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Triumph Dolomite vs Alfa Giulia

Weekend WORKOUT Published: 8th Mar 2013 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Triumph Dolomite vs Alfa Giulia

What The Experts Say...

Kenny Ford ran both a Dolomite and the Sprint during the late 1970s and early 80s. Naturally he liked the added performance of the Sprint and better cruising thanks to the (then optional) overdrive but found the engine more sensitive and fickle in service and suffered a warped cylinder head after earlier gasket failure. Ian Ellis of Surrey-based Classic Alfas specialises in most types of ‘105’ derivatives and says while interest is increasing with these saloons – along with panel availability – he doubts whether they will become as collectible as the GTV although they made good buys.

While the Alfa Romeo enjoys more of the heritage, the Dolomite and Sprint have sensibility on their sides but both brands provide comfortable five-seater motoring. Where the Alfa boasts proper five-speeds on later models (albeit geared for power rather than cruising) the Dolomite compensates with a six-speed care of (admittedly sometimes unreliable) overdrive.

If you want an automatic then there’s far more chance of finding one on the Triumph although it saps performance a fair bit, particularly on the Sprint.

Never overlook the plainer 1850 Dolomite. While not as zesty as the Sprint and not so boy racer looking, it’s a very decent sports saloon.

That’s not to say that a Giulia, particularly a five-speed, ‘four on the floor’ 1600 TI or the later Berlina wouldn’t make an equally satisfying classic either. Really it may be more down to what you find on sale in your price range above all other factors.

Triumph Dolomite vs Alfa Giulia
Triumph Dolomite vs Alfa Giulia
Triumph Dolomite vs Alfa Giulia
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These classics were very popular as ‘showroom racers’. What’s best now?

Before the Dolomite Sprint came along, Britain didn’t really posses what we know call a sports saloon. Granted there were Jags but these were bigger, pricier buys, while the likes of the Ford Cortina GT and Vauxhall’s VX4/90 weren’t really in the same league for go-faster motorists and weekend racers.

Then Triumph launched the compact and cultured Dolomite in 1972 which soon gained strong approval – a year later the 16-valve Sprint came along undercutting the likes of Alfa Romeo and BMW on price and out performing them too.

The medium Alfa saloon line had been going for about 20 years when the Dolomite Sprint burst on to the scene. The Alfa 1900 became the Giulietta in 1955 which morphed into the Giulia in 1962 that in various guises lasted until 1978. The Toledo- based Dolomite range survived until 1980.

For the family type, or those who just like speedy saloons, the Alfa and the Triumph make excellent classic buys that are ideal for road and track work. They’re sporty, sophisticated and super value for money.


Obviously the most interest goes to the biggest-engined Giulia and the Sprint but both cars offer wider choices; the Alfa Giulia uses engines from 1300cc and 80bhp up to 1600 and 113bhp, all of which had the distinctive, twin overhead camshaft
cylinder head. There was even a Perkins diesel which actually managed sales of almost 7000 although all were left-hand drive.

The Giulia received a clever makeover when it became the 1750 Berlina with 122bhp, which in turn was upgraded to 1962cc for a tad over 131bhp. Although they are not as distinctive as the earlier Giulias they are much better value.

During its life, the Dolomite came with 1300cc and 1500cc Herald-derived fours – but ‘real’ Dolomites came with either the 91bhp, 1854cc four-valve single overhead camshaft unit and the 16-valve but still single ohc version boasting 127bhp.

The Dolly was something of a hybrid based on the long-tail body of the front-wheel drive 1500 and the simplified rear-wheel drive configuration of the Toledo. Triumph, along with Ricardo Engineering had developed the slant-four unit for Saab and once the exclusivity agreement had expired could use this in the Dolomite together with a TR6 gearbox and optional overdrive plus its meatier differential.

