Getting to know two Alfa Romeos

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Conclusion of a long-duration road-test of a 1750 Berlina, and some notes on a staff 1750 GTV

Last April I commenced an account of a long-duration road-test of a 1970 Alfa Romeo 1750 Berlina, and some interim observations of this car were published in the July issue of Motor Sport.

The car was lent to me by N. Barrington Needham, PRO and Marketing Manager of Alfa Romeo (Great Britain) Ltd., with the object of proving to me that not only is this an irresistibly pleasant motor car to own but that, if properly and regularly serviced, an extremely dependable one, in spite of the complexity of its superb twin-cam engine and five-speed transmission.

The plot was that I should drive this Alfa Romeo, the most “touring” of the present range, for 10,000 miles, having it serviced at the Alfa Romeo Centre in the Edgware Road, near Staples Corner in NW London. When the car was collected it had 228 miles on its odometer. When I returned it late in September this read 11,651 miles. I did not quite attain the “target” distance of 10,000 miles, for daughters and colleagues obliged me by taking the Alfa over when it was due to go in for routine servicing (it was difficult to prise it away from them!) and Alfa Romeo’s own personnel contributed a little to the total mileage. But I did drive it 9,204 miles and we were in contact with it for 11,423 miles. In that distance the car proved almost completely trouble-free, as those who have read the previous articles about it will realise.

In the interim report I mentioned undue wear on the tread of one of the Pirelli Cinturato front tyres, suspecting out-of-track steering. When the car went in, rather belatedly, for its second service it, was found to be quite extensively damaged underneath, with traces of having been in contact with a sandstone obstruction, to such an extent that an engine mount had been dislodged, thus causing the front-wheel misalignment. I am at a loss to explain this, for I had not so maltreated this delightful car or used it for autocross or suchlike punishing motoring (hand on heart!). It did on one occasion drop on to a boulder while negotiating a rough, muddy Welsh lane at walking pace and had I been told that the sump was cracked I would not have been surprised. But this mild blow could surely not have dislodged the engine! So presumably some other driver had ventured rather further off the hard highway than I had.

Anyway, this brings us to consideration of the tyres. The worn one was replaced by a new spare. At 11,650 miles there was 6 mm. of tread left on this front tyre, replaced at just over 7,000 miles, 5 mm. on the opposite one. The back Pirellis were down to 2-1/2 mm. and 2 mm, respectively. So the mileage to be expected seems to be in the region of 13,000 miles, although I understand that some drivers get 20,000 from a set of tyres.

This 1750 otherwise ran on and on, without a trace of anxiety. Those who have read previous instalments know my very high regard for it. I will refrain from reiteration, except to remark that its friendly vivaciousness, allied to precise steering and forgiving handling qualities, and its superior detail-work, such as the precise action of its minor controls, switchgear, window-winders, quarter-light controls, etc., and the nice fit of the doors of the boxy Bertone body, make most other cars seem mediocre after my long spell of Alfa Romeo motoring. When it was returned, although I had kept it in the open, the finish, apart from a few places where the paint had peeled and been touched-in, in part the result of chipping from flung-up stones, looked as good as when I had first set eyes on it some eight months earlier. The engine was clean and it was running as well as ever and did not appear to require any attention of any kind, apart from further routine servicing 3,350 miles hence.

I had many memorable runs in this car, and it made enjoyable even the most traffic-infested journeys. One of the last good occasions was leaving the Montagu Motor Museum at Beaulieu, almost on the Hampshire coast and arriving at my home in mid-Wales comfortably under four hours later, an average speed of 48 m.p.h. This was not at night or in the early hours of the morning but on a blazing hot September Sunday afternoon, when the roads were full of perambulating potterers in places where for miles overtaking was impossible, even in an Alfa Romeo (as one gets older one has to make excuses!). So this average speed was, I thought, satisfactory under the circumstances, especially as I read somewhere that my friend, Charles Bulmer, who is younger than I am, and whom I regard as a better and faster driver, only contrived to average 39.7 m,p.h. from his Camberley home to Coventry, a journey part of which was on the Motorway. Admittedly he was driving a Ford Escort, and admittedly the mileage was checked by computers this Ford was carrying. But even allowing for a 3% optimistic mileometer, which I do not think the Alfa has, my average speed comes out at 47 m.p.h., which perhaps shows the joy of driving the car from Milan instead of more mundane vehicles. Under less frustrating conditions I have had average speeds approaching 50 m.p.h. without any drama or selfish pressing on. On such occasions I appreciated the comfort of the driver’s seat, one of the best I have ever experienced, apart from its plastic covering, the precision adjustment of the squab, easily accomplished, being a further contribution to comfort. A re-check of fuel consumption showed 26.5 m.p.g. under conditions varying from a fast main-road run, driving to and from London from NE Hampshire, including the notorious crawl through Chertsey, where the laying of sewers has seriously disrupted the flow of traffic (apart from which this once-pleasant Thames-side town has been getting ever more congested in recent times, so that it is now a Place to Avoid), and a modicum of poodling in town streets. I always used four-star fuel. Oil consumption in fast motoring was never worse than 800 m.p.p., and on average approx. 1,000 m.p.p.

