A Great Little Car Costing Only £3,000
It was fine to be back in an Alfa Romeo product again, after all too long a lapse, even if the car I tried was only in the guise of the 1.3-litre Alfasud ti. It is well known that the original Alfasud, that front-drive small car from Naples, had almost everything an enthusiast confined to the lower-priced saloons could want, except acceptable performance. Now you can have your Alfasud saloon with the 80 x 64 mm., 1,286 c.c., 75 DIN b.h.p. engine evolved for the Alfasud Sprint Coupé.
Thins gingers things up to a useful degree –that is, if you can go along with a very compact slab-back package that is a genuine 100 m.p.h. car and which will take you from rest to 60 m.p.h. in a fraction less than 12 seconds. Urge apart, this Alfasud is a charmingly individual concept. A water-cooled, flat-four engine with a belt-driven camshaft above each light-alloy cylinder head drives the front wheels through a good five-speed gearbox, a double-choke Weber carburettor supplies mixture to the widely-separated pairs of “pots”, suspension is by coil springs and struts at the front, a beam-axle on Watts linkage at the back, and the handbrake operates on the front wheels, retardation being by vacuum-servo-assisted disc brakes all round. Steering is by rack-and-pinion, nicely geared at less than 3½ turns, lock-to-lock.
The Alfasud has other individualities. For instance, of the two stalk-controls under the sporty three-spoke steering-wheel, that on the right has to be turned to actuate the 2-speed wipers, pulled inwards to sound an effective horn. It is also supposed to bring in the heater fan, which one weekly contemporary describes as “a nice piece of rationalisation” and another as “confusing the issue”; in my case I never did find this control, in a car sent out without a handbook, but the heater functioned admirably in icy weather without it. There are big old-fashioned rotatable facia-sill vents and powerful electric screen-washers. The rear quarter windows open to provide additional ventilation. The pedals are somewhat biased to the left and prefer slim shoes to work them. Driver vision is good. The steering-column adjusts for height but not reach but the fussy, if they have an allen-key, can alter the height of the driving-seat squab. The seats are notably comfortable, the squat angle of the front ones know-controlled, but the squab release on the passenger-seat was difficult to work.
The speedometer and tachometer dials are viewed past the steering wheel, and are supplemented by two small angled Veglia dials, for water, heat (Aqua) and oil-pressure (Olio) in the centre of the facia, with provision for a third dial, presumably a clock which was blank on the test-car. here again, the unusual is present, because the water-heat warning light shows, not when the engine is too hot, but to remind the driver to go easy on the revs until things gain a little warmth. The engine ran cool, at approx. 85°C reading, and normal oil pressure was 40lb./sq1 in. there are a series of neat warning lights, with the unlabelled small low-fuel-level light in the tachometer dial, the heat, generator- and oil-deficiencies lights in the dial of the tachometer, which is yellow-streaked from 5,750 to 6,250 r.p.m. and then red-lined on to the 8,000-r.p.m. mark. The only stowages are the full-width open under-facia shelf and a small open well on the console. The fuel gauge is part of the tachometer dial and is ridiculously pessimistic about running dry, as are so many such gauges and warning lights in this Motorway age.
The wide doors on this stubby two-door body still lack adequate “keeps” and the lid of the luggage cavern, which is actually a quite roomy boot, easy to load, is released only by a little lever down on the floor on the off-side, by the front passenger’s seat, a point missed entirely in two other road-test reports! It is inconvenient, but I suppose thiefproofing is the idea, and it does provide a cheap substitute for central-locking, if the tit on the passenger’s door is first depressed. The four Fiamm headlamps are halogen, put on my rotating the l.h. stalk, and with flick dimming. The well-placed gear-lever is strongly spring-loaded to the centre (like that of a 40/50 Rolls-Royce) but the changes can be quickly made, given a little driver concentration. The clutch is light and although this is front-wheel-drive car there is none of the snatchy take-off which used to plague some British Leyland and other cars.
There is an air-dam at the front of this 1.3 Alfasud and it has a tail-spoiler, both of which are said to be other than merely ornamental. The brakes are light and effective and this is a really jolly little car, in which to drive far and fast. One is, indeed, only reminded of the engine size when the revs go to 4,250 at an indicated 70 m.p.h. The suspension is said to be less good than that of the original ’Sud, but is has that pleasant Alfa Romeo characteristic of seeming absorbingly supple while keeping the 13-in. wheels (Kleber-shod on the test-car) on the road. Without exhibiting any unwanted f.w.d. tendencies, the road-holding and cornering of this attractive little car are highly reassuring. It is a roomy, comfortable, quite quiet fun-car, but although the seats are nicely appointed in cloth, with simulated leather edges, and there is full-width carpeting, and an anti-corrosion external finish (black on the test-car), the interior gives rather too great an impression of moulded-rubber and cheap plastic. This is a pity, for Alfa Romeo, in the ’Sud, have it in their power to present on of the finest de luxe small cars of all time.
I greatly enjoyed making re-acquaintance with the Alfasud in its more lively from, thought it splendid value-for-money at £3,000, and was much impressed by its commendable fuel-range of some 385 miles-which would mean that, if I had one, I could drive to the office and home again without refuelling, a comfortable thought should there ever be another tanker-drivers’ strike! In rather unfair conditions I got a fuel consumption of 34.0 m.p.g. of four-star fuel, which may not seem all that good against the formidable thrift now displayed by some 1½-litre and 2-litre cars, but which is satisfactory for a fast-driven, free-revving little engine. It needs use of a tucked-away manual choke to start it, by the way. Before setting off for my 260-mile haul to Silverstone and return I thought I had better check the oil-level. The front-hinged, self-propping, light bonnet lid is easily released (but the lever is on the n/s of the facia), revealing the interesting machinery, and the very accessible Fiamm battery and oil dip-stick. Hardly any lubricant had been consumed although horizontally-opposed engines often pump it about. I would put the oil consumption of the ’Sud at about 1,200 m.p.p.
The 2-speed heater fan is, in fact, operated by moving down the r.h. control stalk. The fuel tank holds 11 gallons, so that a driver able to resist the temptation to extend this willing little motor car might well obtain a range of 400 miles or over. The fuel filler is a screw-cap under a sprung flap on the nearside. The doors have very well-located “leather” pulls and, as I have inferred, the boot is of useful capacity, with the spare wheel hidden beneath the floor, but it let in rain after the car had spent a night in the open and the sealing did not look very convincing. The aforesaid combination of quick steering and effective springing make the Alfasud a very safe, “dodgeable” car, so it seems unfair that it is liable to be rated, even in 1,186 c.c. forms, as a Group 5 insurance risk. The seat-belts impede entry to the spacious back seat. Risk of a broken fan-belt is absent, as an electric fan is used, and minor servicing are 6,000 miles and major servicing is required only at 24,000-mile intervals, while the price of the ’Sud includes seat-belts and number plates. During the test a front tyre deflated and the wheel brace would not shift the wheel nuts. The two warning lights for lamps-on and head lamps full-beam in use do not dazzle the driver but the light from the diamond head lamps is very poor.
What a fantastic little car this Alfasud is. It is just the job for those not quite ready for Fiestas, Chevettes, Accords and the rest and it must surely constitute the ideal second car for those running vintage, pvt or larger Alfa Romeos. – W.B.
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