The Alfa Romeo 2600 Sprint
A beautifully-appointed, smooth-running, extremely handsome Italian saloon with impeccable handling and controls.
The Alfa Romeo catalogue names the 2600 as the car long-awaited by discerning buyers. Motor Sport certainly has waited a very long time indeed to report on any Alfa Romeo, although I believe we did road-test a 22/90 model in 1927.
That the 2600 sprint saloon is a motor car well worth waiting for there is no denying. It is not just that it is beautifully made, technically exciting and very comprehensively equipped. It is all these things but the charm of this modern Alfa Romeo is enhanced further by the individuality of even the more mundane of its appointments, the smooth flow of power and unexpected flexibility of its 6-cylinder 83 x 79.6 mm. 2,582-c.c. twin-overhead-camshaft engine, and the precision and effectiveness of its controls.
The famous Milan concern has built o.h.c. power units for its race-bred cars for so many years that it would be unthinkable to find any other kind of engine beneath an Alfa Romeo bonnet. But, expected or not, the engine of the 2600 Sprint, with its triple Solex 44PHH carburetters united by a vast air-intake trunk that curves over across the camboxes from the off-side to the drum-shape air-cleaner on the near-side of the engine, is unquestionably impressive, and pleasing to the eye of an engineer. This fine power unit provides 145 (D.I.N.) or 165 (S.A.E.) h.p. at the impressive crankshaft speed of 5,900 r.p.m. The cylinder head has the classic hemispherical combustion chambers and the camshafts are driven by two silent chains. Other highlights of the Alfa Romeo specification are an oil radiator incorporated with the water radiator, the 5-speed gearbox, a rigid but lightweight back axle located by upper triangle and lower links and sprung on coil-springs, and vacuum-servo-assisted front disc and helicoidal-finned rear drum brakes. The electrics are 12-volt Marelli.
Alfa Romeo Appointments
Even before a wheel turns, the Bertone-bodied Alfa Romeo 2600 is found to be a beautifully-appointed motor car. Indeed, in trying to convey what a splendid possession it is, and what unadulterated joy is derived from driving it, I find it difficult to avoid superlatives!
The test car was a l.h.d. model, but the Sprint, which is the 2+2 (or 4-seater) 2-door coupé, will soon be available in r.h.d. form. The two front seats are very large, separate bucket-type chairs, the adjustable-for-rake squabs of which hinge forward at a slight angle to give access to the rear seat, which has a folding central arm-rest. There are map pockets in the back of the front-seat squabs. Leg-room is limited in the back compartment but the Alfa Romeo Sprint is definitely a 4-seater car.
The test car, which I rate one of the most handsome of automobiles, was finished a sober gunmetal and upholstered in beige leather of unmistakable quality. This upholstery is used for the lower edge of the facia, the doors shut quietly and the final air of luxury is imparted by electric window lifts. The last-named are arranged as tiny two-way switches, one on the driver's door, that for the passenger's window on the facia but within easy reach of the driver's right hand. The quarter-lights are controlled by knurled knobs, as on a Mercedes-Benz, for quick and convenient action. One very notable aspect of this 2600 Sprint coupé is the extremely good all-round visibility, provided by a very large window area and slim screen and window pillars. This gives pleasure to scenery-loving occupants and enhances the safety factor, because the driver has good vision when arriving at angled intersections, for instance.
The steering wheel is exactly the right size, a business-like 3-spoke racing affair, but with a somewhat slippery rim, so that wearing "go-quickly" gloves isn't entirely affectation. There is a conventional pull-up central floor hand-brake lever, fairly close to the seat cushion on the left of the transmission tunnel but fully accessible.
The fairly long, heavy, rigid central floor gear-lever is strongly spring-loaded to the 3rd and 4th-gear positions, when it lies on the centre-line of the car, well cranked back. To select the 5th, or highest, forward speed, the lever is moved to the right and forward. In this position the driver reaches out for the lever knob rather than letting his hand drop on to it, but this is in keeping with the demeanour of this Alfa Romeo, which is a car to drive purposefully, not casually.
Reverse is engaged by pressing down the knob and moving the lever below the 5th-gear position, when it rests on the passenger's seat cushion if this seat is set forward to give rear-passenger leg space. There is unbeatable synchromesh on all five ratios.
