My relationship with Alfa Romeo began when I was a child born in the mid-1960s when it was customary to play with toy cars and imitate “grown-ups” driving a car. I do not consider myself a real car enthusiast in the strict sense and I have not had many Alfa’s, in fact, only one so far. But from an early age I was fond of the legendary Alfa Romeo models of my childhood. I was enchanted by the cars around town, I would ask my father what model they were and which one was the best. I still remember that back then my father thought that the Alfa Romeo Giulia was the best car in those days. And that was my imprinting. The Giulia was the car of the police force and bad guys. The “cop” movies of the time were full of chases between Alfa Romeos. Their performance, the road holding in particular, was legendary.
The strange thing is that with all this childhood passion, as an adult I never actively sought to buy an Alfa Romeo, perhaps because when the time came for me to be able to do so, Alfa Romeo had been bought by Fiat and the models at the time were 145, 146 and 155: yes, I liked the Germans better (in fact I picked an Audi). The first and, at the time of writing, only Alfa I had came by chance. I needed a bigger car than the Grande Punto I had just gotten as a purely rational choice. A beautiful Alfa 156 Sportwagon was the one available where I usually bought cars so I returned the Punto to finally become a de facto Alfista. My son had just been born and it came naturally to me to affectionately call it “Papalfa.”
Climbing into the driver’s seat of the 156 for the first time, I was reminded of all the Alfas that preceded it and that had made me dream as a child and boy. I didn’t want to get off! The 156 was designed precisely to recapture the glories of the past, with lines and interiors that paid homage to the great models of its origins, from the 1900 to the Giulia GT. It replaced the 155 that I so snubbed. I really didn’t like it, with its sad, hard, angular lines. The sinuous 156 changed everything and made me speechless when I first saw it. At the time I was driving an Audi 80 that I was very fond of and liked so much that I considered it the most beautiful car produced at the time. When the 156 came out I went back to thinking that the Alfa was the most beautiful.
In my head I was driving the Giulia of the 2000s. The original Giulia still makes my heart beat in a special way. It was truly in my childhood dreams. I would take two chairs and put them next to each other like two car seats. I would sit on the one on the left and pretend to drive a Giulia, emulating the movements of the adults I mimicked when I was in the car with them. Just seeing one in a photo is enough to bring back all those tender memories. And driving my Papalfa kept me in touch with those feelings, it was as if the old models so dear in my life were speaking to me from the steering wheel and dashboard of the 156, designed just to remind people of them.
I would think back to when I would get into my father’s colleague’s gray Giulia that would take us downtown, them to work and me to high school. I used to dream that my father would one day buy it from his colleague. I still remember the smell and …the sound of it. Of course, the Alfa roar was killer and instantly recognizable. I used to look carefully at all the praticulars of the interior. It was a better day when I knew I was going to school in the Giulia when it was my father’s colleague’s turn instead of my father’s anyway beloved Ford Escort. The Giulia had inspired two beautiful sedans such as the Alfa Romeo 1750 and Alfa Romeo 2000, practically two beautiful sisters. Even today they are gorgeous to look at. Back then they were something stratospheric. They were also executive cars but with sporty performance. Comfortable but performing and stuck to the road. Their evolution was another Alfa model that made my heart beat faster: the Alfetta.
The engineering had not changed much, it was still derived from the Giulia, although it was intended as the replacement for the 1750/2000. But it was only slightly larger, and the crazy thing was that Giulia and Alfetta competed with each other “internally” in the brand. And it should be said that Alfa Romeo had budget problems at the time. The same problems that caused the Alfetta’s heir to be a … re-bodied Alfetta, the Giulietta.
It has to be said that the success and performance of the Giulietta testifies to the value of the original design. I loved it. Someone even let me try it out, but I’d only just got my licence and I didn’t have the heart to push it very hard. The owner did: I remember that it would also peel off even in fourth gear, making you stick your back to the seat! Impressive. I also remember one belonging to a friend who always kept it very clean and smelling good. I dreamt a lot about her too, but by the time I reached the point where I could buy a car it was too old, the 155 was only available.
I also really liked the heir to the Giulietta, the Alfa 75, a mainly cosmetic evolution of it. Great performance as always and the honour of being considered the last real Alfa. It was the last model produced before the Arese company was taken over by Fiat. It also had a younger sister, the Alfa 33, which had revamped the Alfasud, the first front-wheel drive Alfa. It too was an unfulfilled dream for me. At the time, I went with a friend to see it at a dealership when it had just come out. Neither of us was yet of age. I remember how they pushed it forward for us to get a better look at it, so we could sit in it and admire the new car, knowing that we were the customers of the future, to be looked after well from then on.
