Another Thoroughbred from Milan
Alfa Romeos are irresistible! I’m sure Barry Needham, who looks after Alfa Romeo publicity in this country, will not mind me making this observation. He reminded me of the truth of it recently by lending me a 1750 GTV coupé for test.
All modern Alfa Romeos offer you a light-alloy twin-overhead-camshaft four-cylinder engine, the camshafts driven by a duplex chain and the tappets set by the racing method of shimming them, a five-speed gearbox, all-disc servo-assisted ATE brakes, a lightweight, properly located back axle and a very high-quality interior. They appeal to those who can drive by reason of a sense of life and real performance which relieves dull routes of tedium and makes open road motoring a real delight, and because they possess especially responsive recirculatory ball steering, suspension which, although lively, rides road irregularities well yet keeps the wheels glued to the surface, and the ability to corner very quickly without emotion. This cornering is perhaps Alfa Romeo’s greatest asset, for it is so effortlessly fast, with no sliding, or undue understeer. But smooth, quick steering and the excellent braking run it very close. The three, combined, are superb.
The little GT Veloce, a 2+2 coupé, disegno do Bertoni, made by Alfa Romeo and good if the latter “2” are children or one small grown-up sitting athwartwise, is typically Alfa in all the just-mentioned respects and a fast car in its own right, with recommended top speeds in the gears of 29, 48, 71, 99 and 118 m.p.h., and 32 m.p.h. in reverse if you feel like it. Moreover, there is acceleration to match, such as 0 to 60 m.p.h. in 9.3 sec., from an 80 x 88½ mm., 1,779-c.c. engine carburetted by twin 40 DCOE32 Webers and poking out 132 b.h.p. in SAE trim, at a modest 5,500 r.p.m.
The interior of this plainly-handsome coupé is beautifully appointed, with some nice items, such as a cigarette lighter which accepts a cigarette and lights it, instead of just becoming a detachable lighter (alas, stupidly-located on r.h.d. cars), and rather special seats, in which there is more workmanship than in most complete cars—or has that been said of another make? Anyway, the squabs adjust easily by turning knobs, the seats slide easily, have shaped and deeply ventilated p.v.c. upholstery, and by using a small knob on the passenger’s a headrest can be wound up into position, so much nicer than having it always there. In fact, I found the upholstery too hard and rigid when wearing summer clothes and the lively ride tiring at first, after Rover luxury.
But very soon I was again an Alfa Romeo addict. It is impossible not to be, after a few miles of using that splendid five-speed gearbox giving rations of 13.54, 8.15, 5.55, 4.10 and 3.24 to 1, and enjoying the responsive “thrummy” engine and the great sense of security which accurate steering (3½ turns, lock to lock, plus some sponge), wonderful road-holding and light powerful braking impart.
The engine likes 3rd gear to help it get away sharply from low speeds, although it is surprisingly flexible; it will run smoothly at 1,500 r.p.m. but flat-spots ruined the pick-up below 3,000 r.p.m. The wood-rimmed steering wheel of the 1750 GTV is too thick and slippery for my liking, the doors lack “keeps”, the handbrake held only on the last notch on the test car, and the dipstick is rather hidden and tended to trap a coil wire when put back into its tube. The pedals are set rather far from the floor and biased to the right.
The GTV has some interesting features. Thus the big 140 m.p.h. speedometer and tachometer have neat white needles which move at first across the bottom of the dials. The latter is lightly straked from 5,700 r.p.m. on to an impressive 8,000 r.p.m. At times 2nd gear seems too low but it is necessary to remember that the engine seldom needs to be taken much above 5,000 r.p.m. on to an impressive 8,000 r.p.m. in ordinary driving (the handbook does not specify maximum safe r.p.m., which are 6,200) and there is consequently plenty in hand for holding on to 2nd. In 5th gear an indicated 70 m.p.h. is 3,000 r.p.m. below peak revs. There is a narrow central console from which the substantial gaitered gear-level, working very smoothly and splendidly positioned, protrudes.
