All good things come from the ‘South’
Bruno Tonioli isn’t the only quick stepping rapid rumba dancer to come from Italy. In 1972 a motoring equivalent named the Alfasud was unleashed to the motoring world.
I have more than a soft spot for the Alfasud. If I am ever asked what car would be top in my fantasy garage of 5, an Alfasud is there. My second car was an Alfasud Ti. It was a three-month love affair that financially ruined a then 17-year-old Stuart.
Alfa Romeo needed a small car that would entice young people into the marque of Alfa Romeo. In 1967 a Viennese designer named Rudolf Hruska was entrusted with the task of turning the dream into reality. The premise was to design, develop and instigate the building process of a small car that would then hopefully get those new customers to buy other Alfa Romeos and so on.
There were three main prototypes presented. The first before Rudolf had joined only made it to the drawing stage. The second called the Tipo 103 was deemed too expensive to produce. This was a front wheel drive with a 900cc 4 cylinder twin cam engine in a three-box four-door saloon style body. The third incarnation was the Alfasud as we know it today.
Thankfully for Rudolf Hruska, Alfa Romeo had some unused facilities in a southern region of Italy in Pomigliano d’Arco. This is where the Sud or South in Italian comes into the name. The Alfasud is also the reason why ‘Milano’ was removed from the Alfa Romeo badge because now their cars were not only built in Milan.
The Alfasud was a major departure for the Milanese company. For a start, it was to be front wheel drive. Secondly, it was to use a totally new engine in design. In some ways, it did have twin cams but that isn’t totally true. The 4 cylinder boxer engine had one cam per two cylinders so was still classed as a single cam. I still like to think of it as a twin cam. Having worked previously for Porsche and Volkswagen it was no surprise that Rudolf would opt for a flat four designed engine. The layout allowed for a low centre of gravity and a low bonnet line. This really becomes evident when you drive one.
The body design was entrusted to Giorgetto Giugiaro of Ital design. This forward-thinking designer designed some of the most iconic cars ever to grace the roads and some that he would rather forget about. In the presence of this man don’t ever mention the Morris Ital.
In just five years the Pomigliano d’Arco factory was up and running giving much-needed employment to the southern inhabitants of Italy.
Sadly it didn’t all go to plan and industrial problems with an inexperienced workforce meant the Alfasud never made it the success it could and should have been. Strikes and poor workmanship were two key areas of failure. But you’d not think about these when you think Alfasud. What comes to mind is rust. And rust they did, even in areas where you wouldn’t expect it to. These rusted within two years of building.
Now forgetting that the Alfasud dissolved quicker than an Alka-seltzer, the car was a phenomenon.
Launched with a little single carburettor 1186cc engine, the 63bhp engine thrived like no other engine for revs. The raspy sound was intoxicating. And this intoxication quickly led to criticisms from the press for MORE power.
The handling at the time was legendary and for about a decade after launch, it was still the car other manufacturers tried to emulate. Alfa Romeo was quick to silence the critics with spoilers, sports style wheels, quad headlights, a rev counter and 5-speed gearbox which were all added to a two-door body and the Ti was born.
Then there were more problems. Supply and demand could not be met. This thwarted further development of the two-door shell being available in the lower spec models and the estate version ever making an impact outside of Italy. The much-needed hatchback-style body was delayed and finally arrived in 1981. However, the pretty ‘Sprint’ did make it, adding sporting sex appeal in a coupe style body with a hatchback boot.
Still, people wanted, even MORE, power. The Alfasud would end its 12-year production run with a 1490cc engine, twin carburettors and 105bhp in the Ti Green Clover Leaf.
The car used for this review belongs to Stefan. A lifelong fan of the Alfasud having had several over the years and a family who also had a love for the little Alfa Romeo. This is his 1982 series 3 1.3 SC with just 36,000 miles on the clock. Low mileage it might have but that hadn’t stopped the ravages of time taking hold. It has been subjected to a full body restoration prior to purchase. Since Stefan purchased the car he has nursed it through a full engine rebuild and sorting out the mechanical side of things while also removing the drama button from the dashboard. The car has had its problems. He says “Now not only does it look great, but runs just like the Alfasud should, smooth torquey flat four engine with that wonderful music to your ears raspy exhaust note.”
Stefan entrusted me with the keys. It has been 24 years since I last drove an Alfasud. It all came back to me very quickly. The heater fan switch on the end of the column stalk is a stroke of genius. The narrow footwell not so. The peddles were still as close together as I remembered. The low-slung engine allows for a low bonnet line. Il had forgotten that. It’s quite startling at first.
On the move, the steering was direct and nicely weighted. The assisted 4 disc brake system as powerful as ever. The inboard front discs allowing to eliminate unsprung weight during forceful braking. The ride and handling compromise still spot on in every way. The little 79bhp 1351cc engine was as fizzy as I remembered it with a rasp and pop from the exhaust that they became known for. It’s also smooth.
I could enthuse about the Alfasud until you fall asleep and even when you do I can still prattle on about them. So I’ll finish with a thanks to Stefan for letting me have a play and reigniting a long lost love affair.
With thanks to Gay classic car member Stefan for the loan of his car.
Motoring nurse or medical motorist? It’s a difficult one. By day l nurse and by night l drive.
Fingers have always been grease deep in attending the motoring of an ageing fleet. And now l write about new and old.
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Member of the Southern Group of Motoring Writers. (SGMW)