One of the privileges of owning an Alfa Romeo (and there are many!) is being invited to participate in events such as Italian Car Day, organised by a consortium of clubs at Brooklands Museum, on the site of the old banked circuit, back in October 2021. And a cold but sunny January gives you a chance to organise some photographs into an account of some of the highlights, starting with the obligatory picture on the banking of the old circuit.
And I can confirm that the banking is steeper than you might think. As the titles suggest, this show is a celebration of not just Alfa Romeo, but of Italian cars in general, old and new. Let’s take an informal and unscientific amble through a personal selection of some of the less usual cars, cars not always frequently seen on the British classic motoring scene but worthy nonetheless. But we’ll start with some Alfas, and not just my 1996 Spider 2.0 Twin Spark.
The oldest Alfa Romeo I caught was this 1930 6C Spider Zagato – a reminder that before the war Alfa was not a manufacturer of cars for every man by any means – perhaps the easiest thing to compare the pre-war Alfa Romeo to is the post war Ferrari, manufactured by the chap who ran the Alfa racing team in the 1930s.
It isn’t often you can follow with a 1976 Alfa Romeo Montreal for something less expressive, but a nice example of the Montreal is always worth showing, even if the car itself arguably had some fundamental flaws.
Alongside it is Alfa Romeo SZ, a Zagato designed coupe based on the Alfa Romeo 75 (Milano) 3.0 litre V6 saloon.
The Dino 246 (not officially a Ferrari) is an all time favourite of mine (and a regular Fantasy Garage candidate) but a 1962 Giulietta Sprint in Rosso Alfa has to run it close.
But perhaps the most surprising and intriguing Alfa Romeo was this 1971 Junior Z. Z for Zagato, Junior as it based on the floorpan, driveline and suspension of the Alfa Romeo Spider 1300 Junior, the almost immortal coupe version of the Giulia saloon as clothed by Giugiaro and Bertone.
The Junior Z was always a very limited volume model – just over 1500 were built in four years (1969-73) in two versions. This is an earlier 1300 series 1; the series 2 was 1600 and with a re-profiled rear end.
It may only have had 1300cc, but it was the Busso Alfa Twin Cam engine and in 1969 its 90bhp and 109mph were notable. And better looking in the metal than it is pictures – is this my star of the show?.
The Fiat 124 Coupe is a car that is often overlooked in the UK – obscured by the Ford Capri on one hand and the Fiat Spyder on the other, and with styling that was comparatively low key for a late 1960s coupe.
This is a 1967 example, of the first series and in a period colour. Despite the format of the front number plate, it is a British registered car. To me, this has aged very well, and would shade an early Capri on most criteria.
This Spyder has a Swiss registration, and is clearly a much later car, in fact a 1979-85 Spidereuropa, with the small round front wing marker lights rather than the larger items fitted to North American cars.
Many people’s favourite, and one of the most recognisable, Fiats from the 1970s was the X1/9. This is a 1977 1290cc version.
Perhaps you prefer black, also 1290cc, from 1978. Alongside is a 1990s Fiat 500, in sports trim.
Fiat has a terrific history of small cars, many of which have featured on CC over the years, none less than the 500. But the rear engined Fiat family had many members, not least the larger 850. This example is a 1971 850 Coupe, actually 903cc but that’s just being pedantic.
Or may be you prefer blue and yellow, in a sort of competition vibe? The Italian format number plate would make evading parking fines easier….just sayin’. Alongside is a 1980s Fiat Uno Turbo, Fiat’s competitor to the Peugeot 205GTi and the like.
My pick of the rear engined Fiats on the day was this 1964 Fiat 600D, fitted with a 767cc engine and decked out in Abarth trim. I’m not clear whether this car was originally an Abarth, but was most definitely a favourite.
This car is in reality the big brother of the Nuova 500, or rather the 500 is a later contraction of the 600. This edition actually has a 767cc engine, as used in some the overseas versions sold as SEAT 800, NSU Fiat Neckar Jagt and was also the basis for the innovative Multipla.
The styling may look dumpy, and perhaps not as appealing as the Fiat 500. But the reward is the space inside. In 1950s Italy, that mattered more.
But by the 1970s things had improved. Style was becoming more important (we’re talking Italy…) and this 1974 Fiat 128 Coupe shows that.
Looking back, why did people choose the Morris Marina Coupe ever, for anything? Leave the front poking out of the garage and the neighbours might think you’d bought a Jensen Interceptor.
I saw more Fiat 128s in one day that I had in several years. This is a 1971 128 estate – 1116cc showing the Ford Escort how to do it in a compact car.
A compact car that some say would be not bettered until the VW Golf (Rabbit) arrived in 1974. But what’s in front of it?
A Fiat Dino 2000 convertible, guarded by a bevy of 131 Mirafiori (Brava) saloons. If you don’t want one of these, then as the adverts suggest, you need to go to Specsavers. This is a 1968 car, and am I going to be asked to leave the country if I say I’d rather have this than a 1968 E Type roadster? Perhaps Italy would grant me asylum?
