Alfa Romeo can lay claim to many firsts in the Automotive world. Alfa Romeo was one of the very first companies, back in the early fifties, to recognise the safety benefits of the radial ply tyre and very quickly they become a standard feature on all Alfa Romeo cars. The 1900 sedan was the one of the first cars ever, to discard the traditional side members in favour of an integeral body. Good brakes have always been a strong point with all Alfa Romeos and it was back in 1923 that the RL Targa Florio had brakes on all four wheels long before it was considered necessary or mandatory!
Just as Alfa Romeo led the automotive field of many firsts, the launch of the Alfasud in November 1971 at the Turin Motor Show and subsequent commencment of sales in 1972 heralded a first for Alfa Romeo. With its front wheel drive and flat four motor, the introduction of the Alfasud was one of the biggest design and philosophy changes to occur in Alfa Romeo’s history.
Back in the late 1960’s the state owned Alfa Romeo Company was after a new small car design to broaden its range, but it was due more to government considerations than marketing possibilities that the Alfasud (‘Alfa South’) project was undertaken. The new factory, to be built on the site of one of Alfa Romeo’s old World War 2 aero engine plants, was at Pomigliano d’Arco near Naples in Italy’s south, a mainly rural area with a high unemployment rate.
Headed by Rudolf Hruska (an Austrian designer who worked on the original Volkswagen project with Ferdinand Porsche) it came as no surprise that the new design had a flat-4 engine and had little in common with the earlier Giuliettas and Guilas in its basic engineering layout. In the Alfasud’s case the engine was mounted at the front of the car driving the front wheels (a first for Alfa). The flat-4 allowed for a low bonnet line and in consequence good visibility. Even with this radical departure from traditional Alfa Romeo design, the new Giugiaro styled Alfasud still had the superb feel, handling and character of an Alfa Romeo!
The Alfasud engine was water cooled with overhead valves mounted in the roof of the combustion chambers (this was typically Alfa Romeo) but they were set in a single row and actuated by a single camshaft for each pair of cylinders (not so typical). This original engine had a capacity of 1186cc (bore 80mm x stroke 59mm) and a power output of 47kw (63bhp) and with a body weight of only 830kg allowed the car a to obtain speeds in excess of 150km/h. Another first for Alfa Romeo was that this engine was coupled to a four speed gearbox and that the front suspension was a MacPherson strut system and at the rear a rigid axle carried on coil springs and trailing arms.
Because of its relatively simple design and affordable price the Alfasud, for a time, became popular amongst those who previously could not afford a new Alfa Romeo. Following it’s initial release a progression of higher performance Suds where to follow.
Unfortunately for Alfa Romeo and Rudolf Hruska, after initial glowing reports and reviews about the Alfasud’s styling, superb handling and good peformance it became evident after only a short time that all was not well with the Alfasud. Poor reliabilty and poor build quality, primarily caused by the less than enthusiastic work force at the Naples factory and massive rust issues caused by the their initial poor work practices ie leaving unpainted bodies sitting out in the open, caused the Alfasud to quickly fall from favour with all but the most enthusiastic fan. (The often rumoured use of poor quality Russian steel is actually untrue. The Naples plant was in fact using the same Italian steel that was being used at the time in the plant at Milan). There were reports of windscreens falling out of newly delivered cars because of rusted out welding seams, internal door handles falling off only after a few months, rattles and squeaks and all sorts of problems with electrical systems and of course evidence of rust setting in in a very short time.
All this, in my opinion, was a great shame considering the Alfasud and its design perse was a brilliant concept way ahead of its time and from my own personal experience, an agile and brilliant handling little car!
“Alfa Romeo Pocket History” by Gonzalo Alvarez Garcia – Motorbooks International – USA. No ISBN number.
“Alfa Romeo” by Evan Green – Griffin Press – Australia ISBN:0959663703.
“Great Marques – Alfa Romeo” by David Owen – Octopus Books Ltd. – UK. ISBN: 0706422198.
“Alfa Romeo Alfasud – 1972 – 1984” – Brooklands Books – UK – ISBN:1870642074.