Alfa Romeo Australia Screw Up 4C Launch

It always felt too good to be true….

Alfa Romeo released details on Australian version of the new 4C mid-engined performance coupe. It’s fair to say that people who were waiting to take delivery of their 4C will be somewhat disappointed.

The first let-down is the price.

AlfaRomeo4C3Aussies should be all over the fact that the Alfa Romeo 4C will sell for $54,000 in the USA. That’s $65,000 of our Australian dollars.

Due to a) Australia’s luxury car tax, and b) the fact that we’re used to paying a premium for cars here, getting close to $65,000 was always a pipe dream.

And so it goes, with a price of A$89,000 announced today.

BOOOOOOOOO!!

It’s not that big a surprise. I was hoping Alfa Romeo Australia would bring the car in around $75,000 or maybe $80,000 at the most. Given the hype around the car, I’m not surprised they’ve tried to squeeze an extra $10K out of it, especially given our falling dollar. Still, it’s a LOT of money for a two-seater and the price is going to be a factor for some.

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You’d probably think an overinflated hit to the hip pocket that was the worst news that Alfa Romeo could have delivered today.

It wasn’t.

From Wheels Magazine:

ALFA Romeo’s gorgeous, lightweight 4C has finally hit our shores, but Aussie buyers are in for a shock – their cars will be 130kg heavier than 4Cs sold in Europe.

Alfa Romeo 4CTrawling through the 4C’s Aussie spec sheet reveals a dry weight of 1025kg, a number well up on the 895kg Alfa has been championing in Europe. The official kerb weight for Australian-spec 4Cs, which includes fluids, is 1118kg.

The whole modus operandi for the 4C is light weight. If you’ve ever driven a car that has this singular focus then you’ll know how important it is to the characteristics of the car. Alfa Romeo are promising that it’ll still sprint from 0 to 100km/h in 5.4 seconds but that’s missing the point. It’s not just about flat-out acceleration. It’s about the whole package: acceleration and most importantly, handling. Weight kills. 130kg is a near 15% weight penalty and that’s a BIG penalty, regardless of how you spin it.

If you’re an Aussie and you’ve been pining for this car since its concept debut in 2010, how flat would you be that we’re not getting the super-slim 895kg version? My guess is VERY.

So why is this happening? The answer is almost as poor as the problem itself.

An Alfa Romeo Australia PR lady stated that Australian 4C’s will get a build spec based around the 4C’s made for the American market. Safety regulations in the United States require a stiffer build that results in 130kgs of extra weight. Fair enough, if you’re in America. I’m not sure that washes as an excuse for bringing a heavier version to Australia, though.

Australia’s New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) is harmonised with EuroNCAP, which means that the European version should be fine for sale in the Australian market. ANCAP doesn’t test every car sold here. It depends on volume and the 4C will be a small volume seller, so the decision to test the car will most likely reside with Alfa Romeo. The US version may (or may not) gain an extra star in Australian crash testing if Alfa Romeo stumps up to get it tested here. If they don’t, the European star rating should apply.

This decision, then, is one that Fiat and Alfa Romeo have made. It may well prove to be a disaster for local interest in the car. The 4C will sell to a fair share of well-heeled idiots who just want the latest sexy new car. It could sell well amongst enthusiasts, too, but I have a feeling that an avoidable 130kg weight penalty is one that few enthusiasts will be willing to cop.

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Don’t get me wrong, the launch of the 4C is still an exciting occasion. The initial allocation for Australia is just 120 cars – 75 Launch Editions costing an extra $20K and 45 regular versions. All 120 cars have deposits paid.

I just wonder how today’s news will play with those buyers and what effect it might have on the excitement about the car in the next few years.

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First Cars – Saab and Alfa Romeo

I was cleaning some stuff up at home yesterday when I found the following photos of my first (and second) Saab and my first Alfa Romeo. I figured they were nostalgic enough to share here on the website.

First, I have to apologise for the poor quality photos. These are photos of photos and the original prints were a bit blurry to start with (taken in low light with slow film in a fully manual SLR that I didn’t understand at the time). Nevertheless……

Saab 99E

My first Saab was a red Saab 99E, from around 1973.

