The cars : Alfa Romeo Alfasud development story

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

The development of Alfa Romeo’s ground-breaking small family car of the 1970s. How differently would history have judged it, had its rustproofing been better?

Here’s its story…

Alfa Romeo Alfasud range

The major players in the car industry were making giant strides in 1971. In the mid-market, Ford had been doing all the running with its ultra-successful Cortina and Escort – conservative cars produced to meet the demands of fleet buyers. Mechanical straightforwardness was seen as a positive advantage. Fleet managers had been scared off front-wheel drive cars because of the intensive servicing regime demanded by BMC’s Mini and 1100, and that resulted in Ford producing simple and cheap to service cars. The motoring equivalent of bangers and mash, if you like…

However, in Europe, the shape of the market was still very much shaped by the demands of the private motorist – someone who ploughed their own money into their car, and funded it out of their own pocket. Company cars didn’t exist in Europe as such – if you needed to drive your car for your job, you’d claim back the petrol…

Big demand for small cars sparks new Alfa

Alfa Romeo was one such company that wanted to capitalise on the ballooning demand for lower-priced cars in the late 1960s, as more people became well-off enough to afford to start driving. The company may have enjoyed past successes in racing and, in the 1960s, boasted a range of beautiful sporting coupes and saloons, but in order to survive and prosper into the ’70s, expansion was the key – and that meant it needed a small car in the range.

The Italian company had previously dabbled with small car projects – back in 1952, it created a prototype 750cc car known as Project 13-61. The twin-cylinder, transverse-engined Mini competitor would have hit the market spot on in time for the 1956 fuel crisis. Sadly, the company wasn’t blessed with clairvoyants for strategists, and the plug was pulled on the grounds of costs – leaving the booming Italian small car market completely to Fiat.

Eight years later, the idea of a small Alfa was revisited with the Tipo 103 prototype. The scaled-down Giulia saloon featured an advanced 1.0-litre DOHC power unit and a 85mph top speed – but, again, the promising project was abandoned on the back of Alfa Romeo and Renault’s short-lived co-operative deal, which involved selling R4s and Dauphines in Italy.

The ‘Sud begins to take shape

Alfa Romeo didn’t abandon the idea of a small car, though, and as the need for one increased, so did the desire to develop something new and a bit special.

Alfasud sketch
A little development, and all the style and character of the Alfasud starts to appear

Alfasud scale model
Scale model – again – retains the final car’s character…

In 1967, Alfa Romeo’s Chief Executive, Giuseppe Luraghi, once again revisited the idea of the company building a new small car. Little did he know of the political storm he was about to create. Because Alfa Romeo needed financial assistance with the new car’s creation, Luraghi, approached the Italian Government for help.

However, in the interests of developing the poorer southern region of the country, there was a stipulation attached to the loan: the new car needed to be built in the deprived Naples region – 300 miles from the company’s base in Milan.

The company heads south

Alfa Romeo agreed to build the new car at its little-used Avio facility in Pomigliano d’Arco near Naples, and the entire project (factory and car) became known as Alfa Sud. The Government loan ran to 360 billion Lire but, needless to say, it wasn’t a happy situation, as the area had no tradition for car manufacture, and that led to 15,000 unskilled workers being taken on to build the new car.

That aside, Fiat management was furious when details of the Alfa Sud project become common knowledge. The bad blood between the two companies started because Alfa’s Torinese saw it as a break in the gentleman’s agreement, despite Fiat’s earlier introduction of the Alfa-rivalling 130 and Dino models.

Accusations of poaching, theft and treason were trumped up by the Torinese company, seriously delaying the ‘Sud’s eventual release. The conflict was deepened when Alfa managed to persuade Austrian Fiat (and ex-Volkswagen, Porsche, Cistilia and Alfa Romeo – yes, he’d been there before) Engineer, Rudolf Hruska, along with several colleagues, to oversee the design of the new car – especially as Fiat was in the throes of developing its next generation of small front-driven family cars…

Starting from scratch

Alfasud factory in Naples
Alfa Romeo’s Pomigliano d’Arco factory was not without its issues…

The hiring of Hruska – no matter how controversial – was a stroke of genius. His masterminding of the Alfasud, and tight control of its remarkable technical package was a perfect example of the theory that history’s greatest cars were created by talented individuals, rather than committees.

The team assembled had true class: Aldo Mantovani was in charge of engineering, assisted by Carlo Chiti (the former head of Autodelta); Carlo Bossaglia was responsible for engine development; and Federico Hoffmann devised the suspension.

Aside from devising one of the greatest handling cars of the ’70s, Hruska’s team’s most impressive achievement with the Alfa Sud project was to keep it within budget and deliver it on time. He and his talented team created Alfasud – a clean sheet car – and got it onto the market within four short years. The industry average back then was nearer six.

Quick off the mark, and in budget

The ‘Sud might well have enjoyed a controversial gestation, but the end result was still a technical tour de force. From his bureau in Milan, Hruska pieced together a fascinating technical package and clothed it in a smart Georgetto Giugiaro suit. The main goals for the project were that the new small car should be cheap and easily maintained, but retain the typical fun-to-drive Alfa character. To achieve this, everything the company had done before was thrown out of the window.

