Buyer’s guide: Alfa Romeo Alfasud

| 27 Mar 2019
Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Alfa Romeo Alfasud

Why you’d want an Alfa Romeo Alfasud

Alfa Romeo really pushed the boat out with the Giugiaro-styled Alfasud – an all-new car with an all-new powertrain built in an all-new factory.

Despite its small engine, the Alfasud impressed from the start with its superb handling, roadholding and high cruising speed, enhanced by all-round disc brakes, a good driving position and a swift, light gearchange plus exceptional quietness and refinement.

Its packaging was a revelation, the short engine allowing it to be surprisingly roomy for its size – the only disadvantage being pedals heavily offset towards the centre of the car to clear the front wheelarch.

Small Alfas had been proposed in the past – including a 750cc transverse-twin front-drive saloon in ’52 and a 1000cc ‘four’ in 1960, dropped when the firm was contracted to build the Renault Dauphine and R4 for the Italian market. Rudolf Hruska’s Sud was the first to reach production.

Government investment was essential to fund it, but the penalty was that the car had to be built in Italy’s impoverished south, where labour relations would be a constant impediment.

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Alfa Romeo Alfasud
Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Alfa Romeo Alfasud
Suds battling with Lada on ’75 Tour of Britain, Silverstone (left); pretty early cars had chrome bumpers and oblong lamps

Looking at the Alfasud now, it’s hard to believe that it wasn’t a hatchback from the start – but that layout was still unusual in 1971. The hatch came 10 years later, giving the model a new lease of life into the mid-1980s.

Another clever derivative arrived first, the three-door Alfasud Sprint of 1976: Alfa Romeo wisely exploiting the Sud’s great handling and performance by creating from it a stylish sports coupé that would endure five years beyond its parent.

Rustproofing was improved in ’77 and ’78, but the cars still suffered because of using poor steel. Motor noted in its November ’77 test of a 1.3Ti that corrosion was already appearing on the doors. The recycled Russian metal would delaminate in months, with shells beyond economic repair in as little as three years. Only Series IIIs from 1980 had barely acceptable rot resistance.

Later cars have the best specs, but early survivors are equally appealing for their rarity – and some models were scarce even when new. Just 5899 Giardinetta estates were built; none came to the UK.

Mechanical parts supply is reasonable because much was carried over to the 33 and even the 145/146, though with the disappearance of those, Sud items are getting harder to source.

Britain has an active enthusiast base with dedicated suppliers, so Alfasud ownership can be very rewarding – if you keep the rust at bay.


Alfa Romeo Alfasud: what to look for

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Alfa Romeo Alfasud

Bodywork

See above for trouble spots

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Alfa Romeo Alfasud
Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Alfa Romeo Alfasud
Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Alfa Romeo Alfasud

Engine

The flat-four’s cambelts need to be replaced every 36,000 miles or three years, so check in the previous bills to see that it has been done.

Oil smoke is likely to be worn valve guides; a rumble from the bottom of the engine may be a worn water pump (rock its pulley to check; a new one is £38). Carburettor meddling causes rough running.

Sud began with single-choke Solex carb, then twin-choke Solex or Weber, and two twin-choke Webers on final performance models. All give reasonable economy.

Check that oil from engine or ’box isn’t going onto inboard front discs; incorrect adjustment after pad replacement and poor handbrake set-up are common but can be fixed.

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Alfa Romeo Alfasud
Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Alfa Romeo Alfasud

Suspension

OE-spec bushes need to be in good nick to keep handling taut. If steering is stiff, replace the needle-roller strut top mount bearings. Check suspension arms for rot.

Brakes

Brakes should be excellent. Under-use is biggest cause of issues for rear discs; a hard application in reverse every so often will keep them sharp once freed off.

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Alfa Romeo Alfasud
Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Alfa Romeo Alfasud

Interior

Early seats were vinyl with cloth inserts, then all-cloth; full hide was a late option. Cloth seats wear rapidly on side panels and vinyl cracks, as do plastic trim parts.

Transmission

A superb gearchange was a top feature, so check it’s still that way; second-gear synchro is first to go. A grumbling noise on the move may be damaged diff gears.


Alfa Romeo Alfasud: on the road

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Alfa Romeo Alfasud

Given regular servicing (using the correct oil filter with a non-return valve), the boxer engines are long-lived, due to quality materials and low piston speeds – all but the final Sprint unit are massively oversquare. Regular cambelt replacement (one each side) is vital to avoid damage. Puffs of smoke on the overrun and on start-up indicate worn valve guides.

Carburettors should need no attention until they’re severely worn, but some people can’t resist fiddling with Webers. Poor running is most likely to be down to an inexperienced person messing with the settings, inevitably more common with twin-carb models. 

Gearboxes are sturdy, as long as the oil is changed every 24,000 miles. All tend to chatter at idle. Clutch replacement means dropping the engine and transmission, so confirm that it’s in fine fettle. Check that all the electrical items work, especially the delicate steering-column switchgear; bad earths can cause issues throughout.

The superb handling, supple ride and refinement made the Sud the reference small saloon for a decade, so ensure that bushes and seals are in good order to keep it that way. Original ones are better than polyurethane, which is too hard. 

Most jobs are straightforward for the DiY mechanic, but servicing the front brakes is tricky on twin-carb models, because accessibility is compromised. The stoppers should be excellent, so plan an overhaul if they aren’t – little-used disc calipers soon seize. Upgrading earlier cars to the less vibration-prone front discs fitted post-July 1982 is easy enough; fitting post-’85 Sprint outboard brakes is possible, but unnecessary.