The doors have arm-rests-cum-"pulls," and map pockets, with an additional pocket on the off-side, presumably to take the servicing schedule, as on a Vauxhall, and the interior handles just ahead of the arm-rests lift to open and press down and up again to lock the doors. The external handles are extremely neat, flush-fitting lift-up type, with statically-mounted locks to the rear of the handles. Hooded before the driver are three Meglia dials of equal diameter, the centre one a composite oil-temperature (120/190/260), water-temperature (260/190/120) and fuel (0 / 1/2 / 4/4) gauge, a reserve light indicating long before petrol starvation sets in (in fact, when 1 1/2 to 1.8 gallons remain). There is also a sidelamps-in-use warning light. The I.h. dial is a 150-m.p.h. speedometer calibrated in figures every 20 m.p.h., with trip with decimal and total mileometers and indicator lights for heater fan(s) and dynamo. The r.h. dial is the tachometer, reading from 1,000 to 8,000 r.p.m., with the red background from 6,250 r.p.m. onwards, and incorporating the oil-pressure gauge (0/55/110 lb. sq. in.). Between the dials are indicator lights for choke in use and full-beam. Matching these, above, are the twin rectangular direction-indicators lights.
At each end of the wide wood-strip facia are aircraft type, swivelling fresh-air vents. Between the left-hand vent and the speedometer is the pull-out knob for side and headlamps. Balancing this to the right of the dials is the knob for the 2-speed wipers. The centre of the facia is occupied by a "2600 Sprint" motif, to the right of which is the cigarette-lighter, then the r.h. window-lift switch, and a Blaupunkt push-button radio, the neat extensible aerial for which is at the off-side rear of the body. The rear window panels open on toggles for better ventilation.
Below the main panel, on the beige-leather-upholstered area, from I. to r., are the ignition-cum-starter switch, with baulking action between each operation of the key, and, before the driver, three flick switches, the I.h. one bringing in the fan for demisting the rear window or for both front and rear demisting (did I say this Alfa Romeo is very fully appointed?), the middle one controlling the two side-located roof lamps (which do not have courtesy action) and the r.h. one the panel lighting. Hanging below the facia are two plated pull-back levers, for choke and hand-throttle. The facia sill is covered in black leather.
A centre panel carries the two heater control knobs, labelled coldo, freddo, chiuso and sbrinamento, and an ingenious map light, whereby, on lifting a plated flap, brilliant but partially shielded illumination becomes available.
Before the passenger, also leather upholstered, is a drop-drawer, for stowage of oddments, which is lockable with the door key. A push-button ash-tray is accommodated behind the gearlever.
From the foregoing it will be seen just how comprehensively this 2600 Sprint is appointed and the practical nature of its minor controls. The knobs are small and neat, with International symbols, those for lamps and wipers convenient to left and right hands, and they work nicely. Two more items are excellently planned. In the steering-wheel centre is the horn-push, bearing the classic cross-cum-serpent badge, flanked by the daylight headlamps' flasher control in the form of a depressable ring—very neat, and enabling both warnings to be used together, to shift stubborn slow-speed commuters. A foot-operated washers-cum-wipers control is the other very welcome item, also found on Fiats. The wipers are effective, even the right-hand corner of the screen being kept clear. A slender l.h. stalk with rather long travel controls the direction-flashers. The headlamp dipper is a foot button and there is plenty of room to rest the foot between this and the clutch pedal.
Even now I have not exhausted the many excellent features of the car. The bonnet release, for instance, is a pull-back lever under the scuttle, very easily reached by the driver, and functioning lightly. The forward-hinged bonnet lid, also light, has to he propped-up but the prop is so easy to use that this can be forgiven. Twelve fuses are extremely accessibly located under the bonnet, for ignition; instruments; flashers and wipers; heater and brake lights; inside lamps and window lift; radio and window lift; sidelamps, reversing lamps and fog lamps; rear lamps and panel lighting; I.h. headlamps; r.h. headlamps; l.h. dipped headlamps and r.h. dipped headlamps. After which it seems hardly necessary to add that an under-bonnet lamp is provided and that the luggage boot is illuminated as its lid rises!
The lid of the slab-ended tail is unlocked from the sill below it and rises to disclose a moderately large luggage space; it shuts as unobtrusively as the doors! The battery is accommodated on the off-side, behind a continuation of the rubber-cloth lining, the spare wheel is below the floor and there is a very comprehensive tool-kit, complete with tyre-gauge. Incidentally, I like the refinement, whereby you increase tyre pressures by just 1 lb./sq. in. for high speed, from 29/31 to 30/32.
To complete this examination of this very striking and handsome car, side ash-trays are provided for the rear passengers above the arm-rests, there are soft swivelling vizors with vanity mirror, a reasonably effective anti-dazzle mirror, and all the pedals are at the same level and close together, permitting simultaneous operation of brakes and throttles. The clutch and brake pedals are of non-pendant pattern, covered with non-slip rubbers. A small crank handle is provided for use should the electric window lifts fail, there are roof hand grips for all three passengers and the deep rear shelf is usefully lipped.