Alfasud laid bare
Exceptionally space-efficient layout of the Alfasud in all its glory

Given Hruska’s VW/Porsche background, it’s unsurprising that he decided to choose a flat-four engine to power the Alfasud. This engine configuration combined with water-cooling and front-wheel drive resulted in a low scuttle for good visibility, a low centre of gravity and near-Issigonis-levels of interior space efficiency (Hruska’s experience gained on the Fiat 128 project proved invaluable here).

The long-stroke, free revving engine (which used a pair of identical cylinder heads) was longitudinally mounted, and was treated to a pair of equal-length driveshafts. Engine capacity was 1186cc, maximum power was 63bhp, and it was developed for ease of maintenance as much as anything else.

Great body engineering

Although the kerbweight had been well controlled, the aerodynamic body was structurally rigid thanks to deep box sections front and rear. The suspension was conventional independent MacPherson struts at the front but clever, innovative beam axle with Watts linkage at the rear – and it was this rear set-up that led to beautifully neutral handling.

Final performance figures were impressive – the top speed of this 1.2-litre car was 92mph, well ahead of similarly sized opposition. The design was competed by the end of 1967 and, by November 1968, prototype engine and body were married for the first time, and Hruska took his first test drive – this was a quick development programme.

Less than three years later the Alfasud became the sensation of the 1971 Turin Car Expo – a great achievement considering the Lamborghini Countach prototype was also unveiled at the show. However, due to the last phase of Pomigliano d’Arco’s development into a production facility, as well as a series of strikes and set-backs, production didn’t actually get started until April 1972.

Troubles begin

Alfa Romeo Alfasud
‘Sud was a revelation when it arrived on the scene in 1972…

As soon as the testers got their hands on the Alfasud, they knew the company had struck gold with its first small car. Autocar magazine was unstinting in its praise, concluding in its first road test: ‘The ‘Sud with front-drive, flat-four engine and roomy four-door body offers truly incredible handling, a comfortable and quiet ride and easy cruising.

‘Working in combination with the high-revving, exceptionally smooth and quiet engine, the crisp gearbox and light but effective brakes, it is a dynamic masterstroke.’

It continued: ‘That the car offers remarkable economy and reasonable running costs shows how comprehensively engineered the Alfasud is, and just how practical an inspirational driver’s car like the ’Sud can be when executed properly.’

A revelation on the road

Compared with the year’s other debutantes, the Morris Marina and Cortina MkIII, it was on a different planet dynamically. However, its high list price of £1399 – for the 1.2-litre model – compared badly to the £923 it cost to get you into a Morris Marina 1.3.

And that mattered in an era when £4000 would buy you a perfectly respectable semi in the West Midlands. Despite the price, demand for the ‘Sud was high. However, car strikes were a massive problem, and waiting lists built as Alfa struggled to keep the production lines rolling. Production volumes of 1000 per day were planned, but in the height of strike season, the actual number rarely bettered 70.

…but a rotter in the garage

Once customers got hold of their cars, the horrible truth soon emerged. The low quality steel used in its production, and scant rustproofing meant the gifted little car had become infamous for tinworm – owners were finding their new cars would develop widespread corrosion, which could strike anywhere, within a matter of months.

In the end, the problem became so well-known within the trade, that it irrevocably damaged Alfa Romeo’s reputation for a generation to come. Engineers devised a quick-fix – an extra step in production saw all box-sections filled with special synthetic foam, which it hoped would keep the rust at bay.

Instead, moisture was trapped in it, and the corrosion process was accelerated. However, thanks to lamentable industrial relations and an indifferently skilled workforce, the ‘Sud’s troubles were far from over. Just like BL, Alfa Romeo suffered horribly from strikes during the ’70s, and, during its life, the ‘Sud’s production line suffered from 700 stoppages.

But the testers loved it

Alfa Romeo Alfasud ti
Alfasud’s amazing chassis was tested a little more with the arrival of the sporting Ti version…

Alfasud estate version, the Giardinetta
The Alfasud Giardinetta becomes the company’s first mass-produced estate car, as previous efforts were coachbuilt

Despite being known as one of the rustiest cars ever made, the Alfasud remained a perennial favourite with motoring journalists and enthusiastic drivers. Throughout its life, the ‘Sud was praised to the hilt for its flat roll-free cornering, tactile steering and rasping exhaust note – and that meant all manner of failings could be forgiven.

Rivals emerged – and the Alfasud saw them all off. Austin’s brave new Allegro of 1973 should have given the ‘Sud a run for its money dynamically, but poor final development and shoddy body engineering meant the final product came a poor second. Even 1974’s much-vaunted Volkswagen Golf couldn’t match the ‘Sud on a twisting road, even if it did highlight two major shortcomings – it’s lack of a hatchback and compromised driving position.

Power upgrades

The sporting Ti (for tourismo internazionale) version was launched in 1973, pre-dating the Golf GTI by three years, and added a little spice to the range. Performance was boosted by by the addition of a Weber twin-choke downdraft carburettor, upping the power of the 1186cc flat-four to 68bhp.

It was just the beginning. Then the Giardinetta estate car version the following year, but even these was eclipsed by 1976’s addition, the gorgeous Alfasud Sprint. It was this model that heralded the arrival of the uprated 75bhp 1286cc engine – finally pushing the top speed of the baby Alfa to over 100mph.

Like the saloon, the three-door coupe was styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro, and its scaled-down GTV style was handsome enough to win plenty of admirers, even if it wasn’t the most practical proposition in the world, thanks to its fixed rear seat backrests.