Alfa Romeo Alfasud price guide

  • Show/rebuilt: £9000
  • Average: £4000
  • Restoration: £1500

(Sprints command 15-25% more than saloons)


Alfa Romeo Alfasud history

1971 Nov Launched at Turin Salon

1972 Apr Production starts; four-door added

1974 Mar New 2dr Ti model: 5-speed, spoilers, better seats, 68bhp, 0-60mph 12.9 secs, 99mph

1975 Giardinetta (estate) introduced

1977 May Sprint unveiled, with 1300Ti running gear; 5-speed gearbox for 4dr 5M and Giardinetta

1977 Aug 1300Ti now 75bhp; 1286cc option on 4dr 

1978 Mar Sprint 1.5 added May Series II: improved interior, plus 1351cc 1.3Ti, 1490cc 1.5Ti

1979 Feb Sprint Veloce: twin carbs, 95bhp

1980 Jan Series III: wraparound plastic bumpers; 1.5Ti Veloce gets twin carbs

1981 Feb Hatchback on 3dr 

1982 Jun Hatchback on 5dr version; Gold Cloverleaf twin-carb 5dr

1983 104bhp Ti Green Cloverleaf; Sprint restyled

1984 Mar Alfasud saloon/hatch production ends; Sprint drops Alfasud name Sep Sprint front discs move outboard, rear drums replace discs, tube rear axle instead of pressed type

1987 Sprint receives 1712cc 118bhp

1989 Sprint production ceases


The owner’s view

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Alfa Romeo Alfasud
Owner Dave Armstrong (not pictured) has owned several Suds

“One evening after finishing off a bottle of red, I decided to scan classic cars on eBay,” says owner Dave Armstrong, laughing. “There it was: a red 1983 Alfasud 1.5Ti Green Cloverleaf. I’d had four Suds when I was younger and always loved them. This one looked all forlorn and no one was bidding on it… 34 minutes later, the car was mine! 

“It didn’t look like this then. It’s had a new bonnet, front wings, part sills, one inner wing rail, rear arches and a respray: not bad. Mechanically, it needed an exhaust, and one of the head gaskets had gone. I restored it nine years ago, sourcing parts from all over the world including Australia, Europe and America. The underside and cavities were extensively wax-injected and the car is holding up well – it gets driven in all weathers.”


Also consider

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Alfa Romeo Alfasud
Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Alfa Romeo Alfasud
Citroën GS (left) and VW Golf are alternatives

CITROËN GS/GSA

Also a flat-four but air-cooled, the GS gained a hatchback and five-speed ’box in 1979. Outstripped by Sud in performance, but spacious with high levels of refinement. Rot can be chronic.

Sold 1970-’86 • No. built 2,473,499 • Mpg 23-36 • 0-60mph 17.6-13.5 secs • Top speed 90-102mph • Price new £4399 (Pallas, ’80) • Price now £1500-6000


VOLKSWAGEN GOLF

Successful Beetle replacement combined robust construction with hatchback and lively, durable transverse ‘fours’ driving front wheels. It does rust, but nothing like the Alfa. 

Sold 1974-’83 • No. built 6,800,000 • Mpg 28-36 • 0-60mph 17.8-9.6 secs • Top speed 84-108mph • Price new £5135 (1.6 GTI, ’80) • Price now £2-12,000


Alfa Romeo Alfasud: the Classic & Sports Car verdict

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Alfa Romeo Alfasud

Find a nice Alfasud, of any model, and you will enjoy an exceptionally satisfying car to drive that revels in enthusiastic treatment while remaining surprisingly sophisticated and practical to use.

Values are still quite low despite their inevitable scarcity today, so try to pick one where the rot has been eradicated and adequate protection is in place to keep it at bay.

FOR

  • Real chuckability
  • Great sound from flat-four engine
  • Remarkably refined
  • Eminently usable everyday transport

 

AGAINST

  • Beware rampant rust; it can recur after poor bodywork restoration
  • Parts availability patchy
  • Many bodged or modified

Alfa Romeo Alfasud specifications

Sold/number built 1972-’84/900,835 (plus 116,552 Sprints)

Construction steel monocoque 

Engine iron-block, alloy-heads sohc-per-bank 1186/1286/1351/1490cc flat-four, Solex single-choke or single/twin Weber twin-choke carb; 63bhp @ 6000rpm-104bhp @ 6000rpm; 62lb ft @ 3500rpm-98lb ft @ 4000rpm

Transmission 4/5-speed manual, FWD

Suspension: front MacPherson struts, transverse link, anti-roll bar rear beam axle, coil springs, fore/aft Watt linkages, Panhard rod 

Steering rack-and-pinion, 3.7 turns lock-to-lock 

Brakes dual-circuit discs (f 10.2in, r 9.2in), with servo optional; standard from 1973 

Length 12ft 10in (3912mm)

Width 5ft 3in (1600mm)

Height 4ft 5in (1346mm)

Wheelbase 8ft 1in (2464mm)

Weight 1822-2011lb (826-912kg)

Mpg 24-36

0-60mph 14.1-9.9 secs

Top speed 92-112mph

Price new £3620-4025 (1.3 Super-1.5Ti, 1980)


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