The curved front grille carrying the famous Alfa Romeo dummy radiator in the centre and the dual Carello headlamps (40/45 watt outer, 45 watt dipping inner) add greatly to the impressive appearance of the car, as does the shallow air-intake on the bonnet panel. Unobtrusive bumpers, parking lamps and badges contribute. The unsecured petrol cap, rather difficult to remove, is concealed behind a locked flap on the off-side. The test car was shod with Pirelli Cinturauto HS tyres, which gripped well and did not protest on fast corners.
The only criticisms I have to offer of the details of this 2600 Sprint are that the door arm-rests somewhat impede the map pockets, that reflections make the dial readings slightly difficult to determine, and that the doors lack effective "keeps," also that the hand-throttle is insensitive. After which, it is disappointing to have to report that the body showed rust in several places, some of the fittings were crudely made and as the tests progressed the doors closed badly, having dropped on their hinges.
The Alfa Romeo in Motion
Driving the 6-cylinder Alia Romeo is a rare pleasure, because this is a car that responds to good driving and the overall characteristics of which blend one with the other to achieve a very high standard of near-perfection.
Three pumps on the hanging-treadle accelerator suffice to start the engine, without recourse to the choke. It is a very quiet power unit, emitting only a slight suggestion of efficient machinery until rather disturbing noise intrudes above 5,500 r.p.m., and it is smooth right through the r.p.m. range. On the road there is ample performance without going much beyond 4,000 r.p.m., and unexpected docility. The geared-up 5th speed, far from being merely an autostrada gear, is used frequently in ordinary driving and the car runs contentedly at 30 m.p.h. (1,400 r.p.m.) in this ratio. The gearing of the Sprint is such that 1,000 r.p.m. in the gears equals a speedometer reading of 6, 9 1/2, 13, 17 and 20 1/2 m.p.h., respectively. It is pleasing that the speedometer and tachometer needles are extremely steady, their pointed white needles moving in the same plane.
Winding the engine up to around 6,000 r.p.m. provides powerful acceleration that is nevertheless unobtrusively and quietly accomplished although the figures given later are disappointing. It is a mark of the high-quality engineering that Alfa Romeo typifies that all five forward gears are completely silent! The gear-lever is man-sized, a trifle stiff on the test car, but it moves very quickly between the various gears and the change from 5th to 4th is particularly pleasant. The heavy-handed may occasionally push the lever beyond the centre position when seeking 4th from 5th but this cannot be blamed on the car and it is nonsense to say that the gears are difficult to find in this 5-speed box. The lever transmits some vibration and oscillates at 2,000 r.p.m.
For long-legged cruising the highest gear is most acceptable, 4,000 r.p.m. for instance representing just over 80 m.p.h.
The clutch has a faint touch of tradition about it, inasmuch as, somewhat heavy, it likes to be either in or out, although engagement is smooth and very positive. The steering, on the other hand, has lost all trace of "Alfa twitch"; no kick-back (except on very rough roads) or even vibration coming through the wheel. It is geared almost exactly right, at 3-turns, lock-to-lock, in conjunction with a commendably small turning circle for this big car. There is very little additional lost-motion, recovery from corners is aided by quick castor-return action, and the front wheels can just be a "felt" by the driver. It is heavy for parking, firm and light at speed, and very accurate.
The driving position is excellent, the seat adjusting easily over a long travel. The driving seat is outstandingly comfortable and gives good support without being in any way a tight fit but the front passenger's seat earned no praise. The brakes are very light to apply yet immensely powerful and are in all ways in keeping with the Alfa's performance. They are progressive and smooth to apply.
'['he suspension, coil-spring front and back, provides a really shock-free ride at the expense of sharp body movements. Roll is minimal and the cornering characteristic virtually neutral, making the Alfa a delight to drive fast on twisting roads. There is a mild understeer tendency, changing to faint oversteer when the boot is heavily laden. Road-holding, in the wet or the dry, reaches a very high standard and the car is beautifully balanced. Only very severe bumps betray the presence of a back axle!
Indeed, it is difficult to convey in print the subtle fascination of driving this beautiful car. Instant response to the accelerator,quiet, rattle-free running in which no road noise and scarcely any wind noise permeates the tightly closed windows, stability, luxury and a rare individuality combine to lift 2600 Sprint motoring far from the commonplace, and its body appointments and very thorough heating and ventilation make it an ideal vehicle for long-distance touring. The o/s 1/4-light was reported as producing a whistle heard by the passenger, however. Normal instrument readings are: oil temp., approx. 170°F.; water temp., 190°F.; and oil pressure, varying with r.p.m., normally about 75 lb./sq. in.
