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A Tale of Two Alfas

(Way beyond comprehension in spanner land)

Contributed by Alan Holmes

 

‘ALF’

Alfa motoring began for me in ninety three with a 1987 black 75 2.5 V6 cloverleaf Veloce. Like the one Jerkson so cruelly wrecked for his tv show. I urgently needed a car to travel between six junior schools with 85 young pupils plus the evening classes at the music centre. Gradually I learned that because Alfa Romeo couldn’t afford to make a whole new car, it was built on the Alfetta GTV6 floor pan and mechanicals. A compact four seater for the American market where they call it a ‘Milano’. 75 meant it was the seventy fifth year of Alfa Romeo in Milan. The gearbox was in the back axle for even weight distribution with the electric window switches in the ceiling like an aircraft. It was also reputed to be a carabinieri spec tuned for speed and not economy with 17 mpg on unleaded. Even had two computers ; one to work the engine, one to tell you everything else. The Alfa was stylish, exclusive and smart. Never saw another one.. The weekly visit to the motorway meant that the rear arches got eaten away by the salt. Resulting eventually in MOT failure when the helpful MOT man sold his business to some young blokes who didn’t know what they were looking at. ‘VOSA wants all these off the road’. I took this very personally as ‘Alf’ had been with me for sixteen years and had become a very rare car and a pet hobby restoration project. Last of the true rwd Alfas. ‘Collectable’, in the sense that you had to collect the bits before you could drive it. New Recaro interior, Veloce bumpers , CSC exhaust, new discs ,pads and back callipers. Several new petrol pumps, New revolution wheels and Yokohama tyres..Then the battery went flat and wouldn’t start when I had to get to the dentist, so I had to puff there on my mountain bike. This started me musing about how nice it would be if I could just get in and drive to see my far flung relatives without getting my spanners out and worrying about getting stranded on the motorway again for six hours. As happened when my Reliant Scimitar steamed up on the inside like a chip shop.

 

AUTOMOTIVE PORN RESULTS IN BANK RAID

Regular pictures of the Brera in the AROC Mag meant that, like most readers, I dreamed of driving one. Faced with a long wait with ‘Alf’ off the road and a possible thousand pound bill while the 75 had a big welding job with repair panels to the rear arches, it suddenly became obvious that I could and should buy a Brera. Even though I had never seen one. After all, the money was sitting in the bank earning zero interest and I couldn’t face the stress of dear old Alf having the yearly inquisition by the VOSA death squad.
So we swish up to New Barnet in my friend’s opulent V8 Jag where Veloces had two revised MY 08 210 diesel Brera coupes with low miles. Alfa have apparently revised the lightened suspension to the extent of losing the equivalent of a 12 stone bloke.( Hopefully not the one driving.) The red one had a glass roof but you couldn’t see out of it without the use of a Stanley knife. Only Alfa would make a car with a glass roof and then cover it over unless you wanted to pay an extra five hundred quid for the electric blind. If you are reasonably tall, this blind also gave another two inches of headroom when retracted, so it became not so much a luxury as a necessity. Sky View – SV, it had to be, although this also meant virtually every conceivable luxury extra as standard. Even a temperature controlled drinks compartment in the drivers arm rest with electric mirrors and seats. Front and rear parking sensors. Up close it was even better than the photos. (Note; Carbonio black has nothing to do with dog biscuits for cars but is a tinge of blackcurrant and turns violet when the car is wet.) Warning; Crushed Bonio’s in the paint could result in being chased by dogs.

 

TESTING TIMES

After inserting what looked like a mobile phone into the dash of the black SV and pressing the ‘Start’ button, we went for the test drive. The indicator was on the left stalk not the right I was used to, so I had wash and wipers instead of a turning signal. But the brakes were incredible. Four pot brembos on 13 inch ventilated discs with ABS. Accustomed as I was to a braking sensation similar to treading on a small furry animal, the first time I braked from slow speed it stopped dead and threw us against the seat belts. The engine is so quiet at tick over I thought I had stalled it. The six speed gear box with its short, racy lever was confusing. The Brera felt ten feet wide and not the six it really is. So that was how a very nervous car salesman ;’Just take it easy’, was sitting next to a blundering driver in a newish Alfa Brera, proceeding in a somewhat jerky manner down New Barnet high street ,washing the windscreen instead of indicating while asking ’What gear are we in now? ‘
The Brera’s two hundred and ten diesel horses are trotting until its rev counter (giri) gets past due mila cinquecento giri and the turbo boost gauge gets past halfway. Then they gallop, rocketing us forward in a scary manner for passengers until it starts to roar through its four exhausts and you urgently need the superbrakes. 0 to 60 in 7.8 and 143 mph is hardly slow. It has more torque than the V6 petrol and much more power that the 170 horses of the 75’s 2.5 V6. .Coming home on the motorway with dual climate control it was a nice place to be. Apart from tyre noise on some surfaces, it is as quiet as the V8 Jag and very smooth with quick steering should you need it. Eight airbags and automatic fuel cut off make it one of the safest cars to have a crash in.
Having read on the web about all the problems with tyre wear on 18 inch wheels, I was relieved that Alfa had fitted 17 inch, 5 spoke wheels, with Goodyear Eagle F1 ZR 225x50 tyres rated to 168mph and showing no signs of wear at 11,000 miles. These look like a formula one wet tyre (remember when F1 was all Goodyear ?) So sticky that they make a juddering noise when you park on smooth concrete yet don’t make the fillings fall out of your teeth when you go over a bump.
I drove all the way home in fifth, thinking that the six gears included reverse. Now I know that there is six forward speeds and that the sixth gear is an extra high overdrive to do over 50mpg at 70 mph. When I got home in the dark I had no idea how to get reverse. So just had to park front first until I had a chance to look in the book to find that reverse was on the opposite side protected by a ring that has to be raised. Another Alfa quirk is the tinted windscreen, possibly because of the air conditioning. Fine in sunny Southern Italy but you could want the Xenon headlamp option or H7 Xtreme Power bulbs to see out on a pitch dark B road. Changing the bulb made the retaining clip ping into the recesses. To obtain another means a new headlamp for two hundred and forty six sovs.

