It is often the case that just by simple observation of a fellow human being one can determine the type of car he or she drives, and in general the habits of drivers of the same kind of machine are very similar. For instance, I would suggest that the great majority of British Alfa Romeo owners read Motor Sport, and almost certainly virtually every owner of an Alfa Romeo GT Veloce with the new 1,750 c.c. engine ripples these pages with some regularity.
When cars cost £2,250 they have to be something special, for such a sum would pay half-way towards a fairly decently sized house outside the Home Counties. The new 1750 GTV introduced last April is special, but we might not have found this so, had we not taken the car over an exhaustive test of over 1,000 miles, many of them in Ireland, to form our road impressions. For undoubtedly the car’s best point is its ability to cruise well over the senile seventy for hour upon hour with a maximum amount of comfort and a minimum of noise and bother. But the 1750 had quite a few faults which we would not expect to find in a car of this calibre.
The trip to Ireland appealed, for it meant that I could take in the weekend’s races at Dublin’s Phœnix Park, which is the last remaining genuine road circuit in the British Isles. Although of little interest internationally, the races are the most important in the Emerald Isle, and several competitors came from England. This visit made the basis for an excellent test, for one can always assess a car better when it is doing a job of work and going to a specific place at a specific time, rather than taking the car for the “photographic sessions” and the like that rather more flashier magazines than Motor Sport indulge in.
The car proved just about the most efficient starter experienced for a long time. A quick dab on the strangely but thoughtfully shaped throttle pedal primed the two twin-choke 40 DCOE Weber carburetters, and then a turn of the key and the 1,779 c.c. unit burst into smooth life.
Our plan for the trip was to motor up to Liverpool and take the B & I car ferry Leinster to Dublin, drive down to the Cork area and then back to Dublin for the races. The Alfa was not to get off lightly for, apart from myself, there were two passengers and a considerable amount of luggage.
As honest Alfa Romeo only claim the car to be a 2+2, there were some misgivings about this, but any doubts were soon dispelled, for three people of average height can travel in perfect comfort as long as the front passenger has the seat well forward. A fourth person would be an embarrassment unless the driver is the kind of person who hugs the three-spoke wooden steering wheel close to his chest.
On entering the Alfa, the seats are just about the most impressive thing about the car and would do the Concorde supersonic air liner justice. The driver’s seat hugs one closely and has good fore-and-aft movement as well as a variable back which can be adjusted to exactly the right position. The front passenger’s seat is even more elaborate, for the top of the seat-back forms an adjustable head-rest which can be raised and lowered by a plastic rack-and-pinion device set into the inside of the seat. This is operated by a large rubber wing nut set in the side of the seat. Certainly a most ingenious device.
The rear seat has plenty of padding, unlike such two-plus-two cars as the Porsche 911 and Lancia Fulvia, in which I have had rather uncomfortable back-seat rides. The seats are covered in punch-type black p.v.c.
Once seated and strapped in, the steering wheel comes easily to hand, although the horn, which pokes up as three metal ribs between slots in the spokes, is so effectively disguised that it took some considerable time to discover. The noise was a little weak. Anyway, for all but Irish donkeys, headlight-flashing is a more effective method of warning, and the Alfa’s headlamp flasher is on the end of one of two stalks on the left of the steering column. To flash the lights, the end of this nearer stalk has to be pressed in, and very little movement operates the light. This is rather deceptive, for it gives very little feel, and unless you can see the reflection of the lights it is hard to be sure that they were actuated. The stalk also switches on the lights; one twist through 45º of the rectangular black tip gives sidelights, and another twist gives dipped beam. The full flood of the four Carello headlamps is obtained by moving the switch downward. The smaller stalk has a simple up and down motion to operate the indicators.
In the black facia behind the steering wheel are two beautiful large round dials, the left a speedometer reading up to 140 m.p.h. with mileometer and trip, and the other a rev.-counter red-lined at 6,000 r.p.m. but reading up to 8,000 r.p.m. An ingenious idea is the oil-pressure gauge, which is set into a segment of the rev.-counter. To the far right of the wheel, under the dash, are the choke, which is actually labelled “start”, and a hand throttle, a device which I consider is not really necessary, and dangerous in the wrong hands. The ignition key fits into the side of the steering column in the fashion used by German manufacturers and incorporates a steering-wheel lock which usually does not work. If one is really safety-conscious, a quick twist of the wheel will bring it into action.
