image posted at the CC cohort by Yohai Rodin
We hear that the future generation of Alfa will be reverting to RWD, after a long fling with FWD. That first started way back in 1971, with the brilliant Alfasud. A highly advanced FWD sedan engineered by Austrian Rudolf Hruska and styled by Italian Giorgio Giugiaro, it was a cornucopia of all the most technically leading edge engineering concepts: a spirited water-cooled boxer OHC four driving the front wheels, inboard front disc brakes, and a very light but roomy body. Alfa took a big step into the world of smaller FWD cars with the Alfasud; unfortunately it was not exactly one without a few issues.
Alfa Romeo was solidly entrenched in the middle of the market with its line of popular sporty RWD sedans, coupes and spiders. But it had been mulling the idea of a small car since the 1950s. The government subsidized the giant new factory deep in Southern Italy (Pomigliano d’Arco) because industrialization and employment lagged there. The new plant was actually a joint-venture, with Alfa Romeo owning 90% and the government owning 10%. Union issues and plant morale were recurring problems.
The Alfasud’s ohv boxer four initially had only 1186cc, with 63 hp, but performed well given the times. A continuous expansion of engine size and output kept the Alfasud and its Coupe variant, which looked quite similar to the Scirocco, also penned by Giugiaro. Engine size eventually reached 1.7 L, and 118 hp.
Many cars from this era were poorly rust-proofed, but the Alfasud developed a rep for being perhaps the worst. This has been attributed to poor quality steel from Russia, as well as that raw, unprotected bodies were exposed to the elements before they were primed and painted.
The Alfasud was replaced by the Alfa Romeo 33 in 1983 (above), and which was a direct evolution of the Alfasud. It also acquired a rep for iffy quality. But both cars were held in high esteem for they dynamic qualities, and certainly paved the way for the acceptance of FWD in an Alfa without loss of its essential sporting character. But they did ding Alfa’s rep for building quite solid cars in the 50s and 60s.
The Alfasud is one of those cars that I’ve heard about, but have never seen, as evidently they all rusted away before I was old enough to notice. Though I’m not sure if we even got the sedan in the US market? I think we had the coupe as I’ve seen pictures of them over here (though they could be later imports).
Pity as they were good-looking. That 33 is also quite nice, in an 80’s way, but I’m quite sure we never had those. By the 80’s it was only the Spider and the Milano, which was replaced by the 164, and that was the last we saw of Alfa over here.
The ‘Sud was VERY highly regarded by the motoring press when it was brand new. That dimmed a bit with the 33 but poor Alfa got the ‘Sud so right it was a tough act to follow.
The Alfa preceded VW’s equally brilliant Rabbit/Golf…also styled by Giugiaro, I wonder if he considered/suggested a hatchback to the Italians?
Howard,the Alfasud in Australia in 1983 was a 4 door with a hatchback.A friend owned one after his ultra reliable 1977 VW Golf.He kept the Sud for many years and it was also very reliable apart from a few electrical problems.I drove it approx 500 miles from Victoria to South Australia to the Adelaide Arts Festival and it rode smoothly,cornered flat and as if it was on rails.The Sud was great fun to drive but after many years and kilometres the gearbox was rebuilt.The owner drove the car up snow covered mountains and on rough bush tracks and it coped well in those conditions.His 1983 Sud did not have any rust problems,cars don’t rust in Tasmania like they do in other countries,we don’t use salt on our roads,snow is confined to higher mountainous regions.I still see that Sud on the road here.
The coupe looks like the Alfa Romeo Alfetta coupe but is a bigger car. The Alfasud was never “officially” imported to the U.S.
I know we had the Alfetta coupe/GTV; seen quite a few of those over the years. I was referring to the Alfasud coupe/Sprint as pictured in the article, which I’ve never seen in person, but I have seen photos of with US plates/registration. I guess they were all imports after the cars hit 25, which would have been almost 8 years ago even for the latest ones, so I imagine a few have found their way here.
I always thought the Sprint (the red one posted by Paul) and GTV (below) where very much alike in design.
The Sprint was based on the Sud, the GTV was based on the Alfetta- this car:
Once again another car the UK climate saw off.I never noticed the similarity between the Scirrocco and the coupe til now.
I wanted an Alfasud so very badly, but I was perhaps lucky not to get one. A good friend bought one, which I rode in many times, and the only issue was the paintwork – I think it got a partial respray before the warranty ran out.Maybe a few trim items broke but nothing major. Someone else I knew had gearbox issues, and another with a 2-door remarked on how much the doors “dropped”. But the design has surely never been equaled, except by the Coupe.
My good friend turned out to be a masochist – he replaced his ‘Sud with a Lancia Coupe, which was also made in Italy out of nasty imported steel ….
I am aware that the ‘Sud was EVENTUALLY offered with a hatchback, but the 1st few years it was produced it had a “conventional” trunk.
