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I was delighted to see that C&SC’s latest issue celebrates Alfa Romeo, because this is a manufacturer that I hold much affection for.
When talk turns to Alfa Romeo, my memory returns unerringly to the first of the marque I ever drove, a 1973-ish Bertone GTV my boss of the time, Peter Robinson, doyen of Australian motoring scribblers and then editor of Sydney-based Wheels magazine, had sourced from Alfa Australia as a road test car.
Robbo was always far more generous with test cars that he needed to be (I’d been in the job a few months), but he sent me away for a superb driving weekend during which I was rarely out of the seat, bringing the GTV back with an extra 600 miles on the odometer.
This experience and others (I eventually drove one of these on a 4200-mile round trip to the top of Australia and back), have left me with the certain knowledge that if today I was asked to choose any classic Alfa Romeo of my own, the 2.0 GTV would certainly be the one.
The original car, the Giulia Sprint GT, was the work of a young Giorgetto Giugiaro, on Bertone’s payroll at the time, which just makes it better.
Whenever I see these coupés now (and, happily, you do see them zipping about at this time of the year), it regenerates my long-held wonder at the timelessness of Bertone’s design and the way it still looks like a classy baby exotic — yet today you can still buy one for £40,000.
Owners report that they’re not difficult to own as long as you buy rust-free and know a good specialist.
And their vital statistics (122mph top speed; 0-60mph sprint in nine-point-something seconds) make it clear they can easily cope in modern traffic.
In fact, driving today is made all the better by their compact dimensions, great visibility via thin ’screen pillars, and light weight.
Before that day when we called at Alfa Romeo Australia’s underground HQ to collect this car, Robbo had been giving it plenty about the rasp and the torque of the famous 131bhp twin-cam engine – curiously redlined at only 5700 rpm – and the wonderful gearchange that wasn’t exactly short of throw, but had quick synchros and a delicious precision about its action.
The brakes were nice, too, with a hard pedal and a reassuring lack of travel, once you got used to the bottom-hinged pedals.
By then I’d had years to ruminate on Alfa’s Bertone coupé, having read the superb writings of another Aussie role model, Bill Tuckey, who produced a fabulous piece about the 1600 Giulia Sprint (as the first version to hit Australia was labelled) littered with gilded phrases, some of which I can still recite.
Tuckey wrote about getting up very early on a Sunday to drive on traffic-free roads, about choosing shoes that would complement the Alfa’s singular foot controls (and allow precise heel-and-toeing), and about choosing to drive on his own because that allowed the total concentration that is needed for true driving enjoyment.
He talked about a 100-mile drive from which he was heading home just as others were setting out on their day of pleasure.
He talked of ‘dealing out the road in inches’ with the Alfa’s terrific steering, and about ‘blowing picnics up grass banks’ as he scythed through corners at full noise. It was one of his best pieces of writing, and he certainly produced plenty.
On my own high-mile weekend the car was everything I hoped, an antidote to much larger American-bred, six-pot and V8-powered saloons that were our staple diet back then, with an Italian-bred lightweight delicacy built in to replace ‘cubic-inch theory’.
Even though that GTV had what we regarded as a ‘little’ engine, it was absolutely as quick as I needed it to be.
As the years passed there were lots of drives in Alfas of this generation – Spiders and saloons, too – and we regularly confirmed their excellence in comparison tests.
Then (because the Alfa people were unusually amenable), I borrowed a GTV 2.0 to drive the 10-day return trip from Sydney to Cairns, where I’d once had another life.
The car was superb, even on Australia’s ropey roads (comparable, I’d say, to the UK goat tracks of today), but two memories stand out.
One was bashing the elegant finned alloy sump, with no resulting leakage but a horrible metallic scar, on a rock that fell without warning from a tip-truck just ahead.
The other was being nicked for speeding at an entirely sane 120kph (75mph) on an open road ridiculously marked for 100kph (62mph). They still do this stuff in Australia now, only worse.
The car was fabulous though, and I remember being so proud of it wherever I stopped.
When I arrived in Cairns on Queensland’s far north coast, feeling extra-cool to be driving a GTV where Alfas were almost unknown, I stopped to sit for a few minutes on a seafront seat to enjoy a place I’d known so well a few years earlier.
A bedraggled local at the other end of the bench clearly decided this self-satisfied so-and-so in the flash car needed taking down a peg, and he was just the man to do it.
“Where are you from, matey?” he enquired with apparent friendly interest. I told him I’d just arrived from Sydney after a 2000-mile drive.
Far north Queenslanders do not love people from the soft south: my companion chewed on this piece of information for a while and then spoke. “Sydney, eh?” he said. “Who runs the pub there now?”
Images: Tony Baker