No finer label could be attached to the new package carrying the respected Alfa Romeo badge and naturally I waited patiently for an opportunity to form a personal opinion of the Alfasud. This came about eventually and I found myself leaving the BMW 520i at the office with the usual reluctance, especially as I had a strenuous weekend’s motoring to Lancashire and Cumbria ahead of me.
First impressions of the little Alfa were that it is rather ugly, with long snout but chopped-off rear on which a spoiler that did not match the blue paintwork had been stuck as an apparent afterthought, and that it was decidedly irritating that to open bonnet, or the cupboard-like boot, levers on the n/s of this r.h.d. car had to be used. That for the boot is on the floor beside the passenger’s seat and is obviously an anti-theft idea. But divorced from the driver, and with no stay on the boot lid, it makes only for maximum inconvenience. Later I was to find that the aerodynamics of the two-door body suck mud all over the vertical back of the car when the roads are heavy, the low-set boot handle then becoming filthy—the side windows of the car also pick up much dirt. The interior appointments of the Ti, which sells here for £1,717.55, or £1,732.55 with cloth upholstery, are better than those of the £1,422.71 basic model but it remains a somewhat “tinny” little car. In the Ti there is a tachometer to match the speedometer, and small angled central instruments showing oil-pressure (40 to 60 lb./sq. in.) and water heat (usually 80 deg. C), by Veglia Borletti with the famous Alfa Romeo badge on the dials; a matching clock can be fitted. There is also a fitted carpet and other changes that were detailed in our earlier report. Moreover, the interior space of the Alfasud is notable, full advantage having been taken of the f.w.d. configuration to make five occupants as comfortable as in a full-size saloon. The seats are nicely contoured, the driver being tight-clasped in his, although the knob for squab angle adjustment is too close to the arm-rest on the door. The minor controls are conventional, except that the l.h. stalk works the turn-indicators and lamps, continental-fashion, and the electric screen-washer control cannot at first be found, as it consists of a tiny button on the extremity of the r.h. stalk. The small pedals are all at the same level, good for heel-and-toeing, but they are too closely spaced, with the accelerator unfortunately very biased to the left, to clear the front wheel arch. There is a rest for a small left foot when it is off the clutch pedal. The position of the steering wheel can be adjusted over about 45 mm. and the driving position is thus excellently contrived. Fresh air vents are found at the facia extremities, adjustable vents on the screen sill, and consistent warmth is supplied by the heater. Curiously, the heater-blower is operated from the r.h. stalk. Grouped warning-lights above the steering column are for choke, flashers, lamps-on (this one had an attack of the flickers), and high-beam. There is a deep under-facia shelf and a small unlidded central well ahead of the gear-lever. Driving vision is reduced by thick screen pillars and the sloping back window. The Ti has four not very effective circular headlamps.
I was, then, disappointed that in the shut of its doors and general demeanour this Alfasud seemed no different from any other small car, and looking under the bonnet was surprised to find unguarded belt and pulleys to the camshafts. The mangle-like noise when the engine was idling was also quite startling! But as I drove across London to the M40 on the first day with the Alfasud I felt immediately at home in it and was pleased to find it fast and effortless, for a 1,186 c.c. car. The 80-bore engine will rev. to 6,000 r.p.m. (the warning on the tachometer commences at 5,750 r.p.m., with the “red” from 6,250 r.p.m.) and if the five-speed gearbox with its well-spaced ratios is used, there is good performance. However, many small cars go very well these days and while not despising the 100 m.p.h. cruising speed of this Ti, I think that, as with the Citroen GS, it would benefit from a larger engine. The additional 5 b.h.p. of the Ti model is not sufficient to lift the Alfasud very far above the common rut of the faster small saloons. The gear-lever is well placed, especially for those drivers who prefer an arms-stretch Farina stance (for me, it was a trifle too far back) but it does call for continual use when you are in a hurry and even then I would have liked a better response.
To offset this shortcoming there is notably good road-holding and cornering from the coil-spring suspension, which permits the car to rock slightly when braked from a crawl. Its flexibility and superb road-grip reminded me of the springing characteristics of bigger Alfa Romeos I have had so much enjoyment from in the past. On dry and water-logged surfaces alike I had no complaints about the Ceat tyres. In flood water the engine showed no concern whatsoever. Another very good aspect of this little car is its quiet cruising in the 3.827 fifth gear. Again on the credit side, the all-disc servo brakes of the Ti are light to apply and so effective and reassuring that you never give them a thought. The clutch is light and the gear positions conventional, the gearlever with no more spring-loading than is usual with five forward speeds, so that only very occasionally did I wrong-slot. I do not rate this change any more highly than that provided by many other 5-speed gearboxes, however. The rack-and-pinion steering, at just less than 3-3/4 turns lock-to-lock., is beautifully smooth and light, except when power is on and the front-drive augments the castor return, although normally this self-centring is only effective from small turning angles. Otherwise, there is little indication that this is a front-drive car and normally cornering is neutral.
With no opportunity to take performance figures I must accept the catalogue claim of 100 m.p.h. top pace and the ability to cover s.s. kilo. in 35.6 sec. The engine gives 68 DIN b.h.p. at 6,000 r.pm. As for fuel economy, I got 35.8 m.p.g. of 4-star fuel in mostly ordinary-road rapid motoring and 33.3 m.p.g. on the long haul up the M5/M6 motorways. This notable overall economy of 34-1/2 m.p.g. may soon have to be used to offset ever-rising living costs, making the Alfasud a good present-time investment. Inspection of the accessible dip-stick showed no oil consumed in 1,135 miles. The fuses and Scaini battery are also fully accessible under the self-propping and releasing front-hinged bonnet. Incidentally, a small refinement is that the temperature warning-light glows when heat is below 45 deg. C; until then there should be restraint with the accelerator. The fuel gauge has a low-level light and the tank filler, under the flap on the n/s, a rather awkward threaded cap. The choke/ hand-throttle knob for the Weber 32D 1R41 carburetter is hidden under the steering column, which is probably why the choke warning is the biggest in the lights-cluster.
To conclude, this new Alfasud is a very nice little machine but it badly needs a 1,300 or 1,500 c.c. engine. That would make it quite outstanding! As it is, its refinement, high cornering power, spaciousness and economy make it the kind of New Motoring people will soon have to contemplate. I enjoyed my spell with this Alfasud Ti, with the aforesaid reservation of not quite enough power, for it is a very acceptable small car.—W.B.