1 Feb 2015

Alfasud Giardinetta and related ramblings

See previous story.John Crawford (driver above) and Steve Cropley travelled to the Monaco Grand Prix in an Alfasud Giardinetta (wagon)-presumably loaned to them by Alfa.The Alfasud wagon - like many wagons of its era-does look like a delivery van with the sides cut away and it is not  appealing like the saloon which was a really great little stylish car. I have never ever seen a Giardinetta presumably because it was only made in LHD and was pretty rare in any case.

I say that the Alfasud was a great little car but I say that with a caveat  - if you ignore the quality.The Sud was styled by Ital Design and sold between 1971 and 1983.It had a flat horizontally opposed (boxer) 4 cylinder engine .It had great performance and handling for its size.Its achilles heel is that at a time when Alfa's quality was awful the Sud was the worst of all their cars.It was built in a new factory in the south of Italy ( hence the Sud in the name) to give employment to unemployed rural workers.The switch from picking olives to screwing Alfas together was not easy for many and combined with a serious corrosion problem the result was that an otherwise outstanding car was destined to get a deserved very bad name.

I remember the Alfasud fondly because in 1972 I was working for British Leyland International and I went on a product evaluation day in the Midlands of England where a small group of managers compared  the soon to be announced BL Allegro (a truly awful car - see Wikipedia  ALLEGRO for details) against its competitors one of which was the Alfa Sud.I cannot remember what the other competitors were although I am sure one must have been a Ford of some sort.

Anyway the Allegro was the result of British Leyland's policy of regressive product development where each new model was worse than the one it replaced.So the Mini Clubman GT was worse than the Mini Cooper and the Allegro was woeful compared with its very succesful predecessor the Austin/Morris 1100/1300.This policy was pursued in its purest form in BL's sports cars which all progressively got worse with each new model or update.
It's difficult to describe in words how bad the Allegro was -but one tale is suffice.There is a tunnel which carries a road under the River Thames at Dartford in London.The AA ( the UK roadside recovery organisation) had to pull stranded cars out of the tunnel because there was only a single lane in each direction They blacklisted the Allego because if they jacked up the front wheels of an Allegro to tow it the body twisted and the windscreen cracked.True story.So if you drove an Allegro in those days it was best to avoid the Dartford Tunnel - or indeed any road where you might need to be towed with the front or presumably back wheels jacked up.

Anyway on the product evaluation day we were all lining up to drive the wonderful Alfasud on the test fleet.The Allegro - our shiny new product - was shunned.I often wonder who set that evaluation up and what they were thinking.The test route was on town and country roads over a rectangular course and included a very steep humpback bridge over a canal.I remember taking that bridge at a very rapid pace in the Alfa and actually getting the wheels off the ground.I also remember that after an hour or so of lunatic young men in suits racing around the country lanes the locals must have complained because Police Constable Plod in his Morris Minor Panda car appeared in a pull in close to the canal bridge and he had a notebook in his hand.Happy days.Today we would have all been arrested.

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