On the face of it, you’d be mad to buy a classic Alfa Romeo. Even when new, models like the Alfasud and Alfetta were a byword for rust and later 1980s and 90s Alfas generally finished high up in any breakdown/unreliability survey. Dealers are thin on the ground and some spares prices verge on the Venezuelan. Poor selling models that are just 15 – 20 years old are becoming almost impossible to keep going, as parts supply dries up.
Every Alfa owner prays to the gods of cambelt and variator gears, each time they drive the blessed thing, such is the reputation for fragility. Electrics work mainly by Game of Thrones type magic and most Alfa convertibles have more roof leaks than a HMO bedsit lodging house in Croydon.
So why is there a cult surrounding Alfa ownership – is it all Top Gear’s fault?
Not really, because TG merely noted, reflected and amplified the obsessive nature of Alfa owners. The cult had begun, like the Illuminati or the Freemasons, many years before the Clarkson-Hammond-May version of TG arrived on the scene. These hardy Alfa men – and it usually is men, not women – who cherish, fettle and nurse these flawed motoring masterpieces towards the knacker’s yard, all share a common set of values.
These are, in no particular order:
A religious devotion to Italian engineering in general, regardless of its bizarre quirks and myriad failings. I mean, who needs things like door handles when small buttons and sharp door edges offer a more exciting challenge?
An Arthurian-like quest to own the single, 100% reliable Alfa made during the last 40 years, even though no such thing exists. It is a unicorn, of course.
An understanding that sheer Latin style ALWAYS beats trivial considerations like speed, handling or braking in a straight line.
The smell of leather and damp carpets in the mornings.
The unspoken agreement that Japanese reliability is not only a myth, but is never a good reason to buy a used car.
Are You An Alfaholic, Or Are You Just a Driver?
True Alfisti/Alfaholics will celebrate their cult every weekend, by either driving their Alfa a short distance, or more likely, doing some tedious and convoluted maintenance work on the car. It could be attempting to replace a plastic gear cog inside a roof motor on a 916 Spider, and then filling up the hydraulic fluid reservoir to the correct level. It might be replacing all the suspension/steering bushes on an ill-handling 156 with a Polybush kit. This will involve lots of WD40, swear words and moments of despair, when discovering how corroded a vital suspension part is.
Other necessary devotions to the cult include attending classic car shows, but only on days when blazing sunshine is guaranteed of course. Then there are web forums, where Alfa owners can play an endless game of Top Trumps, as they share tips, tricks, dodges, obscure parts suppliers etc – but only to selected chums. It really is motoring freemasonery – kudos have to be earned, the hard way.
One topic of debate which will echo through the ages is the matter of which Alfa models are the most beautiful, the sexiest sounding, or the best value for money for the true Alfisti. So here are my top three Alfas for under £5000.
3. 156 GTA V6
You can just buy a 156 GTA for five grand cash. It won’t be in great condition and will need work, but if you keep searching, especially in winter, you might drop lucky. This boxy saloon isn’t as good looking as a sleek 166, but it has a brutal V6 soundtrack from that 3.2 litre Busso engine. Just lift the bonnet, see those pipes, and you’ll be hooked.
2. GTV 3.0
A project example will cost you about three grand, but possibly another three or four thousand in restoration costs. Spend five grand wisely and it should get you a pretty much sorted, roadworthy GTV. This model is a wonderful marriage of speed, noise and quirky style. Try to buy a GTV that’s had a Q2 diff fitted, plus suspension upgrades – more use than the Cup racy bodywork kit.
- Brera 2.2 JTS
Yep, I’d prefer the 3.2 V6 Brera as well, but you’ll need another three or four grand on top of 5K to get a V6. The 2.2 hasn’t got as much oomph, but it is a beautiful car, with a superb interior that really makes you feel this is a luxury coupe. Just look at the front – every good bit from the Spider/156/159 has been refined and blended into the perfect face and the raised bonnet line adds a sleek, ocean liner touch. Brilliant.
Yes, the Brera is a modern Alfa, so purists will argue that it has too many Fiat/GM parts to qualify as a real Alfa Romeo. But buy one in red, or the stunning black-with-red-leather combo, and you’ll start talking like De Niro within 50 miles. I say stick with the 2.2 petrol engines, because as nice as the 2.4 diesels are, they all go wrong eventually when that exhaust gas recycling gubbins fills its guts with clag and black slime.
OK, ciao. See you down the road.