In 1978, the wishes of keen drivers who begged for more power were partially met with the arrival of an upgunned 1.5-litre engine with up to 85bhp. While they were at it, the 1286cc engine was upgraded once again – to 1351cc (with developed 79bhp in Twin Weber form, and 71bhp with a single Solex). But these changes signalled the ‘Sud’s gradual move upmarket. The 1.5-litre four-door was now available in Super form, while the Ti benefited from its first facelift, to become the Series 2.

Car of the Decade

By the turn of 1980, the ‘Sud was still seen as the dynamic class leader. CAR Magazine declared it the ‘Car of The Decade’ and Ford used it as a benchmark for its front-wheel-drive Escort MkIII. Imagine how things would have been had it not been rusty? A facelift in the same year tidied things up, and the ‘Sud became the Series 3.

Dropping the chrome bumpers spoiled the clean-cut styling for many purists, but it kept the ‘Sud looking fresh, and highlighted the brilliance of Giugiaro’s original design.

The following year, the ‘Sud gained a hatchback rear end (1981 for the three-door; ’82 for the five-door), answering the car’s main (non-rust related) criticism. The car put on an additional 25kg due to extra body stiffening, which slightly dented the performance…

Out with a whimper

Alfa Romeo Alfasud hatchback
Alfasud finally realised its potential in 1981 when it received the hatchback rear it had been crying out for since 1971…

In 1983, the Alfasud was replaced by the new and rather wedgy 33 – it looked good, and retained much of the ‘Sud’s technical feature – and yet it failed to capture the hearts and minds of buyers. The new car’s high price was also a problem – and that meant those fans of the entry-level ‘Sud were left with no choice in the Alfasud range…

That situation was rectified when the ARNA was launched, the bastard off-spring of the ill-fated Alfa Romeo-Nissan tie-up – but even fewer people found themselves turned on by the idea of buying a Japanese-styled car built in Italy.

The ‘Sud Sprint lived on until 1989, thanks to its commonality with the 33, but even that glorious looking car struggled as the decade progressed – somehow ’80s styling details and a delicate looking ’70s wedge just don’t mix.

In conclusion

Despite being an engineering marvel, and a delightful driver’s car, the Alfasud was a undoubted failure for its maker – it made a loss from day one, and its poor reputation tarnished the Alfa Romeo name so badly, the company ended up being bailed out by the Italian Government.

In reality, the Sud’s excellence benefited the opposition more than its maker – as rivals worked hard on their own alternatives.

Alfasud Sprint
Alfasud Sprint of 1976 was a Giugiaro styling masterclass…

Gallery

 

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

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60 Comments

  1. I do like the 70s Italian style. The Giugiaro coupe looks a bit Delorean-like.

    Much nicer than the rake of modern coupes which just look like squashed 2 box hatchbacks (cf. new Sirrocco, Veloster).

  2. Wonderful, wonderful cars. Shame that they literally induce pain within the first five minutes of driving. If I win the lottery, I’ll probably buy one and get a very good engineer to sort out the appalling driving position.

    A mate bought one cheap in the 1980’s- many happy memories. Although I never told him how I very nearly came to roll it over on Cleeve Hill one evening… Thank God for a flat-four engine and a low centre of gravity, I say.

  3. If only Alfa sorted the rust problems for the Alfasud and used high quality steel as well as produced an Arna with Italian-styling and Japanese-relibility.

    A pity the 750cc two-2-cylinder transverse-engined Project 13-61 prototype Mini/500-rival never saw production.

    The thing I’ve always felt was lacking in the Alfasud was that it never received the 109-117 hp 1.7 Boxer engine from the Sprint to create a true rival for the Golf GTi, while for some reason I find the rear-end lights of the Sprint to be rather unattractive compared to the Alfasud (with the Autodelta Sprint 6C concept going some way to make the back-end look halfway decent IMO).

  4. Theres a picture on wikipedia of a 6 year old model with what looks like terminal rust.

    Imagine that now, owning a 2006 147 or GT and having to scrap it due to rust.

    My Alfa adventure was a GTV, which are well into banger territory now. Great car, it felt like a mini-Ferrari, silky smooth revvy engine even when compared to the Xantia’s (which wasn’t exactly gruff), handled like a go kart (the Alfisti reckon the 2.0 twinspark gave a better balance than the V6 which gave better performance and noise) but ongoing suspension and electric woes meant it wasn’t feasible as a daily runner.
    I still threaten to tuck one away into the garage as a fixer upper weekend car 🙂

  5. I bought an R reg Alfasud 1.2ti when I was 18 in 1983. I was driving my Mk1 Escort passed a local second hand car garage when I saw this Rosso red car in the window. I had to stop, turn round, go and take a look. I remember thinking “Wow! That is beautiful” and at the price £495 I could afford it. I did a deal and picked it up the next day. The interior was out of this world. I had been used to my bland Escort Mk1 1.3, so when I saw all the toys and gauges, it felt like I had bought a Ferrari. This was a 1977 car and it had a 5 speed box, discs all round, three dash mounted gauges, straps to close the doors, bucket seats, front head rests, radio cassete, a rev counter, even a little light that told you when the engine had warmed up. Nothing my mates had, could keep up with it, remember it was only a 1200cc. I was super proud of her. However it all ended one evening when I arrived home from work. I opened my driver’s door and it fell off!!! Yes the whole door, hinges included, fell off and landed, door skin down and gently rocked back and forth on the drive. Some what embarrasing. I managed to bodge the door back in place using alumium plate and rivets and then went off to find somthing to part x it with, hoping the salesman wouldn’t spot the bodge. He didn’t and I drove home in Mk1 Vauxhall Astra SR. The Astra was a solid, reliable and well built car but had boring engineering and an even more boring interior. Nothing like as much fun as my Alfasud had been. I never felt the same pride or passion for it. Of all the cars I have owned over the past 30 years, my Alfasud still holds the fondest memories.

