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Alfa Sud Sprint

Alfa Sud Sprint Published: 30th Mar 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Alfa Sud Sprint
Alfa Sud Sprint
Alfa Sud Sprint
Alfa Sud Sprint
Alfa Sud Sprint
Alfa Sud Sprint
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Our resident addict on why he bought another Alfa, this time an Alfasud Sprint CAR: Alfasud Sprint YEAR: 1979 OWNER: Peter Vaughan

If you, like me, are heading rathertoo- rapidly towards the big five-o, then chances are – as a reader of this magazine – you probably had a Lambo Countach pinned on your bedroom wall as a child. A pipe dream and that’s why, there were second division dream cars, too. The ones that you might – one day – own, if not as a teenager with zero no claims bonus.

Think of the last of the wedgenosed Escort RS2000s for those old-school rear drive thrills, but more likely the first of the hot hatches – a Golf GTi Mk1 or Escort XR3. Thing is, my tastes were always governed more by aesthetics: it was always a Berlinetta Boxer rather than a Countach for me (despite Car magazine’s preaching about the engine being too high up, over the gearbox, thus ruining the handling) and, closer to the realms of reality, there was something magical about the humble Alfasud.

Ok, I admit that perhaps the Alfa might have seemed too exotic for many of my school chums, sharing its native land with the Countach and BB at a time when most of their parents had a Ford, Rover or Vauxhall. But it had that Italian style that nothing else in its class could match. And my mum drove an Alfa – a Bertone GTV (see December 2014 issue). And the chief mechanic at my dad’s garage had a Sud Sprint. And my best friend at school had a Sud. Not just any Sud, but the sporty, three-door, twin-carb Ti. Can you see a pattern forming here?

The thing is, everyone knew a story – even then – about rusty Suds. The use of thinner steel was endemic across the 1970’s motoring landscape, as was a woeful lack of rustproofing, but the Sud went further with drooping doors, leaking windscreens, exposed boot hinges… For every story of how great the Sud was to drive, you’d probably hear two more tales of these little Alfas falling apart around their owners’ ears.

THIRTY YEARS LATER

I’m not quite sure why, but a couple of years ago, I started looking at Alfasuds on the web. This, as my wife puts it, was my new ‘car porn’. Except that I seemed to have developed an extreme automotive perversion. There just weren’t any Suds out there, good or bad. Even at Alfa Romeo Owners Club events Suds had become a rare sight. Had a left it too late?

Not, perhaps, if I opted for the Sud that isn’t a Sud – the latemodel coupé, which had become simply an Alfa Romeo Sprint, rather than an Alfasud Sprint. The idea was quite tempting. The occasional one appeared online and the typical £6k price tag (for a decent one) didn’t seem unrealistic. But plastic bumpers and 1980’s add-ons hardly enhance the crisp Giugiaro lines.

And, when I talked to experts such as the now-sadly-retired Tom Shrubb at BLS Automotive in Lincoln and long-term Sprint Trofeo owner, Bryan Alexander, they put me off the idea, telling me that the earlier cars are much nicer to drive. As they are certainly much nicer to look at, too, my search would now be much more specific. Maybe a pre-hatchback Ti would fit the bill? Maybe, but what I now decided I wanted – no, needed – was a chrome bumper Sud Sprint Veloce. In red. Just like the one my dad’s workshop manager owned all those years previously.

According to the website howmanyleft.co.uk there are currently 26 of these cars still on the roads in the UK (17 of them on SORN), compared with a total production figure for all Sprint coupés (across all markets) of over 102,000. The survivors won’t all be in Alfa’s traditional hue…

SEEING RED

I’d almost given up my search as a lost cause when marque specialists, Black & White Garage, advertised a 39,000-mile Sprint – in red. It looked exactly like the car I’d so admired in my teens and had a complete history, right back to its original sales invoice from Rawsons TMS of Tunbridge Wells – for £5411.34. Its first owner paid £12 for a tank of fuel, £82 for “Protectol treatment” – perhaps this rust-proofing is why it’s still on the road 36 years later, and £31 for “cloth trim change” – to a murky chocolate brown that shows up every fleck of dirt and dog hair!

