The Alfa 6

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WHEN ALFA ROMEO announced their new six cylinder saloon in Italy early in 1979, a right-hand-drive version for the British market was promised for the Autumn that year. J.W., who went to the launch of the new car, predicted that things would take a little longer, and events have proved him right with the r.h.d. edition arriving in the UK only last month, One or two detail changes have been made since the initial introduction and the car now available to the British Motorist is to a high specification.

The appearance is obviously Alfa Romeo, with shades of large BMW about the side view at the rear, and is very attractive with clean, flowing lines. Substantial wrap round bumpers and large tyres on light alloy wheels make the car look smaller than it is.

At the heart of the Alfa 6 is the first six cylinder Alfa Romeo engine for many years. The 60° V-6 is very light for its 2,492 c.c., having light alloy block, sump and cylinder heads. The nitrided crankshaft runs in four main bearings and is driven by flat topped pistons on short, stiff connecting rods. The engine is “over square”, with a bore of 88 mm. and stroke of 68.3 mm. The single overhead camshafts are driven by toothed belt and operate the inclined 41 mm. inlet valves directly and the sodium filled exhaust valves through very short pushrods and rockers, this arrangement making it possible to have near hemispherical combustion chambers. The camshaft drive belt is tensioned by a hydraulically operated device which ensures that therein no risk of jumping a tooth at high engine speeds.

The early Alfa 6 cars were fitted with three twin choke Dellorto down-draught carburetters, but the version now being imported into the UK has six individual single choke devices under a massive air cleaner. Power output is 160 b.h.p. at 5,800 r.p.m. on a 9:1 compression ratio. The maximum torque is developed at 4,000 r.p.m. and is quoted as 162 ft. lbs. Alfa Romeo claim that 200 b.h.p. would be readily available from this engine, but in the interests of flexibility, economy and longevity, power has been limited to a lower maximum, but one which is still rather more than other normally aspirated 2 1/2-litre mass production engines.

A three speed ZF automatic gearbox is mated directly to the engine, in contrast to the Alfettas, where the gearbox lives with the final drive. This forward location of the gearbox has been employed to assist with the balance of the car — the engine being so light. The final drive is again by ZF, through a limited slip differential, net at 25%. The drive shafts have what the Alfa press handouts call “double homokinetic joints”.

The front suspension is by torsion bar and wishbones, has telescopic dampers and is fitted with a substantial anti-roll bar. The arrangement at the back is De Dion, the cross tube being located longitudinally by an ‘A’ bracket, mounted at the front on a flexible spherical joint. Lateral location is by two parallel struts mounted across the can behind the De Dion tube. Coil springs, an anti-roll bar, and telescopic shock absorbers complete the arrangement.

The brakes are disc all round, the front having 10 1/2″ ventilated discs, operated by four piston calipers. The solid rear discs are mounted inboard and are of 10.2″ diameter. A braking power regulator is fitted to the rear braking circuit and a large servo assists the driver.

The steering is power-assisted rack and pinion, again by ZF, and the power-assistance is of variable ratio — giving most help when the car is stationary or moving slowly, and reducing the power employed as the speed increases. The steering column is in two pieces connected by a universal joint.

Electrics, in the main, are by Bosch and are protected by a whole battery of fuses, very clearly and neatly laid out over the o.s. front wheel arch, under a perspex cover. The ignition is by distributor and coil, but incorporates a Bosch electronic unit.

The layout under the bonnet is very neat, and all the parts that one might wish to check while undertaking routine maintenance seem to be readily accessible, which should help with servicing bills. The container for windscreen washing liquid is especially capacious, and sits, opposite the fuse box, over the n.s. wheel arch. The battery is conveniently located in the front n.s. quarter of the engine bay, where it is easy to inspect without having to lean across the car, or duck under the bonnet. The well insulated bonnet lid itself is hinged at the rear and is supported by a conventional prop, but gas filled assister struts are fitted. The release catch is on the n.s, of the car, and the safety catch, like so many others, is not easy to operate as the gap created by pulling the main release catch is very small for large hands. Two “courtesy” lamps are fitted on the underside of the bonnet which illuminate the engine bay if the bonnet is opened when the side lights are on.

The quality of the exterior finish on the test car was superb, and Alfa Romeo’s description of the painting process to which the body shell is subjected is impressive reading. The shell itself owes much to previous models, but is rather longer and slightly wider. The extra length has been useful to the body designers not only for the increased passenger and luggage accommodation that is possible, but also to improve the capacity of the shell to absorb crash impacts.

