Turbocharged Alfa Romeo Alfasud 1.5 SC

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From just under £5,000 to nearly £7,000 the competition amongst motor manufacturers for the opportunity of selling you a faster small saloon (usually hatchback in style) is intense. Since the 1976 European advent of the Golf GTi — now further improved with a 112 b.h.p. 1.8-litre engine for £6,500 total — we have seen this sporting sector multiply rapidly. Today the choice includes Renault’s 5 Gordini Turbo at £5,752; the turbocharged Metro at £5,650 and two new Escort XR3 variants, the 105 b.h.p. XR3i from just over £6,000 and the £6,700 Ford RS1600i with 115 b.h.p. and sporting aspirations in international Group A. Add in similarly sporting devices from Fiat and Mitsubishi Colt, or even the £5,950 BMW 316 of 1.8-litres (what price teutonic logic today?) and one can see that the Alfa Romeo Alfasud owner must feel neglected in comparison.

ln the rich heartlands of Surrey one of Britain’s longest-serving and largest retail Alfa Romeo outlets, Bell & Colvill Ltd., decided they would instigate a turbocharged version of the Sud. Their reasoning was simple: the car has been with us for so long that its stunning roadholding and almost unique provision of four wheel disc brakes (a feature now shared with Renault’s turbo) had been overlooked. Of course the Alfasud was offering five gear small car motoring via front wheel drive in the days when the Ford Escort roamed unfettered with leaf sprung rear axle and a widely praised, but still quadruple ratio, gearbox.

Today B&C with their loyal collaborator Stuart Mathieson in nearby premises have experience of turbocharging that stretches from their pioneering Esprit to the 2-litre GTV and Giulietta Alfas: all have been submitted either to Motoring News or ourselves at various times and proved largely satisfactory, particularly the 2-litre GTV which had an exceptional turn of speed and docility.

On this occasion a very tight £1,000 cost limit for the turbocharging conversion was imposed and achieved. This is immediately apparent on the 1,490 c.c. (84 x 67.2 mm.) flat four engine of the SUD 4-registered demonstrator. A single large SU carburettor sucks air rather than taking pressure from the turbocharger as is the current practice, the latter more responsive layout a feature of Mathieson’s earlier Alfa Romeo work.

A Garret AiResearch T3 turbocharger of the type used in the SAAB turbo models provides up to 6-1/2 psi. maximum boost before a mechanical wastegate is called in to bypass excess pressure. The complete turbocharger unit is clearly visible atop the engine and is placed within a system that utilises stainless steel to the best effect for the exhaust manifolding. A paper air filter upon the SU provides the kind of snuffling induction note that used to be so familiar on many modified Minis.

Other changes to the standard specification are absent in pursuit of the cost aims, except for a central boost gauge mounted low enough that the driver has to switch his eyes consciously from the road in order to read it. This is important, for the art of driving this tall-geared Sud is to keep it off the boost unless it is specifically required. Reflecting this requirement is our worst fuel consumption figure of 21.52 m.p.g. against a best of 24.3 m.p.g. The latter was recorded on a long run to North Wales and back and covers both easy motorway 70-80 m.p.h. running “off boost” as well as some spirited snow motoring along tight terrain such as the Llanberis pass. Our overall m.p.g. figure for 800 logged miles was 23.38 m.p.g.

Cold starting manners were exemplary on the manual choke, but there were occasional surges in power delivery until full working temperature had been achieved. Unfortunately the easy starting was not matched at the low speed pulling characteristics: acceleration from 2,000 r.p.m. in fifth, roughly 40-45 m.p.h., is accompanied by pronounced boom in the Alfa driveline and body. From 60 to 90 m.p.h. the unit is at its best in fifth gear and provides such a power boost that Alfa’s previously unnaturally tall OD fifth becomes a naturally useable ratio. It is worth noting at this point that the standard engine provides 85 b.h.p. at 5,800 r.p.m. and that the B&C Sud’s compression ratio remains unaltered at 9:1 rather than the 9.5:1 of the twin carburettor models, which are credited with another 10 b.h.p.

Wound up beyond 3,500 r.p.m. full boost is indicated and this Sud would romp to 30, 58 and 86 m.p.h. at the limit of 6,250 r.p.m. we imposed for our test. The 100 m.p.h. mark comes up easily in fourth, with revs to spare, while 5,500 r.p.m. in fifth brought 110 m.p.h. indicated readily as well. In other words it feels as though B&C have provided a competitive amount of power for the class and allied it to a chassis and braking combination that others fail rematch, even on the rather sad and skinny Ceat tyres. On smooth roads the wide-tyred Escorts can bump round as rapidly as the new generation of turbocharged Metros, but for A to B with flair and ride comfort in supreme safety Alfa’s 1971-introduction remains a class leader in providing pleasure. Just so that you know I haven’t pocketed a hefty Italian bribe one can only add that it is a motoring tragedy that other aspects of the car do not equal such standards of excellence. . . .

However B&C offer for some £1,000 over the £5,150 list cost of the Sud 3-door SC Hatch a fully warranted Sud turbo that performs with such distinction in the hands of a driver sensitive enough to use the 3,500-6,000 r.p.m. power band provided. We cursed the boost gauge and the engine oil filler hidden beneath an oil drain return system, but overall the Sud provided that extra sparkle to everyday motoring that is Alfa Romeo’s most potent sales aid. — J.W.