One of the if-only classics from the 1970s, the Alfasud was sadly prone to rust...

Having tackled the best of the Alfasuds, the Sprints, previously, we now look at the standard “cooking” range. The project specification for the Alfasud basically read thus: design a car with a new engine and transmission, and build it in a factory using workers who have no experience in manufacturing cars. Quip aside, the job as project head went to Rudi Hruska whose CV included working for Porsche and the super-collectable Cisitalia stable.

Fiat had wanted to establish a plant in southern Italy back in the 1950s but lacked the funds. The government helped with finance to boost employment in the poorer south and an unused airfield at Pomigliano d’Arco, near Naples, provided the site. Italdesign helped with much of the work and included styling inputs from Giorgetto Giugiaro. Aldo Mantovani assisted 
with engineering.

Packaging

In a complete change to traditional Alfa engine structure, the Citroën 1200 Club route was adopted with a smooth flat-four which had been successfully used by Volkswagen for many years. To keep up with modern trends, overhead camshafts were used. Unlike the VW and Citroën, water cooling replaced air.

While the 1200 version of the Alfasud had single rectangular headlamps, others switched to dual headlamps. Interior space is plentiful and, at 440 litres, the boot is very large but it has a small opening area.

Starting with the 1200, later models included L, GL, Ti, 1300, Rally, 1500 Ti, Ti GL, Export 1,5 and GL, and Export Veloce.

Powertrain

Perhaps from his Porsche experience, Hruska favoured the flat-four design. This had a short stroke and the crankcase and cylinders were cast as a single unit. The overhead cams were driven by long-toothed belts. Front-wheel drive was another change of direction for Alfa Romeo.

The 1200 produced 43 kW, the 1300 56 kW, 1500 Ti 62 kW and the 1500 Veloce 70 kW. A five-speed gearbox was introduced in 1977. A single-choke Solex carburettor did service in the 1200 but thereafter twin-choke Webers took over and the Veloce models had dual twin-choke downdraft Webers.

Suspension and steering

MacPherson struts at the front and a Watt’s linkage/Panhard rod/coil springs at the rear took care of suspension, while disc brakes front and rear were used with the front ones mounted inboard. Steering was unassisted rack and pinion. The 1500 Veloce added a Momo steering wheel.

Handling was always Alfa Romeo’s forte and the ‘Sud was no exception. Braking, too, was excellent. Wheel sizes were 13 inches throughout.

Which one to get

Top Sprint models aside, if you find one of the last Export models, you will have a better chance of body longevity. Otherwise, look for a 1300 Rally model or a 1500 Ti. Cambelts should be changed every 75 000 km together with the pulleys; and tappet clearances can be adjusted with a locking tool and Allen key.

Availability and prices

Not many have survived but there are always a few available in the classifieds. Annual sales in South Africa were between 400 and 1 000 with peak sales in 1975 and ‘76 (2 646 and 2 198 units). High prices are afforded to only the best, fully restored examples. Most are not worth saving but will be useful as donor cars for the survivors.

Interesting facts

There was one major issue with the Alfasud: the quality of the steel. This was inferior and prone to tin worm. The warranty claims were so proliferous that some specialist panelbeaters had a production line running to carry out repairs. This must have cost the company a fortune.

The last line of cars was renamed Alfa Romeo Export and dropped the Alfasud name. In a sales brochure in my archives, I see special mention is made of the added paint processes adopted. This reads as follows: “Protection features include electrophoresis – an exclusive protection programme for anti-corrosion; special treatment on all zincrometal structural elements; underbody rust-proofing; multi-stage painting cycle.”

This was too little and much too late. Alfa Romeo’s impressive name for strong, reliable sporting machinery suffered a painful “body” blow. These final Export models were sold with 1,3- and 1,5-litre engines. An additional Super Hatch 1500 model had folding rear seats to increase boot space. If only the bodies had been submerged in a zinc phosphate bath from the start, many more would have survived, as would the reputation.

Motoring journalists loved the Alfasud for its good looks and sporty nature, not knowing what lay in store for owners.

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