This console carries water thermometer (normally reading approx. 190ºF.) and vague fuel gauge, the latter blanked by the steering wheel, the heater controls, lidded ashtray and three flick switches for two-speed wipers, facia lighting and two-speed blower. Further back, the central handbrake is well located. There is a foot-operated wipers-cum-washers knob. The oil gauge, showing a reassuring 75 lb./sq. in. at speed, is a small segment of the tachometer, and the speedometer incorporates total and decimal trip milometers. These are high-grade Italian Jaeger instruments with Alfa Romeo badges; eight such badges can be counted inside the car. Not only the small dials on the console, but the main dials are angled to the driver’s eyes and the former stand proud of the wood-simulated mounting.
Further refinements include a cushion in the boot for additional driver support, a toolkit with sensible contents even to a Phillips screwdriver, a handbook which quotes torque wrench loadings even for the plugs, Alfa Romeo antifreeze, two keys with different shaped handles, and so on. The equipment includes a reversing lamp and alternator and the metallic medium grey colour of the test car was much admired. The doors have lift-up external handles, easy to grip and incorporating the locks but a trifle stiff. At night the headlamps cut-off on dip is lethal for fast driving, and the illumination of the plated under-facia choke and hand throttle levers a cause of irritation.
The lightweight bonnet opens from the back, to reveal exciting and traditional machinery (lit at night) and the boot lid cannot be released until a substantial plated lever on the n/s door pillar has been operated. In contrast, the fuel filler flap on the n/s of the body does not lock and the cap is not secured. Typical Alfa Romeo pedals, lockable steering column, pendant choke and hand throttle levers are not altogether satisfactory l.h. stalk controls for turn-indicators and the dual Carello lamps, are feature, and there is a small lockable cubby-hole and scuttle map containers. The horn pushes are in the steering wheel spokes.
The body is rather dated by having no extractors, apart from neatly openable rear quarter-lights, but swivelling vents on the screen-cill enable various permutations of cold air entry to be obtained at the expense of much wind noise, and the front quarter-lights are controlled by turn buttons, but hiss irritatingly when tight shut. The body is rather cramped, with low roof and not much elbow room. But it is beautifully made. It may “proudly carry” the Quadrifoglio crest, although this actually looks ugly on the body sides, being over-large.
As I have tried to convey, driving this, or any modern Alfa Romeo and most of the older ones, is a motoring experience to be remembered and enjoyed. The 1750 GTV gave me some memorable miles, without putting a wheel wrong. In some pretty all-embracing motoring it did 26.8 m.p.g. of premium petrol and the full/empty range proved to be 286 miles. The test car was shod with Michelin XAs tyres, 165 x 14, and although the treads looked as the very comprehensive Alfa instruction book shows them to wear if underinflated (the car had done 7,000 miles so one supposes these were its original set) they gave impeccable road-clinging, but squealed slightly at times, even when not very heavily stressed.
To add any more to this account would be to repeat the enthusiasm expressed for previous Alfa Romeos. I can only say that if the price, £2,300, of the GTV is high in this country, (it is 50% lower in Italy) the performance, finish, allure and subtle handling qualities of the car justify it in the eyes (and hands) of those who extract pleasure from such things.
With the new Alfa Romeo London Service Centre and showroom in the Edgware Road near Staples Corner, convenient for access from the North Circular Road, operating under the control of Dr. Tassan, and 100 dealers in this country, the one-time servicing and spares anxieties which bedevilled this famous make should have vanished forever. And it is a make that is irresistible, so it is not surprising that British sales rose by 42% last year and are aimed at over 2,000 cars this year. On overall sales Alfa Romeo have been forging right ahead (97,054 last year). Soon they will have the new small Alfa (rumoured to be a high-grade transverse-engined f.w.d. model, embodying the traditional handling qualities, which should be cause for another shy Issignois smile!) to add to the present seven-model 1300/1750 range. A Rover is more restful, a Lancia gives similar motoring with perhaps even more refinement, and a car costing over £2,000 might be expected to have leather upholstery and a properly vented body with face-level fresh air inlets. But Alfa characteristics excuse such omissions, and these cars remain—irresistible!—W. B.