 

AUTOMOTIVE ART BY DESIGN

Giugiaro made his design name with the Bertone coupe, his first famous motor show car. He is so proud of his Brera design his name is on a sticker behind front wheels because he achieved that which has eluded so many car designers. A car that looks like it is moving when standing still. The Brera is pure Italian style. Automotive art. Rather like how pretty girls can be damned with comments like ‘ yes but she needs a good wash’, it’s so stunning from every angle that it attracts bitchy criticism from reviewers. I was able to fit my two 5 foot nothing nieces in so, despite what reviewers say, one of the back seats can be used if your passengers are dinky. If you need 4 seats, that’s why they make the 159. Stupid boy ! A Brera looks like a real supercar that could believably wear a Ferrari or Maserati badge, yet gives 41 mpg from a sports turbo diesel. Saving the planet at only £175 to tax and 18 pence a mile to run is uniquely Alfa. Giugiaro designed it. Pininfarina production engineered it. Fiat built it and General Motors did the five cylinder 20 valve, turbo diesel tweaked by Alfa and Bosch that first appeared in the 156. Now producing 60bhp more than the BMW 3 series 2 litre diesel coupe. If Alfa go ahead with a GTA version by fitting a turbocharged V6 with 350 horsepower it will cost nearly fifty thousand pounds and do 9 mpg. Alfa have made a unique car by combining the looks of a hundred thousand pound plus supercar for only twenty eight thousand, including every possible luxury extra. A car you can actually afford to run in the real world- 220 miles on a quarter of a tank so far.

 

SPEEDING TO OBLIVION

Outwitting the occasional plods wearing peaked caps in a Daimler Dart while getting as near to a hundred as my tuned MGB would do in overdrive, was how I spent 1968 at speeds where the white dotted lines turn into a solid strip. I got no speeding tickets because if the rozzers caught you then you should have been done for driving without due care and attention too. Not much traffic , no cameras and Newcastle from London in under four hours was achieved with relative ease on five star at five bob a gallon and Pirelli Cinturatos. I had a couple of hairy moments on corners, once ploughing through a cabbage field. But even back then, way before mobile phones, people were just not ready for you arriving so much sooner than their slow wits could imagine. Making it essential to look at least half a mile ahead and anticipate things pulling out with no warning. In the days before yellow lines, even a pram pushed boldly out onto a crossing oblivious to my approaching at over eighty. You just can’t drive at really high speeds today because you are sharing the road with dangerous loonies. Gigantic foreign lorries whose drivers are doing 50 on cruise control reading their newspapers. BMW maniacs overtaking with one hand while looking at a text in the fast lane and one-eyed Ford fiestas on bald tyres doing 80 with no insurance. Not to mention lemmings driving at seventy into thick fog. If all that was not enough ,sneaky speed cameras trying to take your licence, setting off the alarm on the Tom Tom literally every half mile.

 

MR. SPANNER SACKED AFTER BEING MADE REDUNDANT
Clarksonius says in in his 159 review that Alfa putting the cruise control behind the wheel is ‘ swivel eyed lunacy’ when a touch of the brake or accelerator will disengage it. Thus technology has now gone well beyond the comprehension of those drivers who, with genuine ‘swivel eyed lunacy’ , don’t read the manual. A Brera’s four fuse boxes with 75 fuses and several computers mean that you really can’t do anything except change the oil and light bulbs. When the ‘blue and me’ hiding in the steering wheel can read a text back to you and has memorised your phone book to call anyone you know and Microsoft Windows media player is hiding in the glove box so you can now have 80 albums that can be literally told to appear, it gets way beyond comprehension in spanner land. All that is left for me to do now, is hang up my spanners and get all those elbow exercisers in white plastic bottles ready for the polishing contests.
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