Great attention has been paid to the reduction of all forms of noise and vibration. Dampening bellows are fitted to the exhaust pipes, the centre section of the De Dion axle is damped, and the whole of the underside and interior of the car up to window level are sprayed with a thermosetting plastic material. The under side of the bonnet and the bulkhead are heavily insulated, and all interior panels, including the rear bulkhead are coated with a cotton flock layer, just over half an inch thick, preformed to shape, and in three pieces. The doors and roof are lined with various other materials, including expanded polystyrene, as appropriate and the final interior trim consists of Boucle carpets, Velour door panels and seats, and Texalfa console and pillars.

Seating is extremely comfortable, with plenty of leg room for rear seat passengers. The bench rear seat has a central arm rest, which can be folded away if three people are to be accommodated. Head-rests are fitted to the four corner seats. The person in the middle would not have quite such a comfortable ride as those along-side, but would be more comfortable than in the rear seat of many so-called quality saloons. In addition to being adjustable for rake and fore-and-aft position, the driver’s seat is fitted with a motor drive to alter its height, this adjustment being actuated by a rocker switch on the forward edge of the seat frame. The adjustment is more than adequate to accommodate the tallest drivers, as well as those only five feet tall. The pedals are placed in the natural position, and there is a rest for the left foot alongside the large brake pedal.

The controls are well positioned, and come to hand easily. The transmission control lever is centrally placed, and is fitted with a comfortable spherical knob, which has to be lifted to select the neutral, reverse or park positions. The switches for the electric windows are very conveniently placed on top of the transmission tunnel, alongside the handbrake and just behind the gear selector. Rear seat passengers have to lean slightly forward to adjust their windows, but the driver simply has to let his left arm flop down to find the buttons he requires. The switch for the hazard warning lights and for the electric aerial also live on the transmission tunnel. A stereo cassette player and radio was in the central console of the test car, but this item is optional, a simple radio being the standard equipment. The large capacity front ashtray lives between the gear selector and the radio, leaving only a very small space for a pair of sun-glasses, which managed to get in the way whenever any adjustment to the radio was required.

There are three steering column stalks, well positioned to prevent any confusion. The single right hand stalk operates the two speed and intermittent wipers and the powerful electric washer. The lamps are turned on by rotating the longer, more distant stalk on the left side, and are dipped by raising the stalk to its top position. The indicator and headlamp flasher stalk is quite short, but is easy to reach with the finger tips. A graduated five position rotating switch is positioned on the left of the steering column to enable the driver to adjust the height of the headlamp beams to compensate for variations in load.

The driver’s door mirror is adjustable electrically from within the car, a small switch for this purpose being positioned on the underside of the driver’s door-pull. A similarly shaped switch alongside it enables the driver to lock or unlock all the doors from within the car (the boot is not included). Using the key in the driver’s door lock locks all doors, but only releases the one door.

The instrument panel is viewed through the ‘T’ spoked, well-padded, steering wheel, which contains two horn pushes, let into the horizontal spokes. On the left is the 0 to 120 m.p.h. electronic speedometer, complete with odometer and trip, while matching it for size on the right is the 0-7,000 r.p.m. tachometer, hatched from 5,800 r.p.m. and red lined at 6,200 r.p.m. Below each of these clear and easy to read dials are three pushbutton switches — controlling on the left, the rear fog lamps, front fog lamps (not fitted to the test car, but provision has been made in the wiring circuit for this optional extra) and the heated rear window, and on the right, any other electrical option, the parking lights (the other lamps are extinguished with the ignition) and isolation switch for the electric windows: this latter to prevent itchy juvenile fingers playing with the readily accessible transmission tunnel switches.

The central part of the hooded instrument panel is divided into three sections, each topped by a cylindrical dial/vertical needle instrument. The left panel gives water temperature, with five warning lights for main beam, excessive water temperature, side lights, indicators and fan arranged below. The central panel has the oil pressure gauge at the top, with a Veglia electric clock below and the right hand panel gives an indication of the fuel level in the tank and has the low fuel, charging circuit, choke, brake pad wear and handbrake warning lights, together with a rheostat to adjust the intensity of the panel lights. Below the clock there is a clear but perhaps rather pointless indicator to show the driver which position the gear selector is in.

The choke lever is under the dash, above the driver’s knee, and has a very positive action. Also under the dash is a lever to enable the driver to adjust the rake of the steering column.

