The title sounds a bit odd, doesn’t it? The 2021 bit is easy enough, England hopefully obvious, and maybe Gaydon is familiar as the home of the British Motor Museum (previously the rather clunky sounding British Motor Industry Heritage Trust), of an engineering and development centre of Jaguar Land Rover and of Aston-Martin, but MIT Car? It’s actually a contraction of Midland Italian Car Day, a celebration of things automotive and Italian in the Midlands of England. So, Gaydon museum, perhaps the best collection there is explaining the history of the British motor industry (from the Jaguar Heritage Collection to Lord Nuffield’s office and back again) and a celebration of Britain’s pleasure in Italian cars. Sometimes, truly, the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts. Even in the rain, the appeal is clear.
But, first let’s resolve an ambiguity you may have seen on CC recently. The Alfa Romeo Spider and GTV coupe, of every generation from the Giulietta Tipo 750 of 1955 to the Tipo 916 of 1993-2004, were available in Rosso Alfa, and in fact, it can now be confirmed, other colours. Who ever knew that? But the red ones are fastest.
The off centre number plate and deeper scudetto are the visual clues that the first car in the line is a series 2.
The first modern era Spider was the Tipo 750 Giulietta Spider of 1955-65 – this is a 1957 1.3 litre car, built on the 1954 Giulietta 750 floorpan. From 1959, the car was built on the newer Tipo 101 floorpan, though spotting the difference is a task for experts. The Spider existed at the request of US importer Max Hoffman, who told Alfa he would buy saloons if there was a Spider as well.
Styling was Pininfarina, in case you hadn’t spotted it. One day….
The car alongside is not a Nissan, or even a Datsun Cherry, but a Nissan Cherry Europe. The name may sound similar, but in every way you couldn’t see, it was very different. An Alfasud drive train and front suspension, under a Nissan body and all put together in southern Italy….it wasn’t a success. Neither was it Alfa badged twin, the Arna.
Here’s something that’s a bit more CC than the Cherry Europe – a 1981 Alfasud Sprint 1.5 litre. This was a rebodied derivative of the original Alfasud, with a 1.5 litre Boxer engine and Giugiaro styling. The Alfasud graced us in 1971; this version lasted until 1989.
Some may spot visual links to early VW Sciroccos and even the Isuzu Piazza. Some, just timeless greatness of significant appeal.
When did you last see two Lancia Beta Spyders, side by side? Forty years ago? These cars are both 2 litre versions, one 1980, one 1981.
Picking a favourite version of the Beta is not easy – practical, if slightly staid saloon? Graceful HPE sports estate – a Volvo 1800ES from Italy on a fully capable and contemporary basis? The Spyder, with the two part targa roof and folding rear awning format? Add in the compact Coupe, a great successor to the Fulvia and the related Monte Carlo (Scorpion) and there’s something for everyone.
Today wasn’t the day for folding down that rear awning though.
Here’s Beta Coupe – in this case a 1982 2 litre model – alongside a Monte Carlo and a Fulvia Coupe. When you see the number of Beta variants and the lack of major commonality body between them, you realise that although Fiat had bought Lancia and nominally controlled it, they took some time to get under that skin.
The other Lancia that made a recorded impact in the UK in this period was the first Delta, first introduced in 1979 and running to 1994. Although based on the modest underpinnings of the Fiat Ritmo (or Strada in many Anglophone markets), the car is remembered fondly for hitting a sweet spot of affordability, ability and style, for enduring for longer many would have expected and for spawning some of the best rally cars of the era. This example is actually a very late Delta HF Integrale Evoluzione – 2.0 litre, twin cam 16v with a turbocharger and four wheel, and the model that was the basis of Lancia’s championship winning rally cars of the era.
Alongside is a Chrysler Delta – the UK market version of the 2008-14 Lancia Delta, based on a long wheelbase version of the 2007 Fiat Bravo platform. A sort of Italian Malibu Maxx with an American badge.
The Fiat Ritmo was replaced by the larger and, to a certain extent, convention challenging, Fiat Tipo in 1988. This car was intended to major on space and practicality, hence the relatively wide and long stance compared with its peers. Internal space was certainly good, as were the aerodynamics, and much of the body was galvanised. Engines ranged from 1.1 litre (tax conscious markets only) to 2.0 16v , with many steps in between. There were saloon and estate versions as well, under the Tempra nameplate, and the platform supported many other Fiat Group vehicles, from the second generation Lancia Delta to the Alfa 155 and Spider, as well the successor Bravo and Brava.
This example is a 2.0 litre 16V Sedicivalvole, with 1995cc and 148bhp – strong numbers for 1993 but the car was held back against the VW Golf GTi by its five door layout, the not so compact size, and coming later but not being better than the Golf, as well as the increasing cohort of competition.
And last, but not least by any means, a 1991 Alfa Romeo SZ. S for sports, Z for Zagato.
The idea was very straight forward and consistent with previous Alfa special models. The basis was the Alfa Romeo 75 3.0 V6 (Milano Verde in North America), with a composite body built by Zagato and first seen at the Geneva Motor Show in 1989. Over the next two years, 1000 cars were built for sale.
Power was from the 3.0 litre Busso V6, still with just two valves per cylinder at this time, and peaked at 210bhp. Still, a nominal 150mph was possible.
The rear spoiler was carbon fibre, the roof aluminium; the other panels were composite Modar material built around a steel frame. The 75’s torsion bars were replaced with coils.
Although the car was built by Zagato, it was actually styled internally within the Fiat Centro Stile and is normally credited to Robert Opron. It is also commonly known as il Mostro – the Monster
The follow up was the lower volume (284 cars) RZ, a roadster with the ostensibly the same profile but actually very few common panels. Simultaneously, one of the most captivating, charismatic, daunting and intimidating cars of the period, and some how it tells you a lot of Alfa’s story and defines its attraction as well.