A long cross-country journey, heavily laden, was accomplished at a running time average of 46 1/2 m.p.h. before the driver was accustomed to the car or, indeed, trying very hard. This in spite of congested towns and the usual traffic hold-ups, at an average consumption of 100-octane petrol of 18.3 m.p.g. Not a drop of oil was required after 550 hard-driven miles. Any brief straight or deserted country lane saw the speedometer at 80 m.p.h. but I found 100 m.p.h. all the car cared to do on the roads encountered on this particular route. For the actual potential of the 2.6-litre Alfa Romeo, however, let us turn to figures checked against an electric speedometer.
On the Test Track
In their very comprehensive technical literature Alfa Romeo claim maximum speeds in the gears of 30, 50, 73, 99 and 124 m.p.h., respectively, in the forward gears—and 33 m.p.h. in reverse! The test car being deemed to have an engine too new to extend fully, another car was provided, with which the following acceleration figures were obtained (average of several runs, two up; best time in parentheses):
0-30 m.p.h.: 3.8 sec. (3.8 sec.)
0-40 m.p.h.: 5.7 sec. (5.6 sec.)
0-50 m.p.h.: 8.4 sec. (8.2 sec.)
0-60 m.p.h.: 11.6 sec. (11.0 sec.)
0-70 mph.: 14.3 sec. (14.0 sec.)
0-80 m.p.h.: 18.7 sec. (18.0 sec.)
0-90 mph.: 23.6 sec. 23.4 sec.
Speeds in gears (6,500 r.p.m.): 1st, 30 m.p.h.: 2nd, 48 m.p.h.; 3rd, 70 m.p.h.; 4th. 96 m.p.h.; top, 125 m.p.h.
Speedometer one m.p.h. fast at 40, two m.p.h. fast at 50 m.p.h.
In conclusion, experience of this fine car, arranged by Richard Shepherd-Barron who used to race them, confirms that Alfa Romeo still build motor cars! The 2600 Sprint coupé is a car which makes old men feel younger and enables young men to reduce their journey times very appreciably. In this country it costs £2,399, inflated to £2,899 7s. 2d. by purchase tax. Discerning drivers who appreciate performance, refinement and individuality subtly blended in a car that is extremely satisfactory to behold will put this car on their "short list" if they do not worry about the maximum in performance and are prepared to overlook some rather unhappy aspects of body fittings and premature rusting, which the Bertone coachwork revealed on critical examination.
Technical aspects of the Alfa Romeo 2600 Sprint
The cooling system holds about 3.3 gallons, the sump 9.9 qts. of oil, the gearbox 3.2 pints. the back axle 4.1 pints, the steering box 1/2-a-pint.
The Solex 44 PHH carburetters are of the twin-choke type, the chokes being, respectively, 24 and 32 mm.
Valve timing: Inlet opens 20°30' b.t.d.c., closes 70° 42' a.b.d.c. Exhaust opens 53° 42' b.b.d.c., closes 9°. 54' a.t.d.c.
Firing order: 1, 5, 3, 6, 2, 4. Maximum ignition advance, 47° ±3° at 5,000 r.p.m.
Crankshaft journal diameter: 2.47 in.
Valve diameters: inlet, 43.mm.; exhaust, 39 mm.
Valve spring test load: inner, 48.7 to 50.5 lb.; outer; 97.6 to 100.8 lb.
Big-end diameter: 2.11 in.
The Alfa Romeo 2600 Sprint Coupe
Engine: Six cylinders, 83 x 79.6 mm. (2,582 c.c.). Overhead valves operated by two o.h. camshafts. 145 (D.I.N.) b.h.p. at 5,900 r.p.m.
Gear ratios: 1st, 15.8 to 1; 2nd, 9.5 to 1; 3rd, 6.5 to 1; 4th, 4.7 to 1; top, 3.7 to 1.
Steering ratio: 3.1 turns, lock-to-lock.
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons. Range approximately 245 miles.)
Tyres: 165x400 Pirelli Cinturauto HS 367, on bolt-on steel disc wheels.
Weight: Ready for the road, without occupants but with approximately 12 gallons of petrol: 1 ton 7 cwt. 1 qtr. 21 lb.
Wheelbase: 8 ft. 5 3/4 in.
Track: Front, 4 ft. 7 1.16 in.; rear, 4 ft. 6 in.
Dimensions: 15 ft. 0 1/2 in x 5 ft. 7 1/4 in. x 4 ft. 4 1/2 in. (high).
Price: £2,399 (£2,899 7s. 2d. inclusive of purchase tax),
Makers: S.p.A. Alfa Romeo, via Gattamelata 45, Milan, Italy.
Concessionaires: Alfa Romeo (Great Britain) Ltd., 164, Sloane Street, London, S.W.1.