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It was 1998, I think, when I bought this Saab 99 from a classified ad in the local newspaper. It was being sold by a parts recycler on behalf of an elderly lady that he knew. The car was quite dirty when I first saw it but you can see, even from these blurry images, how nicely it cleaned up with a good detail. It gleamed as if it was a little Swedish fire engine.

It had a 1.85l engine and sadly, an automatic transmission. That particular combination made the little 99 as slow as a wet week but I didn’t care. It was my first Saab and a wonderful introduction to Saab’s strange way of doing things. The interior was red velour and the headrest holes you can see through the window were something out of a science-fiction book to a guy like me.

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To put a little perspective on things….. I had just graduated from university, was recently married and had absolutely no access to, or knowledge of, Saab’s history. All I knew was that I loved the classic 900 but couldn’t afford one. With this 99, I finally had a Saab of my own and after a lifetime of owning some pretty basic Australian and Japanese cars, it was a whole new world.

Sadly, I didn’t have the little 99 too long. My ex damaged the car backing it out of a driveway with the door open and the resulting damage to the door and front guard made the car uneconomical to repair (especially given our dire finances at the time). If I’d known then what I know now about how rare these older 99s are, I would have tried a bit harder to get it fixed.

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Alfa Romeo Alfasud Sprint

With the 99 gone, I looked around for something else that would be a new experience to play with. I don’t remember where I got it from, but somehow I ended up with this Alfasud Sprint. It’s an early 1980’s model, pretty much the same as Gavin’s Sprint, which featured on this site last year.

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I mentioned before that I didn’t know much about Saab’s history when I had the 99. Similarly, I didn’t know much about driving an Alfasud, either. I got frustrated with the car, feeling that it was way too slow for a car that looked so cool. Little did I know that an Alfasud only really comes alive above 4000rpm, preferably in a corner.

The Sprint presented with quite a few problems pretty early in my ownership. These issues, combined with a Saab 99Turbo popping up for sale, saw me sell the car less than a year after buying it.

You can see the 99Turbo in the photo below. The 99E might have been my first Saab, but it’s the 99turbo below that started my obsession with Saab. It’s the reason you’re reading this right now, actually.

I do miss that Sprint, though.

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Video: Petrolicious Alfa Giulia Super Ti

Want to spend 7 minutes feeling good about the world? Watch this superb new film from Petrolicious.

It features one of the nicest guys you’ll ever see driving one of the nicest little Alfas you’ll ever see. It’s a car he built himself and he did such a good job that he ended up working for one of the best custom car builders in California – Singer Porsche.

Sit back, pump up the volume and enjoy.

PSA: Explaining “You Can’t Call Yourself A True Car Enthusiast (Gearhead) Unless You’ve Owned An Alfa Romeo

Hemmings had a post on Facebook overnight that drew some amusing comments.

Here’s the post:

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And here are a few of the comments:

  • One good reason (Of Many) not to watch “Top Gear”.
  • That’s why I don’t watch their show. SNOBS!
  • Overrated, just like that idiot.
  • You’re not a real gear head unless you’ve built a classic big block Chevy for a 1968 Camaro
  • Sorry. Just more English nonsense.
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  • Obviously they are on the Payroll at Alfa Romeo..
  • Right: Top Gear executing their marketing duties as per their employment agreement with Alfa πŸ™‚

  • They haven’t sold them in the US for quite some time…Guess the most car-crazy country on earth isn’t full of gearheads.
  • An , Alfa? Ha , ha , drive Mopar! Morons…. Your , English , humor amuses us….
  • Hell no I don’t agree. I consider myself a gearhead and I’m never own anything but American cars an American motorcycles.
  • Ridiculous. I can see that coming from England, those folks have a long history of thinking that tinkering and repairing for 4 hours to drive 1 hour is normal.
  • Owning an Alpha makes you either gullible, naive or a masochist whatever to own one of these losers is not something to be proud of.
  • What a stupid statement. …I think my 32 Ford Roadster qualifies me…
  • Seems a little snobbish to me.
  • Top Gear staff snobbish? I think if you look in the dictionary, their picture illustrates the definition.
  • I had one. Didn’t make me a gear head, made me hate AR. Overrated POS.

The comment that comes closest to understanding the meaning of the Top Gear statement is this one:

  • 76 Alfetta 2000. Spent fortunes on the damn driveshaft knuckles more than once. Great driver when it wasn’t broken.

Yep. I think he gets it.

