Road impressions

The Alfa Romeo Giulietta 1.6

Alfa Romeo first used the name Giulietta on a trend-setting sporting saloon introduced n 1955. Now it adorns Alfa’s new gap-filler model ‘twixt the Alfa Sud and Alfetta. I never drove the original Giulietta, but by all accounts it was a delightful handling and performing, compact package. This latest bearer of the name will certainly not disgrace it; the 1.6 version is in the UK (a 1.3 is available in other countries) s a little charmer, producing excellent performance from its modest capacity, allied to handling, roadholding, braking and general character which make it an absolute joy to drive.

A four-door, four-seater, the new model is based on the floor pan and running gear of the Alfetta, the range of which has been rationalised down to just one model, the 2000L, so that there is no conflict between the 1.6 Giulietta and the earlier 1.6 and 1.8 versions of the Alfetta. Thus it has a five speed gearbox mounted in a rear transaxle unit, a coil-sprung, De Dion rear axle arrangement located by Watts linkage and diagonal trailing arms, and with telescopic dampers and an anti-roll bar, and torsion bar, wishbone front suspension, again with telescopic dampers and an anti-roll bar.

Alfa Romeo’s classic, long-stroke, all aluminium, chain-driven twin overhead camshaft, in-line four-cylinder engine lies beneath the heavy, rear hinged bonnet. In Giulietta 1.6 guise it has dimensions of 78 mm. x 82 mm. for a capacity of 1,570 c.c., runs a 9:1 compression ratio and breathes efficiently through two twin-choke, side-draught Dellorto carburetters. It produces 109 b.h.p. at 5,600 r.p.m. and 105 lb. ft. torque at 4,300 r.p.m.

An up-turned stubby tail looks as though it had an accident when being unloaded from the transporter and caused many a grimace, including from my wife, who consequently hated the car to start with, then drove it and was totally captivated. At least the aerodynamically efficient, wedge-shape styling is distinctive, not another look-alike European square box, and adds another dimension to the Giulietta’s individualistic character. The short tail makes for compactness, the depth of its boot compensates for length and the tip of the spoiler is a great aid to parking judgement.

John Miles made a point in Autocar recently (he was in turn citing John Bolster) that one of the main priorities for sporting motoring was a narrow car. I couldn’t agree more, although my feelings for the likes of wide cars such as Aston Martins and Lotus admittedly conflict. This Giulietta is a narrow car with clearly defined extremities. The driver sits high, in a commanding position with particularly good forward vision. One still has to adopt a semi-Italianate posture, but Alfa are gradually learning that we aren’t all deformed. The steering column adjusts for rake and the seat back rest has vernier adjustment. The cloth-trimmed seats give good location, are pleasantly comfortable and all told I was very happy with the way this compact saloon cosseted me. Indeed I thought it slightly more comfortable than the Alfetta 2000 (see Motor Sport, July 1978). The interior is surprisingly spacious.

Unfortunately Alfa Milano have let loose their eccentric interior designer once more. He has oozed out another chocolate brown moulding for the facia, complete with shallow, unlockable, awkward to slide drawer as a cubby hole and an odd instrument layout in a rectangular nacelle ahead of the driver. I know I confused myself when writing about the Alfetta 2000 tachometer needle’s direction of travel, but really, the Giulietta’s instrument does work anticlockwise! Drum-type gauges cater for water temperature, fuel level for the 11 gallon tank and oil pressure. Red figures in a digital clock set in the screen rail above the mirror are illuminated only when the ignition is on. All major switch functions are controlled by three column stalks.

I normally start Alfa Romeo engines from cold by priming the carburetters with a few pumps of the throttle; in the cold weather of the test, the Giulietta preferred some choke and took rather longer than my Spider Veloce to run cleanly. As always, I followed Alfa’s advice to warm up the engine and gearbox with the help of the separate hand throttle before driving off. This is essential to the longevity of Alfa synchromesh and when you drive away with the gearbox oil still stiff the reason is obvious; second gear is almost impossible to select without forcing it. Whenever road conditions allow me to do so without overloading the engine, I usually change direct from first to third on the first gear-change of the day on my own Alfa; that way I hope second gear synchromesh will survive. The Giulietta’s gearchange retains the Alfetta range’s notchiness in first and second even when warm, but the long linkage to the transaxle doesn’t impede the rest of the gate.