However, the key does not isolate everything it really should, for one can leave the car, key in pocket, with the windscreen wipers going, the heater booster fan boosting, and the radio blaring. Forgetful drivers will be well advised to carry a spare battery with such a set-up. To the left side of the wheel is a cigarette-lighter, and there are also warning lights for headlight and main beam. The transmission tunnel is curved up to the dashboard and covered in the same wood as the dash. In fact, the car is very tastefully decorated. Out of this projects the nicely gaitered lever for the five-speed gearbox and the remainder of the dials and switches. The two dials indicate fuel and water temperature, and the three unlabelled similar toggle switches operate the wipers, the panel light and the heater switch. There are also heat and air distribution levers. The wiper switch has two positions for the twin speeds. The wipers can also be operated from a foot button which gives a wipe and a squirt at the same time, and this device proved most useful. It lies to the left of the three pedals. The throttle is smooth in operation, the brake pedal is tremendously responsive, but the clutch is somewhat tiring and the pressure felt high to someone pampered on featherlight Ford clutches.
A further lever lifts the bonnet which immediately responds by popping up, there being no additional safety catch. Inspection of the boot for any opening button would no doubt have proved elusive, and that is no doubt why it was one of the first things showed to us by the Alfa man. The lever to open it is actually let into the door jamb on the passenger’s side and it is lockable. A most ingenious device which should defeat all but the best car thieves.
The boot is much more spacious than it looks, although manœuvring cases through the rather narrow gap provided by the lid can be a tricky business. The spare wheel is found under a panel. The jack is a well-engineered effective device, but the tool kit is somewhat sparse.
The two doors have rather strange lift-up flaps to open them which are not very efficient. The problem is that in the process of lifting up the flap, one exerts far too much upwards force and not very much horizontal force, with the result that one has the impression the door is jammed. So there is a knack in opening the doors, although present owners no doubt lapse into this without thinking. However, the sensation did convince one of my passengers that the door was locked, and the resultant lengthy wait for me to arrive could have produced ugly scenes. The locks for the doors are let into these troublesome flaps and the doors are not lockable from inside.
The superb light-alloy twin-cam engine is an old friend in 1,570 c.c. form, for its smoothness and wide power band have brought pleasure to many a motorist for a good few years. By increasing the size to an actual 1,779 c.c. it has lost nothing. The stroke has been increased by more than the bore, and for statisticians the figures are now 3.15 inches by 3.48 inches. From this we are told that the gross maximum power is 132 b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m., while the maximum torque of 137.4 lb. is recorded down at. 2,900 r.p.m.
The engine pulls smoothly right down from 1,500 r.p.m. and revs. freely up to the red line at 6,000 r.p.m. In fact, it is hardly necessary to rev. the engine hard in the gears, and rarely did we take the engine above 5,000 r.p.m. Over a period of time, this must lengthen the life of the engine and do so without being any kind of snail at all. In third and fourth gears at around 5,000 r.p.m. there is a very muffled roar from the sporty unit. The engine fits neatly under the bonnet behind a conventionally mounted water radiator. The Webers suck into an air box which has ducting across the engine and into an air cleaner on the other side of the unit. The brake and clutch fluid reservoir, the oil filler cap and the distributor are all easily accessible, as is the dipstick. This turns out to be a rather pathetic bent-wire type of thing.
I personally find the looks of the car most attractive, being very similar to its close relation, the GTA, which is an aluminium and pop racing saloon which has always excited me. The GTV’s smooth, crisp lines by Bertone will be fashionable for many a year. The front view is particularly smart and aggressive, and the light clusters front and rear are both purposeful and well designed. Visibility from inside is first class all round, thanks to the slender pillars. The chromium bumpers wrap round to protect the car well. The road-test car was finished in white, although all the GTVs I spot around London seem to be in ochre, which is apparently the “in” colour at present.
Though the five gears are well chosen, gear selection did prove to be rather a disappointment, particularly as I remember being delighted with a smaller Alfa saloon I drove briefly a few months ago. The layout is similar to that of a normal floor-change four-speed box, with the addition that to get fifth you move the lever forward and towards you. Reverse is placed straight back from fifth, but there is no possibility of engaging the backwards gear when coming down the box, for it is heavily guarded by a spring. However, when reverse is needed it is in no way difficult to engage. But generally the box seemed somewhat bulky to engage and, coming down the box, second sometimes proved elusive. This particular box is certainly one that needs a considerable amount of concentration in its use. The fifth gear is very much a long-distance gear for use on motorways or long stretches of open deserted road. Going up the box, one would normally change into second before 30 m.p.h., take third at about 50 m.p.h. One can reach 80 m.p.h. in third, if necessary, and fourth will take the car right up into the 100 zone. Fifth will produce about 112 m.p.h. Normally one snicks into fifth once the desired maximum speed has been obtained and then cases off the throttle a little. The rev. drop when fifth gear is taken is only 600 revs, or so. I travelled mile after mile with 3,800 r.p.m. on the rev.-counter and 80 m.p.h. on the speedo. A pleasant cruising speed.
