This is an exciting moment for us. Our first Alfa story.
I don’t why it’s taken so long, but here we go: a GT Junior and the whole of the Donnington Heritage Loop at our disposal. So of course the day was going to be brilliant whatever happened. I didn’t quite know how brilliant.
Alfas are cool again thanks to the Giulia. There’s no better time to wax lyrical about them. People are saying that with Alfa Romeo’s new line up (let's ignore the Stelvio for now) they are finally getting back to their old roots. I realised this was my chance to drive an old-school Alfa and actually find out what all the real fuss was about. My ‘True Alfa Romeo’ virginity was not to be lost in just any old Alfa Romeo, but the incredible 105 series Alfa Romeo. Perfect.
So what’s it like to drive?
I don’t know what I expected, any vague interpretation of forward motion I suppose - it’s still an old car. Well let's just say many hours have been spent trawling classifieds after my experience with Alastair’s GT Junior. It’s just so balanced. Every single movement feels calculated, the weight of the car in your ultimate control around every turn; the speed of the steering, the feel of the gearbox and the snap of the clutch all feel perfectly poised.
It’s progressive enough that you can push it with confidence and then if it does go, it’s easy to catch. It just wants to be driven. The engine fizzes, craving ever more of its 100 horses to be let out the stable - plenty for a bit of fun. Say what you will about rear engines or transverse wizardry, cars are meant to be like this: a naturally aspirated inline up front and a good dollop of rear-wheel-drive.
Alastair's 1968 car was originally fitted with the GT Junior’s economic 1300cc instead of the larger 1600cc-2L engines. Now with a 1750cc engine, that characterful tartan interior and a bunch of juicy bits from Alfaholics, this car is Alastair’s ‘greatest hits’ of the 105 series. “The previous owner put the 1750 Nord engine in, and then I’ve been through all the mechanicals: brakes suspension, drivetrain.”
“It’s one of the slower cars on a modern track day but it’s a lot of fun because all the limits are very low, it’s got normal road tyres on it and that sort of thing. I’ve done some sprint races in it too: it’s equivalent to an early MX5 around a sprint circuit.”
Alastair's history with classics didn’t start with this Junior. “My dad had Triumphs, Jaguars and Rovers, that sort of thing, so I was often helping him tinker. A great great uncle of mine was also the first person to open a mechanic’s garage in Derby, so there must be something in the genes. I’ve always been mechanically minded, anything that I can do in my little garage I’ll have a go at.”
Most Alfistas will admit to early onset of the obsession. For me, it was the owner of an 8C letting a specky teenager sit in his car. For Alastair it was aged 16 on a family holiday in Sorrento “I think we were surrounded by Renault Clios and Rover 200s - it stood out and was very evocative how it shot up those mountain roads in Italy”.
But why now buy a classic all these years later and not opt for a Brera of some sort? “I think that the later ones don’t quite offer the purity of design, so it was about the aesthetic. I would say this is their hay-day”. Too right. I wonder what Alfa would have made of flappy-paddle gearboxes back in the sixties.
So... the verdict
So our first drive in a ‘proper’ Alfa - was it as good as they say? Absolutely. These things are just beautiful to drive and what’s more, it really is the classic that can do it all. Whether pulling up at the Ritz, taking Gran to church or getting thrashed out on the track, I don’t think there’s anything quite as equally good at all three. What else is as beautiful, as practical and yet still as good to drive as a 105 Alfa Romeo coupe?