A tale of two Alfas



Comments on the Giulia Sprint Speciale and Giulia TI saloon

The Alfa Romeo is a car no road-tester can ignore, and when the prices of the smaller Alfa Romeo saloons were drastically reduced some considerable time ago Motor Sport considered that these twin-cam Italian saloons should make a strong appeal to British buyers and sought to investigate them. This proved less easy than I had anticipated, and in defence against those readers who have written and telephoned to inquire why no road-test report on the Giulia had appeared in these pages, I can only say that we wrote, telephoned, and even made personal calls on T. & T., coming away with promises, but without cars. Last Motor Show time I was invited to the Alfa Romeo reception and as we sipped our drinks and looked out from the umpteenth floor of the Hilton across the twinkling nightscape of the Metropolis, Shepherd-Barron himself assured me that, as a potential customer as well as a road-tester, very soon I would be able to realise an ambition and sample a Giulia…

I heard nothing more until March, when the telephone rang and we were offered two Alfa Romeos in succession if we cared to insure them – the long-awaited Giulia TI and the eye-catching Giulia Sprint Speciale coupé.

The saloon, so properly called a TI and not a GT (Dagenham please note!) proved to have been worth waiting for. On paper it has an irresistible specification for a family saloon priced at £1,397, p.t. and Import Duty included. Apart from the satisfaction of having an Alfa Romeo, here is an upright, square saloon capable of 105 m.p.h., possessing good acceleration from a 92-b.h.p. engine which has a 5-bearing crankshaft below and twin overhead camshafts above to ensure smooth running, a usable 5-speed gearbox, vacuum-servo-assisted disc brakes all round, coil-spring suspension and a light, properly-located back axle. Inside there is an air of quality, the driving position is excellent, the four doors shut impeccably – in brief, the Alfa Romeo Giulia TI creates a very good first impression.

Further acquaintance confirmed these impressions. The Giulia saloon is very quick about the place. Its five gear ratios are so well spaced that all are usable, it being possible to go into 5th speed at 40/45 m.p.h. without letting the alloy-head high-revving engine slog. Fourth gear is rather lower than a normal 4th or top gear, providing an ideal ratio for getting through town traffic. The long and substantial central gear-lever is spring loaded to the 3rd- and 4th-gear locations. The changes can be made very rapidly but the lever movements would probably be more acceptable in a l.h.d. car, when the highest ratio would be engaged by thrusting the lever away from the driver instead of bringing it towards him. Slight confusion can be occasioned because a change-down normally implies moving the gear-lever forward, whereas an Alfa Romeo driver pulls the lever back and lets it spring over to 4th gear from 5th speed. The spring loading makes the gear-change rather tiring to use.

The seating position seems unusually high, but this gives a good view of the road and a well-placed steering wheel. The suspension is supple, so that fast cornering occasions some roll, but the ride is notably pitch-free, and although the wheels can be heard rising and falling over obstructions, shock is splendidly insulated from the occupants. The movement becomes rather lively only over bad surfaces. I did not like the seats. The cushions have that “inflated beach ball” texture and were too short. The squabs adjusted easily, however.

The twin-cam engine, without which the car would not be an Alfa Romeo, zizzed a bit towards its peak speed of 6,000 r.p.m. but is delightfully smooth and eager. It accelerates with a purposeful hard noise. Complementary to the excellent performance are rather remarkable brakes, inasmuch as for very modest pedal pressures they appear to be doing very little work, until rapid retardation is called for, when they really do arrest the Giulia, progressively and entirely unobtrusively. It is even necessary to back-off on the pedal until one is fully accustomed to their power, to achieve the required degree of progressiveness. The hand-brake is conventional. The clutch and brake pedals rise from the floor instead of being pendant – an Alfa feature.

The steering is very commendable – light, accurate, with the right amount of castor-return and only mild feed-back.