  6. At School Two Teachers had Alfasuds, both were Cloverleaf type, one “Gold” which looked almost standard but with alloy spoked wheels and square lights, the other a Green Clover with blacked out bottom half, drilled Alloys and black spoilers with twin round headlights.

    Different I thought back then but I much preferred the later 33, We had one in the Garage I used to work in, It had snapped its timing belt on one bank! but it still started and drove on 2 cylinders and still pulled quite well, it was a basic 1.3 item but had nice recaro type seats and a full dash but an oddity was the lower half was body painted and had the drilled alloys wheels (no rear spoiler) but I loved it, was quite sad when we bolted it back together after the bounced inlet valves.

    The Alfasud over the years has grown on me, as for the 33 one day ….will have one.

  7. My old boss had an Alfasud saloon as a company car (which I drove occasionally) Nice performer and as it was fairly new, rust didnt seem a problem. Later he got an Alfasud Sprint coupe… again a very nice performer on the open road when I drove it, but had cheap looking/feeling interior and flimsy window winders.

    Both were “red” which suited these car’s appearance. Nice to remember those cars on this website.

  8. One of the best handling cars i have ever owned,absolutely mind blowing road holding,right angle corners which any hatch nowadays cannot equal,owned many,its a car i want to own and revere all over again.

  9. I like the Sud ‘breadvan’. Italian Allegro estate? The sud is a car that is on my ‘wants’ list. It is sad that some nugget in Ipswich has a shell just dumped in their garden. I will go down there over the weekend if I get a chance and photo it. The sight of it will make us Sud lovers weep!

  10. The basic ‘sud was pretty but the Sprint — oh wow! Still lights my automotive candle today. Just such a shame about the rust.

  11. I believe it was russian steel used in the 70’s with a low carbon content coupled with poor rust treatment that was to blame for rotten cars in general,just showing a FE Victor a bit of rain had the door bottoms rusy in a week.

  12. I really cannot see how people think these 70s Alfas were good looking, the estate version especially is badly proportioned, ugly and no where near as good looking as an Allegro estate…

  13. Even by Italian standards of industrial unrest, the Alfasud strike record was abysmal. I recall a late 1970s BBC documentary about the whole project which concluded that many walkouts had little to do with ‘conventional’ workplace problems such as pay and conditions, but were linked to the fact that many – even most – workers also ran small farms or vineyards which were far more significant to them than the Alfasud production line.

    They just didn’t turn up when there was something more important to do, and this could often be dignified by the word ‘strike’. That, plus poor engineering skills, meant a disaster waiting to happen, and it was a miracle that Alfasud lasted as long as it did.

  14. They are interesting comments about rust but i have an 83 G.C alfasud and even after 30 years still does not look out of place and no sign of rust on it yet!

  15. First Sud I bought was a black 1.5 four door ’78’ model in 1984. Developed holes in the wings and around the front window. Was written off in 3 days by the guy who bought it off me when I replaced it with a brown 1.3. Kept that one for a couple of years and replaced it with a Sprint Veloce 1.5. Lovely net headrests. Finally I had a Gold Cloverleaf 1.5 Sud ’83’ in 1989. That died a rusty death in 1997 when the car pretty much fell into two halves at the front.
    Never went back to Alfa after that as I never thought they produced anything a pretty since.

  16. Amazed to read that Uncle Henry used the Alfasud as one of their
    benchmark cars whilst developing the Mk. 3 Escort.
    How did they miss the good points by such a degree/get it so wrong?

    Maybe BL-style bean counters at the Blue Oval were mostly to blame
    for the flimsy-shelled, stiff-riding crate that emerged in late 1980
    – complete with an overly-tall, breathless and rough new CVH engine,
    (disturbingly similar to the E-Series, but without the compact width
    packaging benefits)

    • I didn’t know that either, I just assumed they used the Mk1 VW Golf as it was supposed to be a “Gold Beater”.

      At least they didn’t make it RWD as someupstairs at Dagenham wanted.

    • BL-style bean counters???

      If only BMC/BL had bean counters of the standard of Ford’s, then BMC would have made the profits Ford made and still be around today!

      • I’ve heard the story of the Mk1 Cortina’s steering wheel being redesigned 4 times to reduce the price by 1d, don’t know if it’s true but sounds like something Ford would do costing-wise.

        Certainly they didn’t have any loss leader models, though the managed to let the Capri have it’s own platform rather than using an Escort or Cortina one.

        Years later the penny pinching came back to haunt Ford when the Mk5 Escort was launched.

