The parallels are to be found everywhere: Alfa Romeo and BMC>Rover – two companies, which have produced some of the world’s greatest cars.
Government owned during the 1970s, Alfa Romeo produced some of the shoddiest, most unreliable cars you could buy anywhere in the world. Electrics were a nightmare, and rust… well, don’t even talk about rust. You could buy an Alfasud during the Seventies, and within months of leaving the Pomigliano d’Arco factory in Naples it could rust anywhere. The earliest cars were truly appalling in this respect: they could rust in the roof panel, the sills, the A-posts, the doors, the wheelarches – anywhere you could think of.
As for build quality, ‘Suds were slack – very slack. The Italian government in its infinite wisdom chose to lend Alfa Romeo the money to build a new factory for its upcoming small car, but decided that it would only do so if Alfa Romeo built said factory in the poorest area of Italy, and used the least qualified car workers around. Add to that, Naples is at one end of Italy, and Turin is at the other. You get the idea… And doesn’t this all sound familiar?
But the styling was a Giorgetto Giugiaro masterpiece… and to drive, the Alfasud was – is – a towering achievement to the Italian engineers. With the Alfasud, Alfa Romeo proved that a 1.2-litre family saloon could be fun to drive, and a hoot to take around the corners. In many ways, the ‘Sud was the car to beat for the entire decade in terms of driving pleasure, and it was only with the onset of low-profile tyre technology in the early Eighties companies such as VW and Ford truly begun to catch up.
So, it is a car of mixed qualities – technically a stunningly good family car, but in the damp cold climes of the UK, totally useless, thanks to its propensity to dissolve in rain.
And many people in car circles have decided that the ‘Sud is Italy’s answer to the Allegro. And there are similarities: it has a small flap pretending to be a bootlid (where a hatch should be), it suffers from a dreadful reputation for unreliability, and like the Allegro, it is technically advanced. In one or two magazine road tests, the two cars were pitched together as rivals, and the results were very interesting. Mainly because they were both advanced front drivers in a class dominated by hum-drum tin boxes, such as the Ford Escort and Vauxhall Viva.
The ‘Sud is a car of mixed qualities:
technically, a stunningly good family
car, but in the damp cold climes of the
UK, totally useless, thanks to its
propensity to dissolve in rain.
Along with the Citroen GS, the ‘Sud and the Allegro proved that there was room for innovation in the family sector, and as a result, they are remembered today as cars that added character to the marketplace. However, the three cars were very different, and to call one an equivalent of the other would be doing each car a disservice. The Citroen and the Allegro offered interconnected suspension. The ‘Sud and the Citroen offered flat-four Boxer engines. The Alfasud and the Allegro offered sporting models at the tops of their ranges before VW defined the genre in 1976.
No, what these cars offered was diversity – something that is sadly lacking in the class of 2005, where conformity and high equipment levels now rule the roost.
So, is the ‘Sud Italy’s Allegro? Of course not. It drives better, looks better and rusts better… There may be superficial similarities, but the ‘Sud is Italy’s ‘Sud, and let’s leave it at that.
And just to prove the point, I’ve bought one for austin-rover.co.uk Towers to play with, so expect a twin test in the near future. As for knowing the answer to the question of which is better, we hope to find out the answer for sure very soon.
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.