A car universally praised for its dynamics and design: we take a look at the Alfa Romeo Alfasud Sprint…
The Sprint was based on the wonderfully designed but poorly built Alfasud. Due to stipulations of a loan from the Italian government, the car had to be constructed at Alfa’s little-used Avio facility near Naples instead of at its main plant in Milan, which goes some way to explaining the reliability issues. Nevertheless, find a good one today, keep it in excellent nick and you’ll own one of the most beautiful Alfas there is.
Our first test of the Sprint was in January 1978 and the next in March 1981. The original name of “Alfasud Sprint, by Alfa Romeo” was later swapped for “Alfa Romeo Sprint”.
The styling was beautifully penned by Giugiaro at Italdesign and followed the lines of the big-brother GT and GTV. Sloping front and rear screens along with two doors gave it a sporty appeal and the boot was accessed by lifting a large tailgate. It offered 280 litres beneath the shelf, or 355 litres when stacked to window height; good for a compact sports coupé. Seating was two-plus-two style, with no folding rear seat.
The Sprint had disc brakes all round, with the front ones mounted inboard; MacPherson struts ahead; a beam rear axle with Watt’s linkage provided suspension; plus rack-and-pinion steering aiding the sharp cornering ability.
Starting life as a 1,3-litre with 56 kW, the engine grew to a 1,5-litre in 1978 that was good for 63 kW. In 1980, the 1,5 Sprint Veloce was introduced with dual twin-choke, downdraught Weber carbs and alloy wheels, replacing the single carb and steel wheels. This unit produced 70 kW and 130 N.m. The 1300 returned excellent fuel-consumption figures of 9,94 L/100 km (our index measurement), increasing to 11,04 L/100 km for the 1500.
The flat-four engine layout is great for a low centre of gravity but is rather difficult to work on. With the heads relatively far apart – and they were heads that featured overhead camshafts – a long chain or belt was needed to drive the valves (Alfa chose dual belts). In true Alfa fashion, the transmission was a five-speeder, one of few cars to offer one in those days.
Which one to get
Any Sprint is collectable but, thanks to its superior performance, the Veloce is more desirable. Always buy the latest model you can find, as the problems which surfaced on early models were generally sorted out in the later production runs.
What to watch out for
Always look for rust. Even if fully garaged, these cars had to overcome poor-quality steel from the start. Get into every nook and cranny with a rust-resistant coating, starting with the doors, hatch and bonnet. Around the windscreen is a major rust area and more difficult to access than the doors, so drill small holes where necessary to gain access, then fill the holes with a plug or filler/sealer. Do your best to purchase a car that has spent its life inland, away from the coast’s corrosive air.
Servicing can be done with the engine in place. Note that, with those two cambelts mentioned earlier and the distance between cylinder heads, each belt has a spring-loaded tensioner. The tension should be checked every 18 000 km, with a tensioner-arm torque between 3,8 and 4,7 kg.m, with no load on the valves of the particular cylinder head. Replace the belts every 50 000 km, as belt breakage can damage the valves and pistons. Should major mechanical work be needed, remove the engine and gearbox as a unit from underneath the car.
Availability and prices
Just fewer than 2 500 Sprints were sold compared with the many thousands of four-door Alfasuds. Pricing for the former was about 50% higher. Few are still in good condition, as there are more collectable other-model Alfas around, but hang on to an Alfasud Sprint and the value should rise. Prices range wildly, from R10 000 for poor examples to 10 times that for one in great shape.
The Alfasud and Sprint designs were up there with the best, with excellent packaging, styling, ride and perhaps the best handling of any front-wheel-drive car of the time. Unfortunately, the Alfasud reputation was ruined by political interference. Poor workmanship and inferior-quality steel imported from Russia meant the car suffered terribly from rust. The plant was set up in the south of Italy where unemployment was high – a well-intended initiative – but a lack of skills and labour strikes, coupled with the lack of proper steel preparation, started a rust problem that would harm the brand for years. With Italian design and styling plus an ex-Porsche engine designer, it had the potential for brilliance. Instead, the VW Golf received all the plaudits.