A 2 litre convertible Fiat, at your normal dealer, a man more used to selling 124 saloons, with a 160bhp V6 Ferrari engine shared with the Dino? The engines were built side by side with Ferrari engines, which were rated at 180bhp. Who cares – you’re so weak at the knees looking at it there’s no way you could drive it well enough to spot the difference. Perhaps this is my star of the show?
In the 21st century, when people say “Fiat” you almost instinctively think “small car” – Punto, Uno, Panda or 500. But cast your mind back to the 1970s; the range went from the 500 to the 130.
How to define the Fiat 130? What’s the comparator? Less sporting than a BMW 5 series, more modest than a Mercedes-Benz 280E or Jaguar XJ6 2.8, more modern and spacious than a Rover 3500, more completely engineered than Ford Zodiac or Granada, Vauxhall Cresta or Opel Commodore or Diplomat, less challenging than a Citroen DS, less conservative thana Volvo 164, and more successful commercially than an Alfa Romeo Alfa 6 (just).
I guess it is an Italian take on the Peugeot 604, albeit five years earlier. A 2.8, later a 3.2 litre V6 (140bhp, then 165hp) and fully independent suspension and a five speed gearbox (or automatic). Road manners were pretty good, as the specification might suggest and of course the Coupe was an absolute stunner.
I was surprised to find there still over 50 registered in the UK, from a total production run of just 15,000 in 7 years. Complete hen’s teeth, and in this condition. The star of many a show I’m sure.
And. now Lancia, with three absolute belters.
It is fair to say that the Lancia Aprilia is not an everyday sighting – no Lancia is now. It was the last car designed by Vincenzo Lancia himself, before he died in 1937 and featured a compact, overhead camshaft V4, in the Lancia tradition that lasted until the Fiat takeover in 1968, sliding pillar suspension and unitary construction and was built on a long wheelbase (96 inches) yet was stiff enough to dispense with the B pillar.
Drive went to the independently sprung rear wheels, and the style was sufficiently aerodynamic to let the car reach 80 mph on Mussolini’s autostradas. Impressive for 50 bhp and 1486cc.
Just 27,00 were built from 1937 to 1949; this is a 1948 car imported to the UK in 1961. It’s worth noting that left hand drive was an option in many markets, including “drive on the right” markets, so this car is quite likely to have been imported used from Italy with right hand drive.
The Lancia Beta – hmmm. Where to start? The first Fiat funded Lancia, with a Fiat derived engine. in many ways it was a typical 1970s saloon – front wheel drive, transverse engine, styling that was sharp and contemporary but which wouldn’t frighten the horses. And it could made in greater volumes and at a lower cost and therefore with more profit (or even some profit) than the previous Flavia and Fulvia ranges.
All in, a very appealing package, spoiled only by the corrosion saga that not only effectively, in the UK at least, killed the Beta in the market, mortally wounded the Lancia brand and was a major contributor to the image of fragility and unreliability Italian cars still (unjustly) carry in the UK now. This is a 1974 1400 cc series 1 car, the only one registered and on the road in the UK. Arguably, this car was never replaced – the later Delta was smaller, the Thema bigger.
If you get wobbly at the sight of a Beta, than this 1984 (so close to the end) Lancia Gamma Coupe will have you needing a sit down. That’d give you time to admire the styling fully – is this ultimate evolution of the Pininfarina Floride? Was this the best looking coupe of the 1970s? It’s got to be up there.
We haven’t time today to do the Gamma justice – it was a complex car with a convoluted background and history. But no other manufacturer ever tried to enter the European premium saloon market with a four cylinder engine, especially a flat four, even if it was consistent with the preceding Flavia and 2000.
Factor in that the camshaft and power steering pump were driven off the same belt which had a habit of stripping its teeth when asked to support full lock when cold, and you can see a weakness emerging. Wrecked engines don’t sell luxury cars, even ones that look like this. Fewer than 7000 Coupes were built, and just 15000 saloons. Quality not quantity.
And to finish, a pair of true exotica.
The Lamborghini Espada has had a lot of love on CC over the years, including from me. This is a 1973 Series 3 example, built around a very tightly packed 3.9 litre V12 engine.
The styling was by Gandini whilst working at Bertone, and is perhaps one of the most recognised and distinctive fur seater cars ever made in Italy. Fun fact – this is the one of the few Lamborghinis not named after a bull but rather it was named for the sword used by a bullfighter or torero. My favourite Lamborghini? A close second to the Miura, probably.
Never have hooped bumpers looked so good.
And my first Maserati on CC – a 1970 Maserati Indy, so named to recall Maserati’s wins at the Indianapolis 500 and perhaps identify one of the larger target markets for the car.
Like the Espada, this was a four seater but used a 4.2 litre V8. The car was the first Maserati built after Citroen bought the company in 1968, a venture that led to the Citroen SM (Sports Maserati with a Maserati designed V6 engine). You might have expected an exciting technical specification, and parts of it were – Vignale styling, an twin overhead cam V8 with a dry sump and four Weber carburettors, wishbone front suspension, and a live rear axle on semi-elliptic springs.
To me there’s something in the styling, especially at the rear, that leads me to think 1970s GM coupes, such as the Vauxhall Cavalier Sportshatch, and even the Rover 3500 (SD1).
So, what should take as Star of the Show?