On the very last day when the car was in my possession I was turning left round an Auntie Morris-Oxford parked for no apparent reason well out from the kerb, along with lorries and other traffic, with the left winker going, when the clot moved forward, colliding with the n/s of the Alfa—it had to be in Chertsey and occasioned by the hold-up the level-crossing there otherwise causes! The M-O driver admitted the fault was his and I must say the Italian paintwork was scarcely marked, although about an inch of plated body trim had been flattened. That about concludes my experience with this entirely enjoyable, trouble-free Alfa Romeo, except to say how much it is missed. No car is perfect but the few criticisms I have of the 1750 were contained in the previous observations, to which I will add that, if the gearchange has developed the muscles in my left arm, this is no great disadvantage to one who is left-handed. Some of them, incidentally, like doors without “keeps” and not very good headlamps have, I hear, been eradicated in the 1971 model, and I hope they have made the dipstick easier to read. The blind spot to the o/s, occasioned by wipers presumably intended for l.h.d. cars, together with thick screen pillars, I soon became accustomed to. Alfa Romeo enthusiasm is catching, so I wasn’t altogether surprised when a son-in-law changed his Mini-Cooper for a 1968 1300 GT Junior, the smart black one formerly owned by Angela Cherrett, supplied by Rob Walker. Then Motor Sport’s Production Manager gave up Porsche motoring and now drives an Alfa Romeo 1750 GTV, about which some notes are appended.

To sum up, after ordinary cars an Alfa Romeo is certainly an experience, and there is the satisfactory thought that after a 1750 there are better and better models to follow. It reminds me of the young man whose girl friend is a Beauty Queen. He met her in Sunday school, asked her to dance for the first time the night she was crowned Miss Nantwich. They were going steady by the time she was Miss Sunny Rhyl. They got engaged before she had become Miss Bolton, Miss Manchester, Miss Variety Club of the North and Miss Great Britain. They are still in harmony, now that she has attained the Miss England and Miss United Kingdom titles. I mean, you might end up with a Montreal . . . Joking apart, Alfa Romeos do provide the pleasures of handling, poise and performance one imagines those who possess beauty queens to enjoy; they are also prestige cars by reason of race-bred specifications and sound engineering. But what I am really implying is that the present range is a wide one, going from the 1300s, and perhaps the rumoured new small Alfa Romeo, through the 1750 variants, from saloon and GTV to Spider Veloce, to the big V8, so that the joys of possession can be progressively increased without diverting to lesser makes. For those, that is, who can spend from £1,299 to £2,431 on a new car— prices which cover the Giulia 1300 TI to the 1750 GT Veloce.

* * *

The Alfa Romeo Commercial Centre in London, now under the control of Dr. F. Quaroni, was opened in February last year at a ceremony attended by His Excellency R. Manzani, the Italian Ambassador; Dr. R. di Nola, Managing Director of Alfa Romeo SPA; Dr. A. Bardini, Director and General Manager of Alfa Romeo, Milan and other distinguished guests. It brought together in London all the activities connected with importation of Alfa Romeo cars, their distribution in Britain, the supply of spare parts to private customers and the Trade, and especially efficient servicing of these cars.

The Centre includes a conference room in which mechanics who work for Alfa Romeo distributors undergo a five-day course, with additional tuition in the service bay, on the design and maintenance of Alfa Romeos and the use of special tools for working on them.

The extensive spares store carries some 12,000 different items, to the extent of a six months’ stock, able to service models back to roughly 1964, with especial coverage of 1967-68 and later cars. The servicing department, of which G. Francis is Service Manager, J. Goodchild the Workshop Manager, and G. O’Neale the Foreman, employs 14 specially picked mechanics and two testers. Cars are serviced and Shell-lubricated on a Bradbury hoist and tested on a Clayton chassis dynamometer and brake analyser. The once not-overbright service and spares situation—to express it mildly—has been rectified since the Edgware Centre came into being and today it is their proud boast that warranty claims average less than £10 per car.

Each Alfa Romeo carries a six months’ parts and labour warranty. Two services are given free, after which the 7,500-mile service for a 1750; for example, ‘costs the customer £12 10s. for labour, and the next, 11,250-mile service, carries labour charges of £18 5s.—W. B.

* * *
Some notes on a staff-owned 1750 GTV

To replace a Porsche 911 after 10 years of Porsche motoring is more difficult than it may sound, when it is a matter of moving into a more economical price bracket.