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OK.

So let me break it down for you.

The first thing to remember before you get all emotional, bull-headed or defensive is that it’s just a saying made up by Jeremy Clarkson. Nothing more, nothing less. Like most of the things Clarkson says, it’s quotable, provocative and it’s good theatre. You’re not less of a gearhead if you’ve never owned an Alfa.

Having said that, however, there IS an element of truth to it. It’s not definitive, but it’s a very good illustration.

Why?

The essence of the theory is that there are few brands in the world that can deliver such extreme pleasure and such dire frustration, often on the same day. Alfa’s not the only brand that offers the basics of this experience, of course. But it’s probably the most storied brand to do so, with the best looking cars and the most romantic automotive history.

Classic Alfa Romeos come as close as any car can to having an automotive soul. It’s so easy to fall in love with an Alfa. And yet like any human that you’re in love with, an Alfa can infuriate you with its flaws.

AlfaGTVAn Alfa can be mouth-watering in its beauty but eye-watering as you watch that beauty fade to rust. The interior will charm you with its sporting attitude and then slowly crack, fade and fall off. The crescendo from the exhaust will exhilarate as you climb through a twisty mountain pass, only to resolve into the crackle and pop of a car cooling by the side of the road after it’s overheated. You’ll love engaging that sweet 5-speed gearbox – until the second-gear synchros die on you.

Of course, every car has it’s highs and lows. It’s just that an Alfa Romeo’s highs are SO high that it makes the lows feel absolutely cavernous.

The charm of an Alfa is all the more alluring because up until recently, they’ve all been quite accessible. Any car nut can afford an Alfa experience at some level. Sure, a few select models have risen in value at an almost silly pace in recent times, but most of them are still quite accessible, with a potential reward factor only found with stupidly priced supercars.

But you have to EARN the rewards, which is the point of Clarkson’s statement. You earn them with cash, sweat, tears, love, patience, time and loyalty. And it’s going through the fire of Alfa ownership – experiencing the highs and the hard work that goes with them – that Clarkson says makes you a true car enthusiast.

Most former and/or current Alfa owners will agree, but then of course we would. It makes us look a little holier than thou. The sensible ones will also see that it’s a thought that can apply to plenty of other brands, too.

1986 Alfa Romeo Sprint First Photos

It’s Christmas morning! Merry Christmas to all of you!

We did Christmas dinner last night so I’ve got a little time this morning to post up the first photos of the Alfa Romeo Sprint I bought yesterday.

Here is the car in our front yard, which is starting to represent an automotive palliative care ward for Italian and Swedish cars πŸ™‚

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I picked the car up yesterday, put some fresh fuel in and was surprised at how well it drove on the short trip home. After being parked for six years, I expected it to cough and splutter a fair bit but the power was smooth and the brakes worked OK, too. I’m pretty sure it’s going to need a new clutch, though, which is a bit of a bummer.

The not-so-good bits

Let’s look at the downsides of the car first…..

A couple of rust spots. I’m going to try some basic repairs myself with a wire wheel, some rust converter, filler and colour-matched paint. This is a fun daily driver, not a show pony.

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Sadly, there is some dampness in the carpet on the passenger-side footwell so the window seal isn’t great. That’s something I’m not going to fix (cheap fun runabout, remember), but I’ll do my best to keep the car covered and out of the rain. Thankfully, I live in the second-driest capital city in Australia, so it’s not the challenge some people imagine it to be.

I’ve just ordered a new tail lamp lens……

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…. And I’ll keep an eye out for a steering wheel in good condition to replace this one. Or maybe look into getting some sort of decent leather cover for it. Any tips are welcome.

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The fabric in these Sprints looks great, but it’s notoriously prone to wear. Three of the four seats are OK but the driver’s seat is…… well……

(note: that’s a green rag sitting on the seat. I should have removed it)

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The good bits

To the rest of the car, then, which seems pretty tidy. There’s no evidence of accidents anywhere, the interior is very comfortable and the engine seems to be pulling quite well. This little Sprint should only need a few mechanical repairs, a lick of filler and paint and it’ll be ready for duty.

The front’s in good order. It even has the groovy Alfa covers on the fog lamps:

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The phone dial wheels have a small amount of pitting, but no curbing. Good condition, over all. Tyres are OK, too.

