Last week’s Prime Find was a Peugeot 309 GTi, and that got me thinking about other sporting cars which are often overlooked due to being virtually extinct. We’ve already covered a few of these in previous Prime Finds, such as the Alfa Arna and Citroen Visa Trophée, but so far we’ve somehow missed one of the most celebrated. This week we repent, and present the Alfa Romeo Alfasud.
The Alfasud debuted in 1972 and was the first car built in the new Pomigliano d’Arco factory in southern Italy. In order to secure investment to construct and operate the plant, a new company was formed with minority stakeholder funding provided by the Italian government, glorying in the name of “Industria Napoletana Costruzioni Autoveicoli Alfa Romeo-Alfasud S.p.A.”. The origins of the name for the new car are therefore evident, and because it’s Italian the moniker of Alfasud has a zesty continental appeal in a way that “Ford Dagenham” or “Vauxhall Luton” never could. The Alfasud’s neat shape was designed by Giugiaro and clothed a highly capable chassis. A range of lively small capacity boxer engines provided the forward motion and kept the centre of gravity lower than would be possible with a conventional engine. Secure handling was enabled by McPherson struts up front and a beam axle with Watts linkage at the back, steered via Alfa’s first rack and pinion system. Disc brakes slowed the whole thing down when required. It’s important to recall that this was 1972, so not only does it predate the Volkswagen Golf, but it even predates such maligned cars as the Austin Allegro. The competitor vehicle from British Leyland at the time was actually the ADO16 series Austin 1100. On that evidence alone, the Sud should have conquered the world.
Unfortunately, establishing a car plant many hours away from the corporate HQ in a deprived part of the country with no history of motor manufacturing was always going to be a challenge to say the least. These days, investment in low cost regions is an established method of cutting costs and maximising profits, but in Alfa’s case it is fair to say it didn’t go entirely according to plan. Some issues were self-inflicted such as buying cheap Russian sheet steel and failing to store it properly. Other problems stemmed from routing bare body shells out through the open air in all weathers when transferring them from assembly line to paint shop. A quick look at a map confirms that Pomigliano d’Arco is fairly near to the coast and the salty sea, and you don’t need to be a metallurgy graduate to know what that means. On top of this there was also the matter of dealing with a workforce that had never built a car before. Quality control was therefore approximate and the cliché of the rusty and unreliable Italian car was not only reinforced, but fully earned.
In truth, the design wasn’t perfect either. No matter how well they could have been built, the Alfasud could never have been a leading hatchback because despite having the hatchback shape it was in fact booted. That sloping rear window was fixed. A hatchback variant would follow but far too late to gain a foothold in the market, by which time the reputation was already holed by the dreaded rust. The ergonomics weren’t universally praised either with the driving position only really suitable for those with unusually long arms and short legs. However, it’s a shame the Sud was thrown together and treated to a salt wash because the inevitable happened and now there are none left. We can read about the pin sharp handling and free revving engines, but finding one is another matter. They made over 500,000 but most of the ones that made it to the UK are long gone. Survival numbers are in single figures for most variants with probably around 70 actually in active use if DVLA figures are to be believed. Even accounting for the others that will be laid up, they’re not exactly common.
Against the odds, we’ve found this 1,286cc Super dating from 1978 which seems to be in immaculate low mileage condition, showing only 15,000 miles since new. Being an early series 2 car, it comes with the later and bigger chrome bumpers with wide rubber strips – but at least there’s still some visible chrome for that classic look, as opposed to the somewhat ungainly plastic items used on the series 3 cars from 1980 forward. The Sud comes compete with a history file including some old MOTs and the original handbook, and has apparently been stored in a Carcoon since 2002, which would – to some extent – account for the lack of visible grot. The Ziebart treatment from new would of course have helped as well. Still, given the propensity to corrode, the challenge of keeping a white Sud looking smart would be considerable, so I’m not convinced it’s a viable daily driver. I’m not even convinced my garage would be dry enough to risk it. Perhaps I would need to budget for a Carcoon also, and a garage wide enough to accommodate a Carcoon which would involve moving house. I’ll probably pass on this one, but get yourself down to the Brightwells sale in Leominster on 11thJuly if you have suitable quarters in which to house this great little Italian. I doubt you’ll find a better one than this. If you do buy it, can we all have a go please?
Here you have a few pictures borrowed from Brightwells auction catalogue:
The charming little Sud has an estimate of £ 6,000 – 8,000; currently equating to approximately Euro 6,800 – 9,000. If it really is as well preserved as suggested by the description and pictures, that must surely be defined as good value, as these are now both rare and also cracking little motors to drive. For more information, here’s a link to the Brightwells catalogue: 1978 Alfa Romeo Alfasud 1.3 Super
With our Saturday instalment of Prime Find of the Week, we’re offering our services to the classic car community, by passing on our favourite classic car for sale from the week that passed. This top-tip might help a first-time-buyer to own his first classic, or it could even be the perfect motivation for a multiple-classic-car-owner to expand his garage with something different. We’ll let us inspire by anything from a cheap project to a stunning concours exotic, and hope that you will do the same.
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