Tuesday, 28 September 2010
Alfasud in Venice
You can scarcely imagine a less suitable place for a car launch than Venice. Yet Alfa Romeo once used it for an Alfasud in the 1970s. We had a test route based at nearby industrial Mestre through interminable traffic, so it was a less than successful exercise for a car that was a revelation. Sadly it suffered terribly from body rot. Alfa had been directed by the Italian government to build a factory in Naples for the relief of unemployment and, as with every attempt by politicians to meddle in the motor industry, it ended ignominiously. It used such low quality steel that the pretty bodywork started disintegrating almost as soon as it left the line at Pomigliano d’Arco. Wikipedia thought this might be due to, “storage conditions of bodies at the plant,” which seems altogether too kind. The Alfasud design was developed by Austrian Rudolf Hruska and 893,719 saloons and 121,434 of the exquisite Sprints were made between 1971 and 1989. However as Autocar reported despite its incredible handling, easy cruising and practicality it suffered from a bad driving position, lack of safety equipment and, in a damning criticism for the usually well-disposed testers of September 20 1973, it was, “not that reliable.”
Alfasuds then cost £1,471. The engine was a sweet-revving flat four with a belt-driven overhead camshaft at each end. Rack and pinion steering and superb balance made it an outstanding drive at a time when Austin was making the Allegro and Morris the Marina. The Sprint was an early work by Giugiaro but frailty led to the delightful Sud being consigned to a footnote in automotive history.
Went back to Venice last week. The streets are still flooded, yet what an architectural and cultural delight it is, notwithstanding hordes of tourists. They flock to it and pay up cheerfully. WS Gilbert knew how expensive Venice was when he wrote with perfect irony, “We’re called Gondolieri/ But that’s a vagary/ It’s quite honorary/ The trade that we ply…”