Air conditioning is an option that many customers for the Alfa 6 are likely to want, but was not fitted to the test car. Nonetheless, the ventilating system was extremely good, with adequate supplies of cool air being available as required, even in quite warm weather. The controls are housed in the central console, above the radio, and are clearly marked. The fan has three speeds and there are adjustable ventilators on either side of the dash, in the centre above the radio and between the front seats.

Spaces for bits and pieces abound, there are map pockets in the backs of the front seats, a large rear window ledge, a shelf in front of the passenger above the dash, as well as another open shelf below the capacious, lockable glove compartment. The boot is deep and carpeted. The interior equipment is completed by three separately switched interior lights, one in the centre at the back, one in the centre at the front and a rotating, adjustable light, again in the centre at the front, which is very useful for nocturnal map reading without destroying the driver’s night vision.

Starting from cold, the choke is required, but the engine will run freely without this device after about thirty seconds running in moderate conditions. If throw is driven from rest on a cold engine, it could be very embarrassing, as the engine coughs and splutters and will not pull smoothly: it is well worth being patient for that half minute or so, simply allowing the engine to warm on a fast tick-over, before driving away. The oil pressure comes up to 60 psi. immediately, but drops back to the specified 40 p.s.i. at normal running speeds as soon as the oil is thoroughly warm. The cast alloy sump is heavily finned, reminding me of the pre-war Alfa Romeo supercharger casings, to prevent the oil from overheating. Warm engine re-starts can be embarrassing unless the accelerator pedal is left well alone until the engine has fired.

Once under way, the engine pulls very smoothly throughout its range. The automatic gearbox provides very smooth upward changes, but is very sensitive and rather jerky downward changes will occur when not required, for instance when depressing the throttle slightly to keep pace with town traffic. On the open road, the car is a joy, although personally I would have preferred a manual gearbox. Acceleration is excellent and my rather crudely obtained 0-60 time was in the under ten second bracket. Alfa Romeo claim a standing 400 metres time of 16.7 sec., and a top speed of 121 m.p.h. and my impressions after driving the car for some 700 miles give me no reason to think that these figures are optimistic. The steering is precise, enabling the driver to position the car very accurately at high speeds and the handling neutral with no apparent vices. In damp conditions, it is easy to make the inside wheel squeal when taking tight corners, despite the limited slip differential. The ride is firm and taut, and the body roll described by J.W. in his impressions of the car at its launch in Europe as being in the “Gallic angles of lean league” must have been improved, as I found the car remained quite flat when cornering fast on open curves, and did not roll unduly on tighter bends, even when pushed hard. The brakes are, perhaps, the most outstanding part of this fine car: beautifully progressive, the top the Alfa 6 in a very short distance and inspire the driver with great confidence.

Wind noise is commendably low, and does not make itself apparent until well above normal motorway cruising speeds. Under hard acceleration, there is a rather annoying amount of noise from the engine and transmission area, which seems to be a combination of induction roar and exhaust noise, coupled with a certain harshness from the gearbox. This was the most annoying thing about the car, as far as I was concerned, but as one does not use hard acceleration for much of the time, it is not a major criticism, for under normal road conditions the car is pleasantly quiet, with an absence of any mechanical noise from the engine.

Two other little niggles — first the seat belt clip was not easy to insert without looking at what one was doing, and the keep which prevents the clip slipping down the parked belt was inoperative, necessitating a minor search at the bottom of the door pillar and second, the door catches on the body work were very exposed, and managed to deposit grease on two of my passengers’ coats.

The fuel tank is filled from high up behind the rear doors on the offside and holds a commendably large 17 gallons, the warning light coming on when some three gallons remain. If the tank is filled to the brim, the interior of the car will smell of fuel for a few miles, which makes filling up rather awkward. My average consumption was just under 22 m.p.g., which accords with Alfa Romeo’s claimed 15.1, 29.9 and 24.8 m.p.g. figures for the so called urban cycle, steady 56 and steady 75 m.p.h. tests. Automatic petrol supply cut-off switches are fitted in the boot and in the engine bay, and these operate if the car suffers an impact or if the oil pressure drops below the specified minimum.

The price for this car, which has proved to be very successful in the European market, is £11,900, car tax and VAT included. A 12 month warranty, including breakdown recovery insurance, three days car hire and free selected routine service parts for the first 27,000 miles, is part of the deal.

Sadly, there are no plans to market the 5-speed manual gearbox version in the UK. — P.H.J.W.

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