They say that love is blind, which probably accounts in part for a somewhat irrational love affair I once had.
If you’ve never driven an Alfa Romeo, then you might not fully understand the following. Even the lesser models, (except for a few years when Alfa were friends with Nissan) shared a common DNA which seemed to encourage enthusiastic driving. Years later when trying to get through Turin in the rush hour, I realised just how enthusiastically anything with wheels was driven on the Alfa’s home turf – it explained a lot.
I’d experienced and survived several white-knuckle drives in various Alfas, so I was on the lookout. At that time I knew a few people who had theirs for sale. I remember wondering, why would they want to sell these beautiful cars..?
In the early 1980’s I purchased a 1979 Alfa Romeo Alfasud. It wasn’t the fastest Alfa, but it was very pretty, bright red and made the right noises. It was also the right price.
Our first summer together was bliss. Alfa seemed to have engineered so much fun into car, that it was almost impossible to drive slowly. We spent many happy days screaming, (both the engine and passengers) down quiet Herefordshire back roads, revelling in the fact that we could push through corners faster than just about anything else. The paintwork still gleamed.
As autumn gave way to winter, I started to notice that my little Alfa had allergies – and one in particular. Water seemed to affect the ‘Sud in different ways, starting with the exterior lights. I had come to terms with the misting, but their random operation was becoming irksome. While travelling in the rain, certain lights would take a few minutes off, or fail completely until allowed to dry. Evidently, the car was homesick for it’s warm, dry birthplace.
While on my way to work one dark morning, I was brought to task by a policeman, who clearly didn’t understand the sort of things you had to put up with when driving an Italian classic. One of the headlamps wasn’t working, but I fixed that with a swift thump on the lens. Then the other side went out.. Eventually between us, (using a variety of blows) we managed to get everything working again and I was sent on my way with a cautionary warning. We would meet again.
The colder weather also highlighted shortcomings in the heating system, or lack of. Built in southern Italy, the designers had obviously thought that a decent size interior heater would weigh too much, so fitted a unit that would barely heat a glove box. Luckily I had gloves – and a hat.
A more serious symptom of the water allergy though, was rust. Initially just the odd paint bubble, there was no slowing it’s progress. By our second summer together, I’m sure the Alfa weighed considerably less than the previous year because it felt even faster. But this joy was short lived, when I found it needed both new sills and front wings, (rockers and fenders) to pass it’s MOT safety test. The ‘Sud was 5 years old..
Strangely, through all these ‘challenges’, I never stopped telling people how amazing the handling was, or how it could easily dust off the local tuned Fords on any road with a bend in it. On the right road, (a private one obviously) it would still pull to the red line in top gear. What more could a young man want?
Electrical issues were now getting more varied. When I next talked to a policeman, my lights had gone out. While we were speaking, (even though the car was switched off) they all came on again. As I drove off, the horn sounded and refused to go off until I later disconnected the battery.
I spent many rewarding hours over the next few months, replacing electrical connectors, sections of wiring, bulbs etc. I also became quite creative in finding ways to attach new ground wires, as much of the metal, (and I use that word in the loosest possible sense) was turning to dust. Parts of the paintwork still gleamed – small parts.
By the time the Alfa needed it’s next safety inspection, things were getting difficult between us. My girlfriend had nearly suffered frostbite on a December drive to Yorkshire, despite wearing many clothes. She later vowed not to travel in the ‘Sud again till Summer, which was a bad thing. Various points of corrosion on the car had now become so serious, that only major expense would put things right, with only a small chance of a lasting repair. A decision had to be made.
A few weeks later, a man who owned another Alfasud drove mine away. I knew his plan and the thought of him cannibalising my Alfa hurt, but probably less than the thought of another winter together. I knew several policeman by this time..
Of course, based on this experience any sensible person would probably have gone straight out to look for a nice, reliable car – probably Japanese. Unfortunately, I’m not that sensible and only days later I met a man who let me drive his beautiful 1982 Alfasud Sprint Veloce. This was the even faster, prettier 2 door coupe version of the ‘Sud, also designed by Giugiaro. It had the ‘big’ 1500 engine and even the heater worked!
But to this day, I still miss my little red Alfasud. It wasn’t the car’s fault that my girlfriend married a policeman, or that I still panic if I find a spot of corrosion, or if a headlight goes out. Luckily, over the years I’ve met others who were similarly afflicted and sharing our stories helped. Some of us can even stand quite close to an Alfa nowadays without becoming emotional. In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact that mine had long since returned to the earth, I’d buy it back in a heartbeat.