Any AROnline readers who have read the mini-biographies on our Contact Us page will know that the other famous automotive ‘AR’, Alfa Romeo, has a place in my heart.
The Alfa Romeo and BMC>MG stories share a number of interesting historical parallels: the companies were both Government-owned for significant periods and both developed some of the most ground-breaking and influential front wheel drive family cars of the 20th Century: think Sir Alec Issigonis’ Mini and Rudolf Hruska’s Alfasud. An article exploring those historical parallels in some depth might be one for the future but this story was prompted by a much more recent, if somewhat tenuous, connection: a conversation with SMTC UK’s Director – Chassis, Andy Kitson, during the opening of MG’s new Global Design Centre at MG Birmingham back in June.
Andy and his colleagues had been using the current Ford Focus as one of the benchmarks for the MG6’s ride and handling. However, having just driven the new Alfa Romeo Giulietta at Alfa Romeo’s famous Balocco test facility in Northern Italy for Octane Magazine, our Editor, Keith Adams, reckoned that the Giulietta had now set a new benchmark for C-segment ride and handling. Andy no doubt took Keith’s feedback on board but had not at that point, prior to the Giulietta’s UK launch, had a chance to drive one himself. A passing reference to the Alfasud, though, set me thinking about past and present ride and handling benchmarks…
You see, back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when my friends were driving MG Midgets and Triumph Spitfire 1500s, I was driving Alfa Romeo Alfasuds – I had four of them in succession. My last 82/X Alfasud 1.3Ti was sold in January, 1984 but, since then, the Alfasud has always been one of my two benchmark front wheel drive cars. However, after my conversation with Andy Kitson, I found myself thinking that now might be the time to review that opinion and wondering how a ‘Sud would compare with, say, the Giulietta. Time, then, to hatch a plan!
The easy part was arranging a Test Drive in an Alfa Romeo Giulietta – my local Alfa Romeo Dealer was happy to oblige. Keith Adams’ 82/X Alfasud 1.5SC needs re-commissioning so we thought that finding an Alfasud to drive would probably be a real problem. However, fortunately sometime AROnline Contributor, Graham Eason, of Great Escape Classic Car Hire came to our aid. Graham has an 84/Y Alfasud 1.5Ti which, to his great credit, he was prepared to lend me even though the car is not currently available for hire.
The final element of the plan also slotted neatly into place – my friend, Michael, and two workmates were taking his 147 GTA to the Alfa Romeo Owners Club’s (AROC) National Alfa Weekend at the famous Shelsley Walsh Hillclimb course in Worcesterhire. Graham keeps his ‘Sud at his company’s base near Inkberrow which is also in Worcestershire and just 25 miles from Shelsley Walsh so, last Sunday, we were able to combine a run in the ‘Sud with a visit to the National Alfa Weekend.
My Test Drive in the Alfa Romeo Giulietta 1.4TB 170 Lusso last Saturday therefore helped me to give some context to the following day’s drive in the Alfasud. Alfa Romeo engines such as the Alfasud’s Boxer Flat 4 and the Busso V6 possess such a combination of character and performance that they are hard acts to follow but the Giulietta’s new MultiAir engine lives up to that tradition. However, whilst the Giulietta’s ride and handling were, at least on the Lusso’s 16in alloys, impressive and probably at or near best in class, the car seemed to be a little lacking in soul irrespective of whether the DNA switch was in Dynamic or Normal mode. An Alfa should beg to be driven, will you to wake up at 5.00am for a lap or two of the Evo Triangle but, for some reason, this version of the Giulietta did not quite connect with me in that way. Mind you, a 1750 TBi Cloverleaf might still work the Alfa magic…
The ‘Sud on Sunday? Well, the drive from Inkberrow to Shelsley Walsh really did turn back time for me. Alfasuds are so eager to engage and entertain the driver that they have an almost terrier-like character – the aural and tactile feedback from the engine and chassis is communicated with a clarity and purity that most of today’s affordable family cars struggle to match. Colin Metcalfe, the enthusiastic Secretary of the Alfa Romeo Owners Club’s Alfasud Register, says that ‘Suds do, indeed, will you to drive them but that, with just 247 registered here in the UK back in 2007, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to do that.
However, based on my conversations with Colin, Bryan Alexander, the Alfasud Register’s Webmaster, and the other members of the Register at Shelsley Walsh last weekend, the ‘Suds that survive are in good hands. Interestingly, a 76/P Alfasud 1.2ti belonging to Jon Trinder was third overall in the AROC’s Concours and won an award for “Best Original Car.” Jon has owned his ‘Sud for the last 33 years and, when asked why he had kept the car for so long, he replied: “The memory of the first drive…” My friend, Michael, who had never driven an Alfasud before, drove Graham Eason’s back to Inkberrow and, by the end of the journey, he knew exactly what Jon Trinder had meant – he would have happily driven the ‘Sud home instead of his 147 GTA!
My weekend affair with the other ‘AR’ left me reflecting on several points:-
1) a full-spec Giulietta 1750 TBi Cloverleaf would cost around £30,000 otr while a good little ‘Sud would cost around £3,000 and yet still reward the driver with more smiles per mile. Interestingly, UK-spec Giuliettas do not have a rest for the driver’s left foot whereas the Alfasuds do – some might say that neatly defines the difference in the character of the two cars…
2) Andy Kitson and his colleagues at SMTC UK might, by now, have driven an Alfa Romeo Giulietta but, perhaps, they and, indeed, every Chassis Engineer should drive a ‘Sud at least once in their professional lives just to provide themselves with an historical benchmark for a car’s ability to communicate with the driver – they would have a lot of fun in the process as well!
3) Keith Adams, might well have changed his mind about disposing of his ‘Sud had he been with us last Sunday and will probably come to regret the decision. However, if any AROnline readers can help find a good home for the little car, then please contact him via this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Editor’s Note: My personal thanks go to Graham Eason of Great Escape Classic Car Hire and to Colin Metcalfe and the other members of the Alfa Romeo Owners Club’s Alfasud Register for helping to make last Sunday such a memorable day.]
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