As I said, when the Fiat period began, I was disappointed with the new Alfas. I really liked the flagship 164, which, despite being a project in common with Fiat Croma and Saab, had originally started at Alfa. But when I saw that the 33 had been replaced by the 145 or 146 and the legendary 75 had become the 155, I was disappointed and reluctantly decided that now that I could buy a car it would not be an Alfa.
My first owned car was a “German Alfa”, as the president of Wolksvagen declared he wanted Audi to be when Audi was acquired in the 1960s. Until the 1980s there was no match, no Audi could even come close to an Alfa Romeo, neither in terms of styling nor performance. But with the acquisition by Fiat and the birth of the 155, the new Audi 80s, first B3, then B5, with their sleek lines, low nose and short, raised tail (in pure Alfa Romeo style) were aesthetically superior. The performance was not. The 155 became a racing legend, beating its German competitors Mercedes, Audi (even the later A4) and BMW at their own home. The Alfa 156 that followed also maintained the glory of its predecessor, that to me was a kind of ugly duckling. But the 156 was a completely different car, with a chassis that was much more race-oriented.
The one I had was the second series, a restyling designed by Giugiaro, which I preferred to Da Silva’s splendid original version. And I also liked the Sportwagon better than the saloon. In short, by the birth of my son I had finally realised my childhood dream of driving an Alfa too. And I held on to it affectionately for a long time. Even in dark times, like when I lost my job and was unemployed at first and later worked in a factory to make ends meet. The papalfa held on stoically, withstanding the weather with a minimum of routine maintenance. But at some point it had to say enough, it couldn’t take it any more.
I had been back to work decently for a while and the company that had gone bankrupt years before had finally paid me my severance package. Happy, I set out again in search of an Alfa Romeo with fewer years on its back, a new Papalfa to replace the poor 156. But it wasn’t to be: an unmissable opportunity came my way. A very good Fiat Bravo at an absurd price. I couldn’t say no, also because I desperately needed the bulk of the money to pay off some debts: therefore, no more Alfa…
But I liked the Bravo. In fact I was considering it when we needed a bigger car when the baby came, but an Alfa arrived. Now the exact opposite happened: I was looking for an Alfa but a Bravo arrived. I don’t understand the model’s lack of success. I still like it today and have always liked it. I would never prefer a Golf for example. I see it as the modern version of the Ritmo that I dreamed of as a neo-patent, but in the Super or even sporty versions like the splendid, very naughty 105 TC and 125 Abarth. So I enjoyed my Bravo. I have appreciated it more since the company provided me with a Lancia Y, nice and comfortable for the city, but on the road there is no comparison.
Unfortunately, a series of damages caused by dishonest people who certainly don’t leave you their number, has forced me to think about making an extra effort, obtaining a small loan and buying a used car, avoiding spending money on poor Bravo for therapeutic overkill: the right side of the car was scraped on both doors while parked, the front handle broke. Then the windscreen was cracked by a stone or falling debris, the sunroof was blocked, both bumpers were slightly recessed and dislodged by rogue parking manoeuvres. Enough is enough… with a few tens of euros a month I am changing my car.
And tomorrow I’m going to see an Alfa…
It’s a 159, the heir to the 156 I had, the best candidate for the position of Papalfa 2.0.
Although beautiful, designed also by Giugiaro, it paid the price for a chassis too large and heavy for the engines available, left to Fiat after the demise of an agreement with General Motors for a high-end flagship to replace the 166. In the end Fiat had to replace the 156 with it. In fact it is a bit too big, while the 156 was perfectly sized. But the chassis is superior, the mechanics too. It may not be as snappy as the lighter, racing-oriented 156, but it’s a different car. It too reminds me and will remind me of the Alfas of the past, even my beloved 156. Very comfortable, with exceptional grip and ride, precise steering and gearbox, it shouldn’t skimp on driving pleasure. It’s a bit dated, but the styling is still splendid today, more of a ‘car’ than so many of today’s models that look more and more like computer toys and less like cars: four-wheeled boxes with and a computer that thinks of everything, soon it will be driving them too. Instead, maybe the Papalfa 2.0 will still have the old-fashioned stereo, with CD, yes, but no monitor. It will be a real car, a car with balls, if you will allow me, as the latest Alfa, the Tonale, certainly is not. Bad turn these computerised SUVs take. They all want a tall car and infotainment. They don’t want to drive but to be driven. But the tall car doesn’t inspire me with confidence, all it takes is a small bump and it tips over. Go and tip over a 159 if you can! It’s a car for people who can drive and want to drive and enjoy it, not for people who want to be carried around.
As I write this, I still don’t know how it will go. The money is in the account. I just have to decide if I’m going to go for this Alfa 159. It has years, two more than the Bravo. But it is superior to it, there’s little you can say about it. And if I now appreciate the Bravo over the Ypsilon, I dread to think how I’ll feel when I get behind the wheel of an Alfa Romeo again…