Many years ago, in my early 20s, I drove an Audi 80. It was comfortable, well-built and efficient, just as you'd expect from a German car. There was only one thing wrong with it- it had no soul. I knew this because I was slightly ashamed to drive it; this situation was made worse one day when a friend asked where the child seats were. At that point I knew I needed to buy a car more fitting for a young man about town. I needed to buy a sports car.
A friend of mine had a lovely Alfa Romeo Spider, and I decided I wanted one too. I found one I could afford and bought it, knowing absolutely nothing about the model. It was a dog. The brake master cylinder was already leaking by the time I got it home, it was five different shades of red and there were holes in the floor, but it was my car and I loved it. I drove that car everywhere: it lived through German winters, Cornish summer holidays, and holed pistons by the side of the motorway. Thirteen years later, I finally parted with it, sold to a friend. He wrote it off three weeks later.
Since then, I've had (I think) another 28 Alfas, most of which were 101 and 105 series cars with the wonderful twin-cam engine in the picture above. I've spent the GDP of a small country keeping them on the road, and have become adept at fitting new head gaskets and convertible tops. I refer to my current Alfas- a 1976 2-Litre Spider and a 2005 3.2 V6 GT- as my 'Alfa Money Bonfire', which I must constantly feed cash to keep lit.
But the thing about Alfas is that they do have soul. Just like children, they know exactly where your breaking point is, and push you right up to the limit. I advertised my original Spider for sale three times, utterly frustrated with a car that was rusting itself to death, ran terribly and had electrics with the resilience of the England football team. On each occasion the sun came out the day before the advert was published, the top came down and the carbs miraculously cleared. A couple of hours later I returned home, once again in love with this car that revved so beautifully, turned heads wherever she went, and made me feel so close to the road. Twice, I withdrew the car from sale.
I bought my GT and three weeks later the temperature light came on. I stopped within about 100 yards and opened the bonnet. No coolant. Many thousands of pounds (and a new engine) later, I collected the car, very happy with the renewed power it offered. Shortly afterwards the oil cooler failed. Then one of the coolant hose clips. Then the battery, which sent the ECU haywire and had to be reset. It now owes me about twice what it is worth, but I love that car with a passion- the noise that V6 Busso engine emits is the sound angry angels will make when the day of reckoning finally comes.
So, Alfa Romeo, you have my heart. You may be a pain in the arse sometimes and make me spend money on you like it is going out of fashion, but you are beautiful, racy, fiery... You bring out passions in me that I didn't know existed, and if that means a bit of pain along the way, just call me Mr Grey.