Everyone has a soft spot for the Alfasud…don’t they? Well, anyone with any interest in classic cars, at least. One of Alfa Romeo’s longest-running model ranges, it was built from 1971 to 1989, with a number of body styles. Designed by Giugiaro, the Sud was intended to fit in below Alfa Romeo’s then-current model range, and to be manufactured at a new factory near Naples in southern Italy, hence the name.
There isn’t space here to go into the history of the development of the Alfasud in any detail, but it’s worth pointing out that as a project, it was delivered on time and within budget, a tribute to a team of engineers led by Austrian Rudolf Hruska, but things went less smoothly from then on…
Introduced at the Turin Motor Show in 1971, although it didn’t go on sale until the Spring of the following year, thanks to various production delays, the Sud was initially available as a front-wheel-drive, four-door, 1186cc saloon, The car was very well received, not least because of its exemplary road-holding and brisk performance, with a top speed of 92mph. It didn’t take long though before Alfa started to make improvements to the range, starting in 1973 with the addition of the 2-door Alfasud ti, boosting power output to 67bhp. A 5-speed ‘box was made standard, and to distinguish the ti from the base saloon, quad headlamps, front and rear spoilers, special wheels and a more luxurious interior completed the package. The ti could reach almost 100mph, not bad for a 1.2-litre small saloon.
Contemporary alternatives to the Alfsud were many – from the UK, the Austin Allegro, Ford Escort and Talbot Horizon; in Germany, VW introduced the Golf just three years later, transforming the small family car market. Opel followed with their upgraded Kadett, FIAT had the 127, and in France, Citroen had the GS and Renault the 5, so competition in this sector was fierce.
Just some of the other options to an Alfasud
More models were added in the next few years – an Alfasud SE, itself replaced shortly afterwards by the Alfasud L, a three-door Giardinetta (I have never seen one of these, but fewer than 6,000 were built and none were imported into the UK, which might explain it), and in 1975, the Alfasud 5m.
An entirely new model was added to the range in the exceptionally pretty form of the Alfasud Sprint coupé, and engines were increased in both capacity and power to 1286cc and 75bhp respectively. This trend continued over the years – first with the introduction in 1978 of a 1350cc and later, a 1490cc unit for the Sprint and ti versions, which eventually found their way into the Super.
1980 saw the first facelift for the range, and a 3-door hatchback was finally added in 1981, followed by a 5-door the next year. Power outputs continued to increase, first with the 94bhp Gold Cloverleaf, and finally reaching 105bhp for the final version of the ti, making it a car that could exceed 110mph/180kmh.
The 5-door saloon was discontinued in 1983, being replaced by the 33, while the Sprint was produced for a further six years, though the Alfasud name was dropped, the car now being known as the Alfa Romeo Sprint, while the three-door continued to be built for another year before being succeeded by the failure that was the Arna, a collaboration with Nissan.
So much for the (brief) history – but what of the Alfasud’s reputation? It’s loved for it’s style, handling and sheer verve. And yet…it is perhaps most notorious for its propensity to rust, caused by using poor quality steel and leaving bodies for painting outside in the sea air – the factory was only 15km from the Bay of Naples. It’s also worth pointing out that the 15,000-strong workforce recruited to build the car were new to motor vehicle production. These issues were compounded by industrial relations that rivalled British Leyland for the disruption they caused.
It never shook off this reputation, despite improvements being made with the facelifted model, and although the company built 893,719 examples of the berline, plus another 121,434 Sprint coupés, alarmingly few remain, particularly of the first series.
It is principally for its abilities as a driver’s car, however, that the Alfasud is so loved. Autocar called it an “inspirational driver’s car” that offered “truly incredible handling” as well as being a practical and roomy family car. Car magazine called it the “Car of the Decade”, despite all its quality issues. The main criticism levelled at it was for its driving position, the heavily offset pedals making driving compromising comfort for most drivers.
Nevertheless, by 1983, the Sud was phased out. Despite its high price – in the UK at least, where the base model cost almost £500 more than a 1.3 Marina (yes, I know…) – it had never made money, and its reputation as a rust-bucket damaged the company for years afterwards.
As a result of its inability to resist the demon rust, few Alfasuds remain – in the UK there are 86 saloons of all variants on the road, and another 172 in lock-ups and workshops, with the ti being the most numerous. Prices for good ones, while still reasonable, are starting to rise, and our Prime Find looks to be a good one.
For sale with a dealer in the Netherlands that specialises in Italian classics, it’s in beige with red vinyl trim – not the combination I would choose, but that’s purely my subjective taste. This is an early Sud, built in 1973, and therefore has the purest lines, unadorned with spoilers and has the chrome bumpers. It sits on plain steel wheels and has been the subject of a full restoration between 2013 to 2018. As such it is described as being in “sublime top condition”. The odometer reading is 15,525km, which is presumably not genuine and more likely to mean the car has covered 115,525km – still not a lot.
It has the 1186cc boxer engine, and the desirable 5-speed gearbox and comes with an asking price of €14,950, which doesn’t seem excessive for a restored example of an early, basic Sud. Were it not for the colour, I could easily be tempted…
We’ve borrowed some photos (by Marc Vogers) from the dealer’s website, and you can see the full advert here, and as usual, we recommend prior inspection before you buy.
With our Saturday instalment of Prime Find of the Week, we’re offering our services to the classic car community, by passing on our favourite classic car for sale from the week that passed. This top-tip might help a first-time-buyer to own his first classic, or it could even be the perfect motivation for a multiple-classic-car-owner to expand his garage with something different. We’ll let us inspire by anything from a cheap project to a stunning concours exotic, and hope that you will do the same. Just remember – Any Classic is Better than No Classic! We obviously invite our readers to help prospective buyers with your views and maybe even experiences of any given model we feature. Further to that, if you stumble across a classic which you feel we ought to feature as Prime Find of the Week, then please send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org