Inside the Alfa there is not very much oddments stowage because the cubby-hole is a stupid shape, although parcels-nets are provided on the backs of the front seat squabs. The facia contains a miniature tachometer reading rather vaguely to 7,000 r.p.m., the red sector starting at 6,000 r.p.m., a strip speedometer with trip and total odometers, and four neat, non-dazzling indicator lights which illuminate the words. “dynamo,” “reserve,” “lights” and “heater fan.” Normally I am not very fond of indicator lights but these are amongst the neatest of their kind. Two r.h. stalks, sufficiently far apart to obviate fumbling, control turn-indicators and lamps, with provision for dipped-beam headlamps-flashing from the dual headlamps. Under-facia plated levers control the heater, choke and hand throttle. The bonnet has a prop, but the boot-lid, which shuts as nicely as the doors, is self-supporting, revealing a big if boxy boot. The rear seat has a central arm-rest and the front quarterlights wind shut. The opposed wipers left an unswept area in the centre of the screen but the foot-operated wipers/washers were useful.

I was just beginning to thoroughly enjoy driving this Giulia TI, including retrieving the Continental Correspondent in it from a broken-down Marcos 1800, when the clutch pedal became divorced from the clutch. As the two components are apparently mechanically linked the car had to be collected by T. & T.s for repair. I assumed this would take a matter of hours but on telephoning to inquire after its health I was told that the gearbox was suspect. I have not seen the car since, so it has been impossible to photograph the Giulia or to complete the test. My faith in Alta Romeo reliability and servicing facilities has been jolted but no doubt readers will be eager to confirm or dispel any anxiety in our correspondence pages.

The clutch failure occurred after 580 miles. In this distance the engine had consumed about 1/2-a-pint of oil. Driving hard, a colleague checked the consumption of premium petrol as 24.4 m.p.g.

* * * * *

The Giulia S.S. promised to be an exciting proposition. In fact, it was a disappointment.

In appearance this Alfa Romeo Bertone-bodied coupé, which sells in this country for £2,394, attracts much favourable attention. It is a 2-door coupé under 4-1/2 feet high. The interior arrangements are entirely different from those of the Giulia TI. Before the driver are three hooded Veglia dials, tachometer on the left, with red sector from 7,000 – 8,000 r.p.m., 140-m.p.h. speedometer on the right and a centre dial incorporating oil and water thermometers reading to 260° F., fuel gauge, and sidelamps and turn-indicators lights. The oil-pressure gauge (normal reading 60 lb/sq. in.) is in the tachometer dial. Three central knobs, respectively, light a cigarette and put on the wipers and the lamps (single Carello headlamps).

Under-facia plated levers are paired on the left to work the heater, on the right of the steering column to control choke and hand-throttle, the former having a reminder light. There is also a warning light which comes on when the heating system has reached working temperature, perhaps to prevent drowsiness on the autostrada? A l.h. stalk works the turn-flashers, a r.h. stalk dips the lamps. In the hub of the small, low-set, 3-spoke steering wheel is the horn-push, ringed by the lamps-flasher. Turning a lockable knob before the passenger lowers a useful parcels’ container and there are pockets in the doors. The doors dispense with quarter-lights; the driver’s window takes six turns of the winder to fully lower it. The door handles are too close to the winders for the safety of fat fists. The side windows open as vents, held on toggles. The somewhat obstructed rear-view mirror is supplemented by a good o/s. wing mirror, three flick switches look after facia lighting, interior lamp (courtesy action also) and heater-fan, and gear and (fly-off) brake levers are centrally located, and conventional. There is an ashtray in the propeller-shaft tunnel behind the gear-lever. The passenger has a substantial grab-handle and there is the usual seat for luggage or legless kids behind the two front seats.

The floor level cloth-upholstered seats are not particularly comfortable and after the TI’s adjustable seat-squabs it is disappointing to have to get out and unscrew the supports before those in the expensive S.S. can be adjusted – perhaps, however, this is because the Sprint Speciale isn’t a car to go to sleep in…

A lever on the n/s. under the scuttle releases the bonnet panel, to reveal an engine compartment filled by the twin-carn 1,570-c.c. engine with its two twin-choke 40DCOE Webers. This power unit develops 112 (net) b.h.p. at 6,500 r.p.m. on a c.r. of 9.7 to 1. Bosch electrics and a Fispa fuel pump are encountered under the bonnet and there is a bug-deflector panel behind it. The body has indents to enable the push-button external door handles to be operated easily, but, I was told, they are hard on a girl’s fingernails. Of the interior door-handles forward of the arm-rests, the o/s. one lifts, the n/s. one is depressed to open a door. The driver’s door tended to stick. The Vdo washers’ water-bag is inside the car, by the passenger’s left foot, presumably to prevent it from freezing.