        • The Mark 1 Capri used the Escort suspension, steering, taillights, straight four engines, and bulkhead; but I’m sure you’re right, it had its own platform.
          Floppy Mark 3/4 Escorts? Oh yes. I had a Mark 4 van, the right back door popped off the latch whenever it felt like it; and the reason for the cracked windscreen became abundantly clear when I hit a large pothole and saw the top left corner of the screen move towards me and spring back out. Scary.

  17. I was refering to the change in culture at BMC/BMH when BL arrived
    and started their widespread decontenting exercise, as shown by the differences between a ‘BMC’ Mk.2 and ‘BL’ Mk.3 Austin 1100, 1800 and
    many other models. Most of it was likely needed, but the difference
    is why I stated ‘BL’ style as oppossed to earlier BMC legacy.

    Made me think history was repeating itself when MGRover did the same
    type of things to the 75.

    The first start-up BL car, the Marina was as ‘carefully’ costed as
    a Cortina – probably with no small involvement of a few ex-Ford guys
    who BL had recruited. That’s before we start on the ‘what might have
    been’ new car projects that were canned.

  18. Have to say my first car was a sud. I loved it at the time but I have never really lusted after another one. It did handle well for a car in the seventies, but I think from a 2015 point of view there are probably plenty of cars that handle just as well. To be contraversial I’d suggest that most drivers would find a maestro handles as well in most driving conditions, although perhaps not at full pelt on twisty back roads (which would be irresponsible anyway).

    I do remember that it was not very reliable with poor electrics and starting. Rust was not too bad although my brother wrote it off when it was only 3 years old, and in general it did feel fairly flimsy although I don’t remember any bit falling of.

    It was definately the media darling, but it also had the most uncomfortable driving position / seats I’ve ever encountered, was quite noisey and had to be booted a lot (although that might have been more about my driving style).

    Would I buy one now? No, I can think of lots of cars I’d rather uses as an occasional toy for high days and holidays. Including those much maligned Itals and Allegros.

  19. I’ve heard that many sporty Italian cars have a strange driving position.

    The early 1970s were an interesting time for flat-4 engines, as Alfa Romeo, Citroen & Lancia (at least under Fiat onwership) were embracing about the same time VW was giving up on them.

    It’s a good layout for making a compact engine, & doesn’t need much complicated gearing as a transverse engine.

  20. My brothers first car was a Alfa Sud cloverleaf (I am sure it was just cloverleaf) it was silver 4 door hatch bought from a 2nd hand car lot in Bridgewater, Somerset. It was the first and only car my mother took complete charge of and it was bought ‘because it looked nice!’ – never again! Kudos for a first car, and my brother absolutely loved it (I think it was a Y reg?) but stupidly it then went to a Alfa main dealer who produced a list of issues as long as your arm and a bill of approaching £2k which back then, and now, was a serious lot of money. Still it kept their apprentices busy. The only car that when it drove off it left small mounds of rust. we called it Tetley – because it had 1000 perforations! – mainly inner wings in engine bay disintegrated engine and handling fantastic – he moved onto a Peugeot 205XS and then a red MX5 1.6 BBR turbo.

  21. The fact that Alfa did not have a small car is owed less to management short sightedness than political circumstandes. Alfa was a state owned company at that time and in the supervisory board of the organisation owning Alfa (called IRI – Istituto Ricostruzioni Industriali, something Mussolini created and whose task was to take over any company with more than 200 employees with financial trouble) there were Fiat managers. In effect, Alfa had to have its strategic decisions signed off by Fiat management.
    That’s why Alfa did not have a small car until the political decision was made to use an Alfa factory to create work in the underdeveloped South of Italy.
    This was to be the biggest fault of the car. As soon as the quality problems became known, Alfa had an outside consultancy form investigate the reasons for the desaster.
    They found out that contrary to popular belief it was not the quality of the raw materials used in the cars‘ production but the production processes. Alfa Sud used the same steel and the same paint as Alfa Nord and the Nord cars didn’t corrode nearly as badly and Sud had a much more modern paint shop. It was found that Alfa Sud was suffering from a tremendous number of wild strikes and an enormous level of sick leaves during tomato harvesting campaigns. Every time the production was halted, the ovens in the paint line were switched off, allowing the cars to cool down and collect a large amount of condensed water (a paint shop is partially a very damp area in a car factory. The steel panels have a thin coat of oil or silicone lube on them, otherwise they could not be pressed. These lubricants are washed off by submerging the cars in solvent. To get the solvent out the car is bathed in distilled water. The car then is dried by heating it up – and this creates a very steamy atmosphere) in its unprotected bodies that caused corrosion to start even before the cars were painted. It was found that workers did not stick to production processes. For example, rust proofing the Sud’s sills was contracted out because Alfa did not trust its own employees. The plan was to push a lengthy tube into the sills, switch on the wax spray and to slowly pull out the tube. This, of course, made the tube wery dirty with was. And, of course, the subcontractor’s workers did not want to have sticky hands, so they simply pushed the tube in ouly a couple of centimetres, applied the correct amount of wax and pulled the tube out after having smoked a cigarette. Therefore you had a lump of about a pound of wax around a hole in the sill and a completely bare and unprotected rest of the sill.
    The story of this investigation goes on like this foverever. The ingenious method of fixing the windscreen and rear window tot he Alfasud by using metal hooks and then glueing the glass in did work perfectly well in Milan, but not in the Sud factory where workers could not be made to adhere to the designed procedures. Therefore the early Suds badly suffered from water ingress and early corrosion around the glass areas.
    Workers also did not care about tolerance classes when building engines or gearboxes. Any piston was thrown into any bore, differentials were not properly shimmed and so on. This led to the number of tolerance pairings for pistons and bores being reduced from five to two and to the overall manufacturing approach to be changed so that nothing could happen when the wrong parts were paired. This led to the engines nearly never having the power stated in the paperwork.
    It all is a very sad story. Just to imagine what the Sud could have been had it been produced in Milan instead of in the South…