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The back end is very neat. The rear hatch could do with some new struts but everything else is fine. The luggage cover is in perfect order (which is unusual for one of these)

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One notable bonus with the interior is the dash pad. These are prone to cracking but this one’s completely intact. I think I’m going to have to employ some sun protection to keep it this way.

The instruments all seem to be working OK. It even has the original Alfa Romeo stereo and speakers, made by Pioneer. The car has air conditioning, but the belt has been removed. It most likely needs an overhaul, which I’m not going to bother with.

Rear seats are factory fresh.

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Here’s the heart of this little Italian beauty – the dual-carb 1.5 litre boxer engine. It needs a cleanup – that dirty-water look is from when the water pump gave out – but the engine is running well. It needs a water pump so I’ll get the timing belts done at the same time, along with the clutch and a full fluid service. That’ll be early in the new year.

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So there you have it.

The car’s not perfect but at the price I paid, it’ll do just fine. It won’t take much to pass inspection and it should be registered and back on the road in no time at all.

Viva l’Italia!

Christmas Cheer – 1986 Alfa Romeo Sprint

I haven’t had a fun car in my garage for 3 months so when this Alfa Romeo Sprint popped up for sale in my area, I was interested. When the price nearly halved earlier this week, I felt it would be downright rude if I didn’t check it out.

Sprint1I pick it up this afternoon πŸ™‚

It’s a 1986 Alfa Romeo Sprint. I used to own a Sprint back in the late 1990’s. Regular visitors to this site may remember that I took care of my mate Gavin’s Sprint earlier this year and I fell in love with these little cars all over again. This one’s a later model than Gavin’s so there are a number of differences, but it’ll be just as fun to drive.

It has a twin-carb 1.5 litre boxer engine that puts out around 105hp. It’s been off the road for the last 6 years and it needs a new water pump but it started fine when I checked it out last night. It also needs a full service, of course.

Downsides: the Sprint has one rust spot about an inch-square at the base of the windscreen that should be relatively easy to touch up. There are two more very minor rust areas, too, and I’ll take a look at all of them over the holiday break. The fabric is worn on the driver’s seat and the steering wheel leather has basically disintegrated.

Upsides: everything else. The car is essentially a wonderful little runner in very tidy condition for a 30 year old Alfa and should take next-to-no-time to get back on the road. And given that it’ll cost me just 50% of the going price for a decent Sprint by the time it’s on the road, I’m a pretty happy camper πŸ™‚

Those of you keeping score will note that right now, we have a Lancia, a Fiat and an Alfa at home. The sad part is that none of them are in correct working order, but that’ll change soon. Now I just have to work on getting a Maserati, a Ferrari and a Lamborghini and I’ll have all the main Italians covered πŸ™‚

I’ll post some more photos after I get the car home, but here are some photos from the ad.

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Video: Alfa Romeo Sprint Speciale Shows Everything Alfa Romeo Should Be

This might just be the best video Petrolicious has ever made.

The car is an Alfa Romeo Sprint Speciale from 1965 and it was built especially for the La Carrera Panamericana race through Mexico. There’s plenty of driving footage to see and it’s a wonder to behold. In fact, it’s so wonderful it makes you wish there was no owner’s story to tell. Just give me more driving!!

For me, this video sums up the soul of Alfa Romeo. This might just be the ultimate vision of what Alfa Romeo is and should be forevermore. I hope Sergio Marchionne sees it and throws away his five year plan for Alfa. I hope he calls in the stylists and the engineers and says “This is your brief. Do this for a modern Alfa Romeo”.

That’d be fine by me.

Put it on widescreen and turn the driving footage up loud!

Farewell, My Little Italian Buddy – Alfasud Sprint

I’ve had Gavin’s 1982 Alfa Romeo Alfasud Sprint Veloce parked in my front yard for the last few months. The best part of the deal is that I had his OK to drive it once or twice a week – just to keep it lubricated, of course πŸ™‚

The car left our humble abode this afternoon. It’s heading back to Melbourne tomorrow and it’ll either be sold or restored a little more.

I wanted a keepsake so I whipped out my iPhone this afternoon and shot a quick video walk-around of the car in the fading light.

I had an Alfasud Sprint in the late 90’s. It was silver with a brown interior, just like this one. It didn’t run anywhere near as good, though. The last few months have been as nostalgic as they have been thrilling.