It has been suggested more than once that the original Mini would have benefited from a hatchback.
Yes, Italian will be Italians… only in 1982 they finally got around to give the Sud a rear door, where the window lifts up with the boot. Hence the Golf will always be the first “official” hatchback.
This is the Sud Hatchback, as you can see they also upgraded its styling:
1964 Autobianchi Primula was a fwd 4 door hatch of similar proportions.
Don …those Primula or is it Primulae,plural, are cute looking cars.
Ah yes, but if we’re sticking to the letter of the law, it’s not a Hatchback but a Notchback- similar to 80s Escorts or nowadays Octavias.
Agreed, 50 or 40 year down the line it doesn’t really matter…
Sorry, I have to disagree re the Golf being the 1st official hatchback.Have you seen a Renault 16,produced from 1965.
The Renault was indeed the first Hatch construction wise. But if I’m not mistaken, one of the “rules” of this category is to be a Supermini, which the Golf was, whilst the 16 was a “big” family car (never mind that by 2014, the 16 is much smaller than a current Golf- all the classes have grown while we were sleeping…).
It reminds me of another large Hatchback that didn’t know what it was, so to speak- the Opel Signum, that was meant to replace both the Omega and the Vectra. Naturally, the public didn’t buy the idea (and the car)- I guess a Hatchback only works up to a certain size…
We didn’t buy the Malibu Maxx, but I do think that it was a pretty good idea. Same platform, same idea, and count on GM to have a good idea and somehow get part of it so wrong.
yohai71…all this talk re hatchbacks reminds me of the Peugeot 205 which Peugeot in Australia advertised as “the Hatchback of Notre Dame” as opposed to the hunchback of Notre Dame.Smile.
Smile indeed. Those Peugeots were masterful with their chassis… I used to own a 1.8 306- It was larger than a 205, but still no corner was too tight for this car. Respect.
Don’t forget that the Arna was considered a replacement for the Sud as well. It combined Italian reliability with Nissan’s stellar driving experience and the legendary rustproofing expertise of both ’70s Italy and Japan.
Ah yes, the infamous Arna. Italian electrics & reliability combined with Japanese styling. What could go wrong……….???????
The early seventies saw a couple of new flat fours, from Alfa (here), and Citroen (GS). For a while it looked as though flat fours would be the next big thing, but only Subaru persevered with them.
Tasmanias humidity free climate is very kind to cars unlike the larger Aussie island I saw a couple of Suds there and back here in the Bay there were a couple in a Yard in Hastings a while ago non runners but not rust buckets like most of them became.
One of the major problems was that the new factory was situated in an Agricultural region, where people were not used to work indoors but were real country folks, and when the football team of Napoli would loose, worker would call in sick, when they’d win, they’d do the same thing.
Alfa were state owned back then and contrary to the North where there is a real big Industrial region, down south they did not care at all, they had no pride int heir jobs and the factory could easily have been a Leyland plant.
The sad thing is that Hruska was a briljant engineer, who set the standard for the small hatchback in Europe, each and every future car launched in this segment was bascially a clone of the Alfa Sud, with a FWD and they all tried to copy the Alfa’s excellent and neutral handling for a FWD car.
Due to poor metal, containing high doses of scrap metal int he alloys, Sud’s would rust in the most idiot places like the middle of the roof, thanks to the electrolytical charges in the metal.
But they were also put together rather poorly, and things like door hinges would simply snap-off.
The roadholding, handling and brakes were great, the roar of the exhaust was exhilirating and you’d pick up a three or four year old Sud for next to nothing.
When the Sud II arrived, with a hatch, improved steel and paintwork, bigger bumpers, plastic inner wings and better quality upholstery, it was too late, nobody believed in the AlfaSud anymore and this car was the car that got the saying : It already starts rusting in the brochure.
There is a considerable cultural gulf between Northern & Southern Italy, as is common among nations that span much latitude.
Is it only a coincidence that the former Axis powers dominate car design & engineering?
Neil, I don’t think it’s necessary to involve WW2 here. Germany, and Northern Italy for that matter, has ALWAYS been a region of designers, engineers, technicians and manufacturers. And not only of cars.
Oops, I Mentioned the War! I just think it’s an interesting coincidence, and have no theory as to why. To be sure, Italy & Japan were both 3rd-rate at tank design.
an old 1988 copy of British car magazine Car referred to the car with one word “Alfadud”
Were these things that bad? They look pleasing enough.
CAR also labelled it their Car of the Decade for the 1970s. It was truly superb, and this example is the best I’ve seen for at least 30 years. Great find!
If that were the case, Czech Republic and Poland would be spitting out native cars. Never really got to the bottom of the rusty Italian car syndrome. Panels were often left in poor conditions, even outside at the Sud factory so I’m not sure the steel itself was to blame. The Fiat I had wasn’t rotten in any weird places- only where you’d expect. Suds I’ve inspected have indeed been rusty in the middle of horizontal panels which is really odd.