    In our family we bought on oft he very first Suds available, this car nearly fell apart after a mere two years. Alfa bought it back for the original price under the condition we bought another Alfa. The next Sud lasted for more than ten years without too much corrosion.
    We owned six Suds in our family, ranging from the original four speed Sud to a sprint veloce 1.5 with 95 HP and four carburettors.
    I absolutely loved these cars. The Sud must be one of the very few cars from the Seventies that is still competitive when it comes to its chassis. It had just about the best steering of any series production car I ever experienced.
    One of my favourite memmories is a nice summer evening, a nearly empty stretch of well made country road and me with my Sud 1.2 five speeder chasing a Lancia beta HPE down this road for twenty or thirty miles. We constantly did between 80 and 90 mph and the Lancia driver seemingly enjoyed it just as much as I did – when he turned to a different direction, he waved his arm out of his driver’s window, saluting me. This drive was absolutely flat out, wringing the poor Sud’s neck for all it was worth,
    Being able to keep up to a car with nearly twice the power of the small Alfa and with equally good handling characteristics was testimony to the tremendous qualities of the Sud.

    The smaller engined, early versions could be thrown around corners at incredible speeds without the slightest trace of negative feelings. Low weight and low centres of gravity gave impeccable road manners. The later cars became much heavier (~900 kilos against a mere 770), with the additional weight concentrated mainly high up in the car, doing nothing for the centre of gravity, resulting in greatly deteriorated handling. The bigger engines also were not nearly as free revving as the smaller versions, and all Sud engines with 1.5 litres or larger are typically and strangely suffering from big end bearing trouble at their third cylinder.

  22. I had around 14 or 15 Alfasuds when they were plentiful and cheap. The first was a 1977 1200Ti costing 50 quid, the last was a 1983 1.3 SC that was about £250. It remains perhaps my favourite car because they were so good to drive with amazing refinement. An Escort of any description was nothing like as good and I loved the driving position. Rust was a constant battle but wings were cheap and so was filler and mig wire.

    Mechanically they were great – cam belts were easy to change and the inboard front brakes were no problem. I didn’t have a single breakdown, none of them used oil or coolant. overheated or any of the nonsense you’d tolerate with British crap of that era. When they ran out, I moved onto old BMW’s just as they were becoming equally cheap.

    A pity they have all gone – I’d love another one.

    • There were two guys, Andrew and Tony, near me in Northamptonshire who were the ultimate Sud fans, wonder if you could be that Andy. I only ever drove one, a red 1500 belonging to my neighbour, widow of a bishop who used to wear a coat of episcopal purple, drink a number of pints in the pub, and then roar off into the sunset. The car was falling apart but really quick and great handling.

  23. There was an advert from 1982 that featured Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries and a group of Suds going down a mountain road, the narrator telling viewers they could own a car a lot different to an Escort for less money. I thought this was the car to have, but my old man, ironically a Chrysler and Talbot fan( not noted for great rust protection either), told me they were notorious for rust and expensive to maintain, and no we wouldn’t have one. Mind you the Chrysler/ Talbot Alpine was another car that could have been great if it was better rustproofed and had better engines.

  24. Interestingly Alfa Romeo asked Bertone to come up with an alternative body for the Tipo 103 prototype, which in scale model form remarkably resembled the later Alfasud.

    An image of the rather prescient looking Bertone-styled Tipo 103 scale model can be founded in the Curbside Classic article – Automotive History: Mazda, Bertone And The Alfa That Wasn’t.

    Though understand the declining popularity of coupes in the late-80s as a result of the Hot Hatch, it is a pity an Alfa Romeo 33-based Sprint coupe was not developed from the late-80s in be produced alongside the Alfasud-based Alfa Romeo 33.

  25. After reading about the Alfa Romeo Alfasud in CAR magazine (on subscription) in the 70s I couldn’t wait to trade my FIAT 128 3P Berlinetta for a 1500 Cloverleaf. I kept that for 2 years until it needed a new gasket on 1 head (both were replaced) and I decided to trade it in for a new Green Cloverleaf hatchback which was a demonstrator from Mangoletsi (still trading) in Cheshire.

    Both cars were fantastic handling. My then wife was not a confident driver but 1 day while she was driving the Sud I persuaded her to drop the Green Cloverleaf down a gear and accelerate around a bend where she would not ordinarily have done. She never looked back after that.

    Still got photos in a box somewhere.

    jack.

  26. Later Suds didn’t seem to rust as badly and had more power, which made them an interesting alternative to whatever Ford and Vauxhall were offering, and were reasonably priced cars, the basic model undercutting the Ford Escort and offering a far more exciting drive and a far better interior.

    • Glenn, you are correct. My early Sud was rusting at 3 months, the later model at 6 months old. Great to drive though, after an Escort Sport.