Here’s the video. Please accept my apologies for the quality, but hopefully it gives you just a small sense of the car.

Alfa Romeo Has A New Corporate Plan *Sigh*

I remember back around 2009 or so, I wrote on Saabs United about the fact that Saab had about as many concept cars in 30 years as they had actual production models in 60+ years. We’re not quite at that stage with Alfa Romeo’s re-hashed business plans yet, but we’re not far off.

The suits at Fiat held a corporate information day yesterday, which is why your automotive news services were flooded with stories about Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Alfa, etc, etc.

Here’s the Alfa presentation, slightly abbreviated but with a few remarks thrown in where appropriate.

If you’re an Alfa Romeo cynic, save yourself some time and go read Sniff Petrol’s account of the new plan πŸ™‚ .

If you’re an Alfa tragic like me, read on…..

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The show starts with a history lesson, recalling Alfa Romeo’s racing successes over the years in some of the world’s most prestigious races. They even wheel out old Enzo for a quote about their ancient greatness.

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Now, if you’re looking closely, you’ll see that the world class races that Alfa Romeo won were mostly back around 80 years ago, in the 1930’s. There was some success in the later parts of the 20th Century, but that was in your more domestic type race series. That’s not to diminish the achievement because it takes a hell of a team effort to win a race in DTM, for example, but the big-name victories mostly came in the 1930’s.

It’s fine to wheel out Enzo, but be aware that he actually took what Alfa Romeo were doing in the 1930’s and made it something meaningful for the 1950’s, 60’s and beyond. That’s the full scope of the challenge here. That’s what you’re trying to catch up to.

No-one’s denying Alfa Romeo’s sporting heart or DNA, but the claim looks a little thin on the ground when there’s barely anyone still alive that was even born when these big races were won, let alone anyone who can remember such success.

By Alfa’s own admission, the success they had on the track didn’t translate to too much success on the showroom floor:

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You might want to store some of those figures away for later reference. The key figure is around 180,000 sales per year, which is the best they’ve done, achieved back in the 1980’s when the Alfetta and Alfasud were kings.

So why didn’t Alfa Romeo turn success on the track into continued growth in the sales charts?

Reliability and rust might be two valid answers, but Alfa Romeo (and Fiat themselves) put it down to Fiat’s mismanagement. Fiat took control of Alfa Romeo in 1987 but Alfa themselves started the rot a few years earlier. The slideshow offered this example as the beginning of the end of Alfa:

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The Alfa Romeo Arna was Alfa’s own decision, but Fiat followed up with a dedication to front-wheel drive and compromised chassis’ that lent little credence to Alfa’s sporting pretensions.

Alfa styling was rarely in doubt, but the mechanicals could rarely cash the cheques the bodies were writing.

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And so we get into recognising where things went wrong and the all-important planning for the future. What are the most important attributes of Alfa Romeo’s sporting DNA and what do they have to do to regain the reverence in which they once revelled?

Naturally, Alfa Romeo has some answers:

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Personally, I’m not too sure about those. Most of them read like modern performance car attributes, but I’m not sure they’re historically accurate when it comes to Alfa Romeo. Alfas had small output engines but clever designs that were lightweight and fun to throw around. I’m not sure that power-to-weight was a priority way back when, though low weight definitely enabled good tossability.

Maybe I’m being too pedantic.

These next two slides are interesting. Alfa Romeo is deliberately benchmarking the Germans and making solid claims about their intention to make cars with minimal, if any, interference from their parent company. This is a bold claim, one that doesn’t reconcile too well with modern car company operations. That’s especially so when the car company is headed by Sergio Marchionne, a man who’s claimed in the past that there will eventually be just six car companies in the world. Small and independent isn’t his thing.

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Their solution?

It’s basically down to setting up an all-new Alfa Romeo – an engineering skunkworks that can focus solely on fulfilling the mission statement above and turn those intentions into Italian made cars that fulfil a grand Alfa Romeo vision.

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Now, anyone who loves Alfa Romeo should love this idea. Many have been under-satisfied by Alfa’s modern efforts, which were good front-wheel drive cars with sporty pretensions, but were NOT sports cars like Alfas of old.