The car has clearly been loved over close to four decades, as most obviously displayed by 21 pages of hand-written history. But, backing up what every pub pundit will tell you, Alfa’s build quality of the era is also highlighted by the list of faults on delivery: damaged carpet on driver’s side, braking unevenly causing weaving, vibrations, rear window winders not fixed, front number plate cracked, paint damage to rear spoiler, a tailgate that didn’t close properly and a washer bottle top that didn’t fit!

A further eight warranty issues were listed less than a year later, with just 2643 miles recorded. Clearly, though, Mr Porter loved his Alfa, keeping it for nearly 22 years and just over 31k miles. From there on, the writing in the folder changes style, but the love bestowed on the ageing car carries on. As an example, the wing mirrors were replaced in 2006, before the car won ‘best in class’ at Summer Alfa Day. It was already a rarity – one of 22 Suds there (just four of them Sprints). The owner comments on file, “I wonder if there are any original ones [red Sprints] out there?”

Like the first owner (who traded in a Sud Ti), FKN996V’s third owner was a repeat ’sud purchaser, having owned one at 18 and only selling to pay for an engagement ring. Four kids later, he still had the same lady and the same Sprint. The fourth baby arrived just after the Sud’s appearance on the owners’ club stand at the NEC Classic Motor Show as part of a celebration of the Boxer engine. Fortunately, Robinson junior arrived after the show, but with the car having covered only a little over 5000 miles in nine years, it moved to a fourth owner in 2013.

LIVING THE DREAM

Perhaps, then, you have to be an “Alfaholic” to own one of these cars, because today the Sud shares its address with the aforementioned 105-Series Giulia and a modern Giulietta. As the first ever front-drive Alfa, it might seem closer in spirit to the latter, but it’s actually just four years newer (by first registration) than the former. In reality, it’s like neither.

So much of the car’s character comes from the Boxer ‘four’ that was developed especially for the Sud range and, here, in 1.5-litre form (up from a 1.2 in the saloon at launch) with 95bhp (up from a meagre 63bhp), it’s the best of the breed. Later cars may have boasted a meatier 1.7-litres, but aficionados prefer the 1.5. It’s a super-smooth unit that revs cleanly right around the dial, with a trademark cackle on the over-run.

Sitting low in the nose and looking compact, the Boxer engine was part of a highly sophisticated make-up that surely made the car too costly to build (the subsequent 33 was a step backwards in some aspects). Inboard front disc brakes (and rear discs, too) and a five-speed gearbox were standard (and this in the era of the Morris Marina!), while double bulkheads mean that engine noise is well suppressed – though it still sounds Italian and sporty!

Show the Sud Sprint a twisty road today and the rather heavy, unassisted steering (especially with a smaller after-market wheel) is the most dated aspect, but the handling is still quite remarkable; in the late 1970s it must have been in a league of its own. But while modern cars achieve their roadholding prowess through massive low-profile tyres, the Sud sits on modest 175/70 R 13s that also allow the sort of soothing ride long lost to the drivers of sporty machinery with super low profiles.

None of this surprises me, though, having read countless stories of how good the Sud was to drive, leading up to it being voted Car of the Decade by both Car magazine and TV’s Top Gear. What caught me totally unaware was the quality of build – yes really! The doors shut with a sort of Germanic precision; the bonnet doesn’t slam closed but is secured by a bar locked down via a catch inside the cabin; the rear side windows wind down for passenger ventilation; the seat trim looks unworn and upmarket after all these years…

If only so many hadn’t succumbed to the tinworm, perhaps the Sud – and the Sprint coupé, in particular – would be more revered now and better supported by spares and specialists, just as the Giulia 105-Series cars are. However, the numbers left are so tiny that sightings are few and prices all over the place. I paid £13k for mine, which seems good value at less than half the cost of an equivalent condition Bertone. After all, today it’s probably a rarer sight than that Countach…

 



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