      • The early ones probably were considered acceptable for Southern Europe, where thousands of Italian cars we haven’t seen for decades are still around, but not for Northern Europe’s colder and wetter climate. I did see a photo on Wikipedia of a six year old Sud in Germany taken in 1979, where the car is completely ravaged by rust. Obviously, with the rust scares around Lancia at the time, Alfa Romeo, who saw the Sud as a rival to cars like the Golf, had to tighten up rust protection and cars from 1979 onwards tended not to rust as much.
        Yet you could forgive this in a car that, even in basic 1.2 and 1.3 form, could easily outperform a 1.3 Golf or Escort, was as quiet as a much bigger car, handled brilliantly and looked excellent. Also equipment levels became more generous with age and run out Sud models were advertised as being cheaper than a 1.3 Escort and for more for the individual( one advert showed a Sud driver driving past a flock of sheep).

        • That’s a good point Glenn. The UK wetter weather was unkind to many cars bodywork in those days and I noticed that many typical cars in the North of England / Scotland just a few years old, generally were rustier than those a lot further south at the same age.

  27. Hmm, send production of a car away from the industrial heartlands to a poor part of the country, that needs the work, but has no experience of making cars, a factory plagued with build quality issues and bad industrial relations…

    • Almost sounds like the DeLorean story, albeit industrial (and – within the factory – community) relations seemed to be fine as people were just glad to have a job building these fabulous machines.

    • I suppose the equivalent here was Linwood, a car factory built 300 miles from Rootes main factories in Coventry and with a workforce that had no experience of building cars and which was moved to Linwood due to government policy at great cost. It wasn’t quite as bad as Alfa in Naples, but early Imps had reliability woes that took a few years to sort out and the workforce, often drawn from the shipyards and the pits, tended to be quite militant and strike prone.
      OTOH Nissan in Sunderland, again an area with no carmaking history, has been a success, but I suppose Japanese management tend to be better than the Italian and British variety and the factory is one of the most successful in the world with not a single day lost to industrial action in 31 years.

      • I’m sure that was Maestrowoff’s suggestion, but as you say. Linwood was not as bad. The story about it being a workforce of shipbuilders is not really true. The factory is not in Glasgow, or Greenock but in Paisley, there the workforce was primarily involved in textiles and light engineering, and far from being one of the poor parts of the UK was actually one of the most prosperous up until the eighties. (most prosperous parts of Scotland at any rate). The skilled workforce was one of the reasons for the expansion there. There were significant skills shortages in the car making heartlands during that time. Also Shipbuilders could actually make more money that car makers, and while it was a bit boom and bust, lower Clyde ship yards were actually doing pretty well and the upper Clyde yards were doing pretty good until the seventies.

        Did Linwood have problems yes. But it was hardly any worse than plenty of other sites such as Canley, Longbridge etc. And was reasonably efficient and had decent build quality. It closed because it was on the periphery of the PSA empire and they needed to reduce production. Ryton was saved only by the unexpected success of the 309 and 405. If the sumbeam had been a sales success the plant MIGHT have been saved. I think there are worrying parallels with the current PSA take over of Vauxhall.

        • The sad thing is, Linwood had improved its productivity by 24 per cent in the last 2 years of its existence and union militancy had died out, but it was peripheral to Peugeot Talbot’s operations and deemed too uneconomic to save, even though wage costs were lower than in Coventry. Also Coventry had seen huge job losses in its car industry in the 1979-81 period and maybe closing Ryton over Linwood would have been a closure too far, and since Ryton was in a Tory marginal seat rather than an ultra safe Labour seat like Linwood, might there have been a political aspect to this.
          It is a shame Linwood closed, as the town saw its unemployment rate rise to 40 per cent and the area became depopulated, and also its closure led to another 10,000 job losses in the local steel and engineering industries. Yet would there have been enough work to justify the factory continuing as the Talbot range was discontinued in 1985 and only the Peugeot 309 was produced in Britain after that date.

          • IIRC the Peugeot 405 was also built at Ryton once the Alpine ended production.

            I did wonder if things at Linwood would have worked better if Rootes had started off building more conventional cars rather than the Imp.

      • Also it should be remembered when Nissan & Alfa built the Nissan Cherry Europe / ALFA Arna models in Italy. it was well documented that the Japanese Cherry’s were of better build quality than those Italian versions. Though the Boxer engines were welcome.

  28. And where are Alfa Romeo now ? This is not just an Italian thing, (although the Italians seem to be masters at failing in production quality), it is a lesson that it doesn’t matter how brilliant your designers and development engineers are, if the production side isn’t up-to-snuff, you’ll lose your place in the market. People have long memories and getting back your place in a market place is almost impossible once you’ve blotted your copy book. Just look at Lancia as well.

    Redemption for the Italian motor industry seems to have arrived in 2007 with the Fiat 500. My daughter has had one from 19k miles and its currently on 96k miles. Hardly a spanner has had to be laid on it, bodywork is in apple-pie condition, in fact it has been far better than my Jaguar saloon !!

    • “And where are Alfa Romeo now ?”

      As part of Fiat under the combined Fiat-Chrysler corporation, the Guilia RWD saloon seems to be surprisingly popular for a new car, and the upcoming Stelvio SUV (and plans for a large ‘luxury’ SUV) should allow them to cash in on the SUV craze. They do plan on not replacing the MiTo and Guilletta – allowing Fiat those small hatchback markets.
      They’re readying a proper return to the USA (after selling the 4C), utilising the Fiat/Chrysler network.

