Classics World’s Rob Hawkins test drives and reviews the 1982 Alfa Romeo Alfasud 1.5Ti Gold Cloverleaf…
Almost three quarters of a million Alfasuds were manufactured worldwide, yet in the UK last year, only 93 were recorded as taxed or SORN’d.
The front-wheel drive pocket-rocket from the Italian car manufacturer is an iconic hot hatchback that deserves to rub shoulders with the likes of the Golf GTi, Fiat Strada Abarth and Ford Fiesta XR2.
Developed towards the end of sixties, launched at the 1971 Turin Car Expo (the Lambo Countach prototype was launched at the same show), it was available for sale in 1972 (production started in April 1972).
Rust was soon a major problem due to poor quality steel. Alfa Romeo’s reputation for rotten bodywork stuck for many decades to come. Initially, a quick fix for avoiding the corrosion was devised by foolishly filling all box sections with a synthetic foam. This helped to trap moisture and result in, you’ve guessed it, corrosion.
Alfa Romeo’s reputation for making sports cars helped to keep the Alfasud alive. It was a clever design, with MacPherson struts at the front and a dead beam axle with Watts linkage at the rear. Its four-cylinder boxer engine (similar configuration to a VW Beetle engine, but water-cooled instead of air-cooled) helped to keep the centre of gravity low and was a lively performer. In 1973, the 1186cc engine in the ‘Sud produced an impressive 68bhp, which was similar to a Mini 1275GT. In 1976, the Alfasud Sprint appeared, powered by a 75bhp 1286cc flat-four, which boasted a top speed of 100mph. More performance was on the cards in 1978 when the 85bhp 1.5-litre (1490cc) boxer engine was added to the line-up, and the 1286cc engine was stretched to 1351cc to produce 71-79bhp (single Solex or twin Weber carbs).
Despite the corrosion issues, the motoring press loved the Alfasud. In 1980, CAR magazine awarded it Car of the Decade. By 1981-82, the Alfasud was converted to a hatchback (originally it had a boot panel), which is where the car shown here comes in. Registered one year before the Alfasud was axed and replaced by the 33, this 1.5Ti Gold Cloverleaf has a low mileage of 42,085 thanks largely to very little use, but also having only one owner up until 2017, when it was bought by a collector. The paperwork that comes with the car includes an MoT certificate from 1997 when there was a recorded 36,500 miles on the clock, plus a series of stamps in the service book throughout the eighties and nineties to help back up the mileage. In 2004, it was MoT tested and recorded 40,910 miles. Soon after, it was put into storage and next tested in 2015 with 41,957 miles.
So the mileage is genuine and along with its ownership history, we’re confident it hasn’t been restored. There are traces of rustproofing wax in the engine bay and underneath, suggesting the tinworm has been kept away and maybe the bodywork hasn’t needed to be repaired or resprayed. Anyone who has owned an Alfasud will know how unusual this is.
The Alfasud is a typically quirky Italian car. For instance, the handbrake operates the front brakes (there are disc brakes on the rear). Sitting in the driver’s seat, there’s a deep-dish wood-rimmed steering wheel that is surprisingly in line with the seat and pedals. The pedals are typically close together for heel and toe footwork and best suited for slim shoes. Most of the heater controls are in the centre of the dashboard, allowing the heating and vents to be controlled. The only control that isn’t there is the one for switching it on and controlling the fan speed. This is all done via the right stalk switch, which needs to be twisted around.
The interior is immaculate and a blessing because it must be impossible to find original upholstery and trim. The exterior is similarly preserved, especially the trim, the Italian-manufactured alloy wheels and even the blanks over the holes in the passenger door where Alfa Romeo was too tight to fit a door mirror. Opening the rear hatch reveals a clean and tidy boot, while looking under the boot carpet, there’s a full-size spare wheel, signs of new wiring that isn’t wrapped in anything or contained in conduit, but thankfully no corrosion.
The engine bay could do with a little tidying up, specifically the front subframe which hasn’t been treated with wax preservative while the front-mounted radiator isn’t as presentable as the rest of it, but this is the only aspect of the car that appears to need some cosmetic attention.
At the time of visiting, one of the rear brakes was sticking, so we didn’t get the chance for a proper test drive but the engine is the icing on the cake for this Italian hatchback, with a raspy exhaust and two snorting downdraught carburettors.
At present, the price of an Alfasud appears to range from under £3000 for a rusty restoration project to over £10,000 for a show winner, so this example appears to be sensibly priced. If it really is in original condition (and the paperwork and paintwork seem to suggest so), then this is surely one to buy and preserve for the future.
ENGINE: 1490cc flat-four
Top speed: 112mph
Fuel consumption: 35mpg
GEARBOX: 5-sp manual