The lockable boot-lid opens to reveal a huge petrol filler of the type associated with pre-war racing cars, the Tudor battery, the spare wheel lying flat, and enough space for toothbrush, nightie and a squig-bag. Rather surprisingly, the Giulia S.S. was shod with HS Pirelli Cinturatos; the TI was on Cinturato S.

This Alfa Romeo Sprint Speciaie is an attractive and covetable car at the kerbside. It is in action that it causes disillusionment. It is necessary to run the engine for a couple of minutes before moving off to warm the gearbox oil, otherwise the syncromesh is liable to be damaged. In this, an insensitive hand throttle doesn’t help, while the ignition-key-cum-starter lock had worked loose and was rotating, necessitating awkward use of two hands every time the engine was started. The gearbox had presumably already been badly treated, because there was little or no syncromesh left on bottom and 2nd, although quiet engagement was possible by using to the full the long and rather heavy clutch pedal travel. The pedal is so close to the transmission tunnel, however, that this necessitates careful positioning of the left foot.

The 5-speed gearbox naturally calls for longer spells in 3rd and 4th gears than on the Giulia TI, although the engine is really quite docile. There is a great deal of noise from the Webers when accelerating, which is exhilarating for a time, then merely fatigue-making. By backing off on the throttle it is possible to kill the noise, but the engine likes to turn fast, when it smooths out admirably. This entails continual gear-changing, and combined with the aforesaid noise, is a tiring process.

The car has a top speed of over 120 m.p.h. under favourable conditions (the speedometer showed 133 m.p.h. at 6,500 r.p.m.); its acceleration figures are shown in the accompanying table. Clutch slip intruded and made more than one run to 90 m.p.h. inadvisable.

The handling was a disappointment. The S.S. seems to have inherited supple springing from the Giulia saloons and on bumpy roads or in a cross-wind it becomes quite a handful at over 80 m.p.h., while in the wet fast motoring is better forgotten. At high cornering speeds the S.S. slides freely, oversteering under power but changing to understeer on the over-run in a manner which is very difficult to balance with the throttle. There is also an unpleasant effect best described as bump-steering, which deflects the car, even on surfaces like that of M1. The steering is high-geared, at 2-1/2 turns, lock-to-lock, transmits some kick-back, is rather “dead,” and is heavy when parking, otherwise reasonably light. The spongy brakes need a good prod to render them effective, but are undeniably efficient if treated thus (this Alfa Romeo has Girling discs only on the front wheels). On full lock there was a rubbing noise in the region of the o/s. rear hub or brake.

Headroom and forward visibility are limited and the 45° rear window becomes obscured by rain-drops – there is a considerable shelf behind it. Nor is the demisting over eager and there is bad reflection in the instrument dials. The dipstick, difficult to remove, to insert and to wipe, showed that 1/2-a-gallon of oil was required after less than 1,000 miles’ motoring. (A telephone call elicited the agent’s preference for Shell X100 20/40). Admittedly this included performance checking and fast driving.

In spite of the foregoing criticisms, there is no gainsaying the ability of the Alfa Romeo S.S. to cover the ground, and it is exhilarating in a “boy racer” manner, when one is in the right mood. A colleague tells me he was able to consume the 89 miles of the M1/10 Motorway now open in 48 minutes. Turning at the final roundabout and returning, he saw 100 miles come up in 54-1/2 minutes, and the car cruised comfortably at 6,000 r.p.m. (117 m.p.h.), putting 111 miles in an hour’s Motorway driving. It is reassuring under such conditions to find that the needle of the oil-temperature gauge doesn’t rise from the lowest point on its scale (120° F.). Water temperature remained at approx. 130° F.

In very mixed running conditions, varying from town pottering to high-speed work on Motorways, the consumption of 100-octane petrol averaged 21.7 m.p.g. Accepting the maker’s figure of 17-1/4 gallons’ tank capacity, this represents a range of 374 miles; the reserve warning lights come on when several gallons remain.

Although the Giulia S.S. is an attractive, if bulbous, car, it has certain shortcomings, so that only very keen Alfa Romeo followers are likely to fall for it at the price it sells for in this country. – W. B.