  29. Modern Alfa Romeos still look good, but the driving experience in their lesser cars isn’t a patch on the cars from the eighties and the cars seem to be fare badly in reliability surveys, with suspension and electrical woes and poor interior quality. Also since the company was taken over by Fiat, you’re really paying for a Fiat with a fancy badge.

  30. Alfa had a notorious habit to design cars that appealed to people who wouldn’t buy an Alfa anyway, shown in the soft versions of the Alfetta, Sei, 90, early 33, 146 and even the 159.
    Here one has to take into account that Alfa were not free in their decisions. Alfa was part of the ISI state owned holding, whose supervisory board was staffed with managers from Italian companies, amongst them Fiat. In the end, Alfa had to have their decisions signed off by Fiat managers.

    Building the Alfa Sud factory in the poor and undeveloped South of Italy was a purely political decision. Had the project gone to plan, the new factory would have drawn suppliers to build factories there, thereby creating jobs. As production never reached the projected numbers, no suppliers set up facilities in Pomigliano, forcing Alfa to transport everything they needed for the Sud down from the North ad additional cost.

    Eventually the root of evil was an extremely bad working morale in the factory, mostly because the workers weren’t used to regular working hours under industrial conditions. If somebody in the family needed support in his tomato fields, workers simply went there and didn’t go to work.

    The problem with the Sud was not so much that they all were bad, but that there were unbelievable quality variations between cars. If degreased bodies had been left standing around because there was nobody present to paint them, the tinware was already heavily corroded before it got its paint. This led to examples like the (in)famous “white series”, where windscreens were falling out of brand new cars with corroded screen surrounds when these were driven off the delivery trucks.

    Originally, the Alfasud was one of the first cars with glued in screens front and back. The glass was held by metal hooks, then the glue was applied. This system worked perfectly when tested in Milan, but in Naples workers couldn’t be bothered to stick to the given procedure, resulting in great problems with water ingress. Alfa changed this design several times and it invariably worked perfectly in Milan but didn’t in the Sud factory. In the end, Alfa retreated and used conventional rubber surrounds for the screens. Sud workers also couldn’t be bothered with things like tolerance classes in engine building. They simply threw whatever piston was nearest into whatever engine block was standing next. As a consequence Alfa had to change production methods to make sure that not even the worst combination of tolerances could do any harm, resulting in most engines being down on power and not running as smoothly as they should.

    In our family we owned a whole string of Alfasuds, the first being a car from the very first production run. It had the original cam belts running at fresh air without any protection, rubber mats on the floor, no rev counter and only a four speed gearbox. But it did have a five speed knob on the gear lever, despite the fact that the five speed box appeared only nearly two years later. On Sud number three, the tolerances in the body had the effect that the rear bulkhead couldn’t be welded to the rear inner wings because the panels simply wouldn’t line up and showed a large gap. The solution was to fill this gap with black body sealant and paint it over. Imagine the loud noise when the sealant snapped in the first hard driven corner in the brand new car and the wobbliness of the car after the bulkhead had come loose.
    To my eyes, these small details say enough about the production workers’ mentality.

  31. It’s a big shame, as the Alfasud was one of the best cars in its class, but terrible rust problems and poor build quality destroyed what could have been Italy’s answer to the Golf. That said, thousands of buyers in Britain took a chance on the car as the driving experience and styling was so good, and by the eighties the Alfasud had better rust protection, which meant buyers didn’t have to worry about rust appearing after 6 months..

  32. Allegedly various Alfa Romeo literature claim they were experimenting with a 5-bearing crank 2-litre version of the Alfa Romeo Boxer engine, when Fiat decided the Twinspark engine was a better option.

    It would have been fascinating seeing such an engine reaching production and powering the Alfasud / Sprint, 33 and 145/146.

    • Would it be fair to suggest that the smaller version of the boxer engines were better than the larger ones, and the basic design was 25 years old when phased out, so quite elderly anyway

      • Can see the appeal in the smaller versions (somewhat surprised a 1-litre version was never considered during the Alfasud’s development), though find the idea of a 2-litre Boxer potentially putting out almost 160 hp quite appealing.

        The impression one gets is the 2-litre Boxer project was looked at during the 1970s-1980s, so there was still much left to be exploited with the Boxer engine.

      • The ‘Sud engine was designed with enlargement in mind. Up to 1,500 cc it worked pretty well (the four carb, 95 hp 1,500cc version as used in the sprint veloce and Ti is very good) but the 1,700cc versions were stretched beyond the useful limits of the design and I doubt that any further enlargement would have been possible, let alone sensible.
        The engine’s age was not a problem because the design was extremely modern when it was presented, being the first boxer engine with a one piece crankcase and a large bearing gallery making it very stiff. Therefore a five bearing crank wouldn’t have been such a big benefit as it was already very stiff with three bearings. In a boxer engine, having no bearing between pairs of opposed cylinders gives the advantage of keeping the cylinder offset small, reducing vibrations and giving a short and stiff crankshaft. Look at how narrow the bearings in a Subaru engine are to get an impression of what Alfa would have had to do with their boxer to implement additional main bearings.
        The main problems of the ‘Sud engine (and the car in all) were production related and had nothing to do with its design.

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