The handling was so good that more power was needed and in association with Coventry Climax, a clever, cost effective 16-valve head was developed, the block bored out to 1998cc and the carbs enlarged, all of which added 36bhp. So as you can see, there’s some heritage in that engine and the Dolly Sprint was one of the top cars in ‘showroom’ saloon car racing of the 1970s.


Despite Alfa’s wonderful racing heritage, no Giulia, even in TI Super racing trim, has the performance of a standard, in good tune, Dolomite Sprint.

Even the journalists of the day raved about the Triumph which took performance to new levels despite very reasonable prices and high levels of practicality. Be honest, a max speed of 118mph and 0-60mph in just 8.6 seconds was sports car stuff back in ‘73 and, thanks to the optional overdrive, cruising at motorway speeds was relaxed (70mph at under 3000rpm) against the Alfas whose gear ratios were chiefly geared for acceleration.

While the Italian’s 80bhp from a 1.3 in the 1960s and 70s was a respectable figure, it would be better to look for a 1600 with between 96 and 113bhp and a lot more torque and the later 1750/2000s of course. Having said that, even the 1300 pulls sweetly and strongly and is a lot nicer to use than the quick but coarse Triumph units.

Handling is pretty much similar, all being conventionally sprung rear-wheel drivers, but the real difference is the steering; the Alfa uses worm and roller or re-circulating ball which was an option at the time. While good by steering box standards, neither is as precise as the Dolomite’s rack and pinion set up.
In modern terms both have lowly but entertaining limits, the general view during the Dolomite Sprint’s life being that there was a great engine looking for a suitable chassis…

Surprisingly for a sporting saloon, the Giulia originally came with a column gear change, a floor shift being optional before ‘64 when it was made standard.

While the brakes on the Dolly Sprint were upgraded from the 1850 with larger discs and drums, they are still a little marginal in view of the performance. These can be easily and relatively inexpensively uprated which is worthwhile and improves the car no end. Early Giulias had drums all round so these are even worse but all-round discs were optional from 1963 (standard from ‘64) so are well up to the Giulia’s pace and worth seeking out.

In terms of comfort the Dolomite is best. True, the ride can be crashy but the driving position is spot on thanks to good seats and a multi-adjustable steering column.


Dolomites are so much easier to own and boast more robust mechanics. While Alfa Romeo specialists are in abundance they mainly cater for GTVs and Spiders; the saloon’s lowly values mean body parts are harder to source and rebuilds are rare.

To get the best performance from a standard Giulia you need the twin Weber option and these are notoriously difficult to maintain and tune whereas the Dolly’s twin SUs can be repaired and balanced by any competent owner, for example.

Unless you are prepared to pop off to Italy for your Alfa parts you are going to find supply more difficult than with the Dolly.

Neither of these cars is expensive to buy with a really nice example of either car being available for under £10,000 and MOT’d runners for half that amount. There are a couple of exceptions; would-be racers such as the very rare Giulia TI Super (501 of which were made in 1963) boasting a lightweight body, twin, double-choke DCOE Webers, alloy wheels and so on.

For those who like the look of the Sprint but don’t need the 16-valvers pace there are three other versions available even more cheaply; the 1300, 1500TC and 1850 none of which will cost more than £3-4000 for a really decent example. The 1850, in particular, is a pretty nice car providing practical accommodation and 100mph performance with reasonable fuel consumption but without the 16 valver’s hang ups. The 1500TC is also rear-wheel drive and while no fireball is comfy and also has the benefit of overdrive.

And The Winner Is...

Thanks to the ravages of rust neither of these cars will be easy to find but either, providing they are bought carefully, will be rewarding. The Alfa Romeo has the advantage of that wonderful heritage, which is what classics are all about, while the Triumph offers more performance,
better steering, better parts and specialist back up and possibly better future investment potential; Sprints must rise in value soon! Overall the Brit has to be the logical winner but owners of these overlooked Alfas speak of them in glowing terms. A Giulia is ideal if the coupe GTV is too cramped and a Spider far too impractical for family motoring.

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