Well, here’s the Adams’ household’s new toy and it has to be said that everything they said about the Alfasud seems to be true. It’s fun and soulful, loves a blast around the B-roads of Britain, and most surprisingly, seems to evoke some smiles from other road users (maybe derision, maybe pity… not sure). Heck, we even get let out of side-roads in this – something that doesn’t happen if I’m in a Rover 75. I know that this is not the sort of car that you would expect to see on austin-rover.co.uk but bear with me on this…
You see – the Alfasud is fun, and most importantly, it has opened my eyes to the fact that it is not neccessary to have over 200bhp in order for a car to be enjoyable.
Last week, I sampled the delights of the Rover 75 V8 saloon, as well as being taken for a blast around the Rockingham racing circuit (thanks Oliver Marriage of AutoExpress magazine for that one) in the Aston Martin DB9, and also had a bit of a laugh in the seriously overpowered Vauxhall Monaro. All good fun, and in each instance, a clear demonstration that a multi-cylinder high powered car delivers fun-with-a-capital-F.
So why get in a lather about a 1982 Alfa Romeo with 85bhp and a slightly dodgy gearbox? Well, not because it is fast, that’s for sure. Ultimately, it does not even go around corners that fast, either. I know, because I took it on a bit of a cross country course last night, followed by a Rover Vitesse Sport Coupé, then a 75, and both of the more modern cars annihilated it point to point.
So the ‘Sud is good because it is a
tactile driving experience?
So why rate the Alfa?
I think it comes down to one thing: communication. The Alfa talks to you… you feel the road through the seat of your pants, and the steering (although not as good as an Allegro’s – shock horror) seems to be hard-wired into the road surface. Steering a ‘Sud (compared to any modern car) is akin to running your fingers along the asphalt. You know the road surface intimately, and that means you know what the car is doing – if the rear starts to even deviate 1mm off-line, you’ll know. And that gives you enormous confidence to fling it round country lanes – because you know where the limits lie.
The same goes for the handling – this car really does impress. It does not understeer at all – well, not that I have discovered yet – and serves as a reminder that it is possible to make a front wheel drive car handle neutrally. I guess since the days of this car – and maybe the Peugeot 205GTi that followed it – manufacturers have been dialling more safety into their chassis set-ups, and that inevitably means understeer. Most drivers prefer the safety of understeer to the opposite-lockery of oversteer… and let’s face it, who can blame them.
This lack of communication in modern cars, I guess, comes from the steering, chassis set-up, and tyre choices. A modern family car typically now sits on 17-inch wheels, with ultra low-profile tyres. It means you can go very fast without sliding, but the trade-off is feel. Modern ultra-stiff sidewalls don’t flex, and are combined with numb steering and understeery chassis set-ups. Does that mean that all modern cars are dull to drive? Of course not – the MG ZS is proof positive of this – but this an honorable exception in a world blurred by weight and fuzziness.
So the ‘Sud is good because it is a tactile driving experience? Essentially, yes.
I’m sure the Alfasud is not alone for this – most Seventies family cars would probably be a revelation to drive compared to its modern counterpart (at least in terms of feel). Just that at in the mid-Seventies, the Alfasud was the best in breed… or was it?
If you have an Allegro and wish to prove me wrong in this assertion, I would love to hear from you…
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.