The BIG question – and there isn’t a font large enough to do that justice – is whether or not Alfa Romeo can pull this off. They haven’t done it under Fiat for the last 30 years. Why should anyone believe they can do it now? Again, Sniff Petrol provides your scepticism πŸ™‚

Well, here’s how they plan to do it.

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I’m not a fan of this next slide. To claim that you’re the only maker in your intended segment that’s focused on the driver – when your intended segment includes a lot of driver-focused cars – is a slightly lame attempt at kidding yourself. It might be good for the motivation, but I don’t think it’s realistic and when you’re spending 5 billion-with-a-B Euros on R&D and production, you want to be realistic.

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So here’s the intended product cadence, albeit in a chart that’s not to scale. The last column looks like an onslaught of vehicle releases all at the same time, but that last column is actually a three-year stretch.

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Can anyone help me with the “UV” bit in the chart above? Urban vehicle? Utility vehicle? Underworld Vehicle? Underwater Vehicle!!??

This next slide is a little bit tantalising, showing proposed engine outputs for their petrol and diesel engines.

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And here’s where things get really – really – difficult to believe. I draw your attention back to the historical sales chart earlier in the show, where Alfa had maxed out at around 180,000 cars per year on average during the 1980’s.

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Let me set this out for you…..

This is a car company re-start in a very competitive category, selling high-priced cars that quite likely won’t be very practical. And it’s going to result in your company more-than-doubling your best ever sales per year??? And all this will happen before the end of a decade that we’re nearly half way through already?

Sniff Petrol.

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The rest of the slides contain some fluff to get your mind off that projected sales figure…..

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As you can see, there’s plenty to hope for if you’re an Alfa Romeo fan. A return to Alfa Romeo’s true sporting heart would be a wonderful thing. The motor vehicles they could make under the engineering part of this plan are enough to put some genuine steam in a man’s strides.

But you do have to wonder.

When the same plan includes claims of an autonomously run Alfa Romeo, when it claims sales of 400,000 vehicles a year and talks about unique powertrain solutions that can take a decade or more to develop fuelling those increased sales within the next 4 years……

This doesn’t seem like the most realistic plan.

I applaud the boldness. As a Saab fan, it reminds of Saab’s determination to re-cast itself after the GM days. Saab ran out of money and couldn’t see that plan through. Alfa are still part of the Fiat family, but will Fiat provide the resources to see this plan through?

I love Alfa Romeo. I drove a wonderful little Alfa Sprint to work this morning and it made me smile the whole time.

I’ll be cheering for them with all of my sporting heart, but I have a hard time seeing this plan turn into a reality.

Bad Month For Alfa/Mazda and Alpine/Caterham Fantasy Car Lovers

They say that the sea is only salty because of the tears cried by misunderstood sharks that just want to be hugged. They can add my tears to that tally tonight.

Earlier this month came the news that a car I was legitimately dreaming of owning one day – a new Alfa Romeo Spider developed in conjunction with a new Mazda MX-5 – was going to be hijacked by either Fiat or Abarth instead.

The co-developed car was going to be built by Mazda in Japan but in what appears to be a decision that killed the deal (as far as Alfa are concerned), Sergio Marchionne declared that an Alfa Romeo could only be built in Italy.

I can see his point and I appreciate his desire to preserve the Italian heart of Alfa Romeo. Then again, being built in Italy isn’t a guarantee for success. Alfa’s last Japanese collaboration was built in Italy and that didn’t go very well. Design and engineering are the key and the Alfa/Mazda effort could have been a cracker. I’m sure the Fiat/Abarth version will be.

What replaces this car as a potential Spider in a future Alfa range? Nobody knows at this point. I guess there’s scope with Sergio’s comments for it to be built in Japan as a Mazda/Fiat and in Italy as an Alfa. It wouldn’t make as much economic sense, but it could be done.

Hot on the heels from the sad news with Alfa is a story that the recent alliance between Alpine and Caterham is dissolving amidst reportedly heated disagreements over the direction and development of the vehicle.

From Autocar:

….reports of tensions between the two partners have been rife since it was confirmed the project would be delayed earlier this year, after Renault instigated a minor redesign of its Alpine following customer clinics on the car’s looks.

The Brits and French arguing over something?

Who’d have thought?

I really hope they can work something out. It’d be great to see the Alpine name on the road once again and with the shared pedigree of it’s joint developers, I’m sure the car would be awesome.