The low final drive ratio (4.3:1) and closely stacked, all-indirect gear ratios are typically Alfa Romeo, allowing the free-revving engine to sing sweetly right through the range. The 0.83:1 fifth is ostensibly an overdrive, but the low overall gearing and good spread of torque make it a usable gear in most conditions. This 1.6 doesn’t have the fifth gear accelerative characteristics of 2-litre Alfas, however. It’s the sheer harmony of gear ratios to engine behaviour that make the Giulietta such smooth fun to drive. At an easily reached rev, limit of 6,400 r.p.m. speeds in the gears are 30 m.p.h., 50 m.p.h., 75 m.p.h., close on 100 m.p.h. in fourth and a claimed 108 m.p.h. in fifth. So the gearbox needs using to get the best from this saloon, comparatively heavy at just over 21 cwt. Cruising on the open road the story is different, for like all Alfas the Giulietta confounds its low gearing and becomes extraordinarily long-legged, so that it always feels to be going more slowly than reality. Three figure speeds are more difficult to achieve than in the larger engined Alfas, but once there this little 1.6 bowls along unprotestingly. Hard acceleration is accompanied by that rasping musical mixture of induction and exhaust roar unique to Alfa, an exciting urgency of tone which is always pleasurable, never offensive and disappears when the throttle is only lightly applied. Wind noise is well controlled, while suspension and tyre noise suppression is exceptional.

The rack and pinion steering is too low geared around town, 4.6 turns of the wheel being required from lock to lock for a turning circle of 35.9 ft. Yet the big Opel Senator tested elsewhere in this issue has a lock of only 32 ft. and needs only 3 2/3 turns from one steering stop to the other. Understeer feels predominant when hurrying through the back doubles, exaggerated by the amount of lock which has to be applied. These criticisms aside, the Giulietta is a good town car by virtue of its nippiness, compactness and ease of parking.

Out of town the true breeding comes out. The light steering and handling comes alive, the response and balance show themselves as quite marvellous and taut. Nothing seems to uspet it, whether there be bumps in mid corner or unexpected mud from a farm tractor. I thrashed the test car round a route which wouldn’t have been out of place in a Motoring News road rally and its behaviour was impeccable. There is quite a lot of roll, yet it isn’t sloppy and the car reacts beautifully to sudden changes of direction. Yet again Alfa Romeo have achieved extraordinarily high roadholding powers whilst sticking to narrow 165SR 13 tyres on 5½J rims. These narrow treads avoid all the annoyances of white-lining and bump reaction which wider tyres tend to give. Very severe provocation indeed is needed to “unstick” the Giulietta with the relatively modest power available. The same story goes for traction, when the transaxle layout and De Dion really score. Brake performance is another Alfa Romeo forte and those on the Giulietta are no exception. With 25 cm. disc brakes all round, inboard at the rear, those 21 cwt. are slowed very quickly, progressively and smoothly, undisturbed by bumps or changing road surfaces. At first I thought them slightly over-servoed, but this feeling soon disappeared. Persistent heavy use caused the pedal to lengthen slightly, but without the penalty of fade. Straight line stability is extremely good, even in strong cross winds, a complement to the be-spoilered wedge shape, and ride comfort is excellent.

Economy was not a strong point of the test car. A combination of city traffic and very hard driving out of town pulled it down to 20.6 m.p.g. on one tankful, when my own 2000 Spider never does worse than 21 m.p.g. when similarly driven. My best consumption figure was 23 m.p.g. I suspect that these figures might be abnormal; going by experience with previous 1,600 c.c. Alfas, 27-28 m.p.g. ought to be nearer the average.

At £4,500, the Giulietta 1.6 is pitched into a very competitive market including models like the BMW 316, Triumph Dolomite 1850, the 2-litre Fiat Mirafiori Sport (which I have yet to try the – 1,600 c.c. Super Mirafiori twin-cam car was disappointing, though it is £750 cheaper than the Giulietta), but I doubt whether any of them possess the same character and joie de vivre as this Giulietta. And in this model Alfa Romeo do seem to have taken adequate precautions to defeat their dreaded enemy, rust. – C. R.