A look round at the available 2/4-seater GTs, compact with good handling and reliability with a 100 m.p.h. cruising ability, led to a trial in the 1750 Alfa Romeo GTV. The road-tests on this car in Motor Sport indicated more than general approval, so on a cold January morning the grey 911 which had given so many miles of pleasure was exchanged for a brand-new red GTV on the forecourt of Rob Walker’s (Corsley) garage.

The ‘flu epidemic was at its height and the car was handed over with the two pre-sales engineers languishing in bed. This was unfortunate, for in the first 500 miles little things which would have been caught by the experts slipped through and at the first service only half of the four headlamps worked, the interior lights were not functioning, the driver’s door would not shut properly, the bonnet flapped badly and was not flush fitting, and the screen had a series of vertical distortions which were tiring on the eyes.

During the 500-mile service at Alfa Romeo’s small but highly efficient service depot all the problems were sorted out and after 12,000 hard miles nothing else has been done except the normal straightforward regular service every 6,000) km. Running-in proved no real hardship for the recommended speed up to 500 miles is one mile per hour over our ridiculous maximum speed limit. The engine and gearbox felt taut after the light controls of the 911, but as the miles clicked off everything began to lighten until the whole became a plearure to drive. One criticism in the first 4,000 miles was the lack of adhesion, when the roads were wet, by the Pirelli Cinturato H 165 HR14 tyres. Dunlops solved the trouble by letting us try a set of SP Sport radials of the same size, which as soon as they were run-in, improved the handling no end and my next Alfa Romeo will be specifically ordered with these tyres from new. Tyre wear is reasonable; the Pirellis had worn 2 mm. of their 8.5 mm. tread in 4,000 miles, while the Dunlops with 8,000 miles’ summer wear show 7 mm. of tread on the front and 5.8 mm. left on the rears, this from a new depth of 8.7 mm.

During the first 4,000 miles, as the engine loosened up, fuel consumption was about 25 m.p.g.., which seemed reasonable, and the oil consumption was nil. As the miles have slipped away the consumption has improved and now is 26 m.p.g. for town use or fast running on byroads, while a long run on motorways at a cruising speed of around 85 m.p.h. increases the m.p.g. to over 30, The engine requires oil now, but only one pint between services, and no water has been added since new.

Driving position and instrument layout are good and long drives are completed with minimum effort, leaving the driver fresh. Acceleration is good enough to overcome the frustrations of driving among mirnsers, and with excellent brakes, good visibility and compact proportions the 1750 GTV can carve an unobtrusive path through this country’s ever increasing road population.

Speaking recently to Alfa Romeo’s Public Relations’ chief we described the car as “depressing”. This didn’t please him until it was pointed out that it was depressing as there was nothing to talk about. It starts without choke every time, does all that’s asked of it without fuss, has none of the little driving peculiarities that so many cars have, will stay with all but the very fastest road cars and is economical to run. So when chatting to friends who have just corrected a nasty misfire, or have a tweak for starting in cold weather, or have a special way of overcoming a nasty handling problem, or gear-change, or have pulling brakes, or poor headlamps, our only comment has been that the Alfa GTV is OK, for a £2,300 GT. A full road test appeared in September, 1969.—M. J. T.

Miniatures news

LESNEY has introduced another car miniature in its “MATCHBOX Models of Yesteryear” series and, what’s more, this is of a famous British car, a 1914 Prince Henry Vauxhall, with pointed radiator. The detail, for such a small replica, is good, although levers and pedals are omitted, which makes one pine for more Mettoy-Playcraft Corgi historic miniatures. The Lesney Vauxhall is to a scale of 47 : 1, with aluminium bonnet (not a very tight fit!), spare wheel, headlamps supported by the radiator, tool-box, and excellent multi-spoke wire wheels. The brassed fuel tank may not please everyone but those handy with the paint and lining brushes will be able to alter that. The reference number is Y-2. the price 7s.

The latest Airfix kits include one of a Toyota 2000 GT coupe, to a scale of 1/24, with 120 separate parts to make car, six-cylinder engine, transmission and suspension details, etc. It costs 15s., from F. W. Woolworth or good toy and model shops. The Airfix kits of historic cars are in great demand and their Stanley Steamer is an impressive large-size miniature.—W. B.

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Many of our readers are interested in modern chronograph watches and sports timers. These find their place in “Technique and History of the Swiss Watch”, by Eugene Jaquet and Alfred Chapuis (272 pp., 12-5/8 in. x 9 in.), which The Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd., Hamlyn House, Feltham, Middlesex, have published in a copiously colour illustrated edition covering the history and technique of Swiss watchmaking from 1419 onwards. The original edition cost 7 gns.

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