Acceleration is impressive but deceptively to, for it matches that of an Elan +2 or a B.M.W. 2002. The car purrs up to 30 m.p.h. in three seconds, 50 is broken at 6.8 sec., and the legal limit at 12.7 sec. With quick gear changes one can achieve 100 m.p.h. in just on 30 sec. The actual weight being shifted is probably about 24 cwt., but unladen the weight is just on the ton.
Although the suspension is fairly conventional, racing experience has paid dividends and the car is well balanced with tendencies to understeer when pushed hard. At the front the suspension is by double wishbones and coil springs with an anti-roll bar. At the rear the live axle on coil springs is located by lower trailing arms and an upper A bracket with an anti-roll bar to stiffen it up. However, the car has a tendency to pick up a rear wheel in tight corners, so perhaps a thicker roll bar might be called for. The 1750 version of the GTV has 5½J rims which are fitted with Michelin XAS tyres which do their job very nicely.
The steering is very good and the only complaints that could be levelled against it is that, though beautifully light and precise when the car is travelling at any sort of speed, it is a little tiresome when parking. But with the fat tyres this is a small price to pay.
The brakes are superb for, with booster, the action is both smooth and progressive and fade even after hard use was never noticed. There is a ball and ramp pressure-limiting valve fitted to the rear brake circuit and perhaps this is why the brakes seemed so good in the wet. My return to England was heralded by the floods so in the closing stages of the test there was plenty of chance to test them.
The trip to Ireland in the car proved most pleasant for, though there are quite a few more commercial vehicles on the road than the travel brochures would have you believe, motoring in a vehicle like the Alfa Romeo really is fun again. The car is pleasantly quiet, more sound-deadening having been added with the change to the 1750 engine. The long main roads stretch out in front of you with the lush green fields, and it really could be quite romantic, I suppose. But be warned: ten-tenths motoring is not recommended, for round every corner one must beware the unexpected. Cows were frequently encountered, but worse was to come. I shot round a corner some 15 miles from Wexford, to find a fairly substantial piece of branch from a tree in the road. There was little time for avoiding action, and the tough bough upped and knocked out a lamp glass, much to my annoyance. After inspection, I continued to find bits of tree all over the road for miles, and the path of destruction looked freshly lain. Eventually the culprit was caught—a largish lorry piled high with some kind of large metal tanks in packing-cases which were festooned with foliage. The top case was far from square on, and looked as if it might fall off at any moment. Quite unaware of the havoc he was causing, the driver trundled on with the Alfa following at a safe distance all the way to Wexford. Quite a few other vehicles must have been damaged that evening.
The tour of Ireland did bring to light a couple of other faults with the car. The rear quarter-lights tended to pop open, but investigation showed this could be easily remedied by tightening the hinges. Also, we found that when stepping out of the car it was necessary to place a leg well outside to avoid scraping dirt from the door-ledge on to one’s trouser leg. A funny complaint which must have something to do with the low-mounted seats and wide sill. Finally, in the later stages of the test, there came a dreadful noise from the underneath of the car, and from then on the prop.-shaft started to beat a tune on the transmission tunnel if the car was taken over 100 m.p.h. The shaft was certainly out of balance at high speed and the balance weight may have fallen off, but this has not been confirmed yet.
Perhaps the car was not driven as hard as it could have been, thanks to those traffic-free Irish roads, but for the 1,100 miles of motoring in the car it was amazing to discover the petrol consumption worked out at 26 m.p.g. which, with the 10-gallon tank, gives a very good range. The car needed a couple of pints of oil to bring it up to the level.
Alfa Romeo enthusiasts will be delighted in this latest 1750 GT Veloce, but at £2,248 there is some stiff opposition in Britain. A Jaguar E 2+2 is similarly priced, but the GTV makes a Porsche 912 look expensive. Personally, I would prefer a Lotus Cortina and £1,000, but now I can see just why discerning drivers with healthy bank balances buy an Alfa Romeo.—A. R. M.