Over time we owned eight ‘Suds in our family and I still rate my 95 hp coupé (called sprint veloce) as the car offering the most raw driving fun I ever experienced this side of a Super Seven. Laser sharp steering, extremely lively throttle response, an engine truly willing to rev and absolutely neutral handling allowed you to really wring the car’s neck and throw it around corners as madly as you dared. It was tremendous fun to chase cars with double the power down empty backroads without them being able to get away from the tiny Sud!
Our first Sud was a very early example with the cambelts running at fresh air without covers (the engine *btw* was OHC, not OHV as stated here), which was changed very shortly after the production started. Our car was a fine example of Italian build quality, as it had a four speed gearbox and a gearlever with a knob showing a five speed gearshift pattern! That car rusted so badly that Alfa bought it back for the initial price under the condition that we buy another Sud, what we duly did. The car was two years old and wouldn’t have passed its first German MOT because it was corroded at every place imaginable. The next car lasted for more then ten years, so they were not all bad.
An investigation committee installed after the quality problems came up found out what the reasons were. Contrary to public myth it was not the steel used for the cars (after all, the same steel was used to build the Alfa North cars, and these did not corrode that badly). The reason was in the South Italian workers’ mentality. In the Alfasud factory there were 700 (seven hundred) strikes during the first 18 months of production. During these strikes the ovens in the paintshop were mostly switched off, and the immense ammounts of condense water vapour present in every paintshop from heating up the metal bodies coming out of their immersion tanks for degreasing and initial rust proofing could settle down on the cold metal that was degreased and unpainted and therefore an ideal base for surface corrosion. When the strikes ended, the corroded bodies were just painted over. Particularly bad was the legendary “white series”. After a fourteen day strike a batch of Suds were painted white. These became particularly famous because on many of these the windscreen fell out of the car when they were unloaded from the transporter on the poor dealers’ premises. At least that made the Alfasud the first car with a fully biodegradable body…
At least Hruska was fully rehabilitated because nearly all problems with the Sud’S quality were found out to be production related and not in its construction.
Thank you for sharing your experiences. I have owned three of Sud derivatives in earlier years as well, and also rate the first one, a 95hp Sprint Veloce, as one of the greatest FWD cars ever. It was the same red as the one in the second pic, but of 1982 vintage, making it a series II. Incidentally, the car featured in the article is a series III, which received the retrograde 33 suspension setup: outboard disks in front, drums at the rear, retuned springs and dampers. I never liked these as much as the earlier cars.
The thing which still sticks with me, 15 years after I sold the last of my Suds (a hatchback 1984 Export QV, with the 105hp 1500) is how cleverly they were designed. Cabin room was way above class average, luggage space was plentiful, and service access to the engine was generally easy. The severe caster angle of the front suspension struts gave it beautiful steering feedback, and the unique orientation of the wishbone’s front leg minimised camber changes due to spring compression. The front strut turrets were connected and braced by an integral crossmember, and it even featured an air-blending ventilation system (of woeful undercapacity, but never mind…) Very clever indeed.
Assuming there is any truth in the following link below. Am interested in finding out more about experiments with a 5-bearing crank 2-litre version of the Alfa Romeo Boxer engine that were done under Fiat ownership, only for it to be dropped in favor of the Twin-Spark engine.
Also are there any good books on Alfa Romeo which delve into this 2-litre Boxer unit and other obscure Alfa Romeo projects / prototypes?
These were launched in ’71 originally, the motoring press absolutely raved about them. There was simply nothing that handled like them available from anyone else. The small capacity engine didn’t matter because once you’d built speed up, the uncanny roadholding meant you never needed to slow down for bends.
I’m not sure how true it is, but I read that the poor quality Russian steel that usually gets blamed for the chronic rusting of 70s Italian cars was the payment for Fiat building the Lada plant in Togliatti. It’s supposed to have had an unacceptably high carbon content, but then tales are legion of rural Alfa workers simply walking off the job to go and get the Tomato harvest in, leaving bodyshells unprotected. Who knows. I was around in the 70s, and the rust thing is absolutely true. Alfa, Lancia and Fiat cars fell apart before your eyes, it would be ready for new panels at 2-3 years old and ready for scrap at 5-6. Lancia pulled out of the U.K when sales evaporated following a press hatchet job about engines falling out of Beta saloons due to bulkhead rot. They actually bought back and scrapped loads of them, which convinced people there really was a problem.
my father’s 1974 fiat spyder practically rusted away before our eyes. he loved it so much that he bought another one in 1979 and immediately gave it the full ziebart treatment. that was great until about ’84 when it started spending months in the shop. when his mechanic reported that it was running again but compression was low on one of the cylinders, he drove it straight to the saab dealer and traded it in on a 900. he never looked back.