The Alfasud....small but perfectly formed

7w ago


Nowadays, we have the Alfa Romeo's such as the Giulia and the Stelvio, but back in the 70s and 80s the world had the Alfasud to feast their eyes on. I think it's a shame that Alfa Romeo don't produce a small family car like the Alfasud anymore.

Manufactured from 1979 to 1989, its safe to say it had a very good run in the Alfa production line. However, it wasn't exactly Alfa who produced it. The company, Industria Napoletana Costruzioni Autoveicoli of Italy were formed by Alfa Romeo and Finmeccanica, an Italian tech company. The company was based in southern Italy as a part of the labour policy of the government at the time. Was this a good move by Alfa? When you hear about their material suppliers you may think otherwise...

As you can imagine, this is one of Alfa's most successful models ever, selling almost 900,000 between 1972 and 1983. Later, Alfa released the 'Sprint' which was the sport coupe version which they ended up selling around 121,000 of between 1976 and 1989.

Before we got the Alfasud, Alfa had dabbled in making a small FWD car in the 50s but never took off, but then in the late 60s they laid down definite plans for a new model to join the Alfa Romeo lineup, which resulted in the Alfasud. It was developed by the Austrian, Rudolf Hruska, who was responsible for its uniqueness. Giorgetto Giugiaro from ItalDesign, an Italian engineering firm is responsible for the classic shape it holds and we all love today.

As we all know, Alfa Romeo always give its cars fantastic names such as the Giuletta, GTV Bertone, Disco Volante and the recent Stelvio. The Alfasud was assembled in a new factory in the south of Italy hence the name, Alfasud.

The ‘sud made its first appearance at the Turin Motor Show, Italy in 1971. It was an instant success and was heavily praised by motoring journalists all around due to its beautiful Italian styling. But, the Alfasud was a very unusual car. It featured something which had been previously tried by Lancia which was a FWD layout with a 1,186 cc water cooled boxer engine with a belt driven overhead camshaft on each cylinder head. Complicated stuff but to those who don’t know, it’s a very unusual layout.

It’s not just the engine you have to admire, the suspension was exceptional for a car of this calibre. It featured Macpherson struts at the front and a beam axle with Watt’s Linkage at the rear. Very advanced stuff for such a small mass-produced vehicle. But it worked!

Some other unusual features of the Alfasud include disc brakes for every wheel, rack and pinion steering even though this was less efficient than other ways such as a recirculating ball. With design of the boxer engine, Alfa Romeo were able to give the car a low bonnet line which made it rather aerodynamic for its time, giving it a low centre of gravity resulting in excellent performance for its engine size and good handling. But, one of my personal favourite features is that the lights, indicators, wipers, heater fans were all operated by 2 steering column stalks. The horn, operated by a stalk. Does it get any more 70s Italian than that?

Now, they didn’t just make one type of Alfasud, oh no, we had many different types. It started with the Alfasud Ti (Turismo Internazionale) which had a 1.2L engine producing around 67 bhp. Later came the more luxurious ‘SE and L’ models as well as the 3-door estate called the Giardinetta. After this we were presented with the first 4 door variant, the 5m which would have been very popular among families back then. Later we saw the Sprint which was the sportier version of the Alfasud and had a revised, more powerful boxer engine. Various face lifts came after this.

Well there you have it, the quickest summary of all the Alfasud variants ever?

Did you think I was finished? No, sorry! So, the 1980 face-lifted ones came with plastic bumpers, a new instrument panel, new front and rear lights and a couple other minor things. The Ti versions were fitted with a new twin carburettor version of the 1.5L boxer engine producing 95 bhp.

Unfortunately, Alfa were falling behind in the hot hatch market with the rise of the Golf and Peugeot 205 etc. They released a final version of the Alfasud, it had a tuned 1490cc engine producing 105 bhp called the Quadrifoglio Verdi (green clover leaf). But this wasn’t enough to keep it in the ranks.

The Alfasud had such a bad rusting problem that you could practically watch it rust. I mean you could literally pop inside to boil the kettle, come back out and the car would have doubled its amount of rust. Now, I know people say rust is lighter than carbon fibre so it can’t be that bad… it is bad.

This was rust was due to poor quality Russian steel which was used to build the cars, I guess it was cheaper for Alfa Romeo at the time. As if that wasn’t already bad enough, because the way the factory was laid out, all bare completed bodies had to be taken outside the factory and taken to a separate building for painting no matter what the weather! You can only imagine just how chaotic and bad this would be for the steel. Italian efficiency at its finest.

As you can see, the Alfasud did a lot for Alfa Romeo in terms of building a name for itself and being the first small family car they ever made. Should they bring it back? Perhaps, but it would have to be very rust proof to compete with the cars of today.

Is the Alfasud the sort of car that floats your boat?

If not, let me know why in the comments