Happy 50th Birthday! In our view, the Sud was the last real Alfa, as it celebrates a milestone birthday, we take a (nostalgic) look back. (We’ll declare here; we do love a Sud!)
Alfa Romeo were known for the fabulous design of their motor cars, eye watering cost of ownership and of course their racing pedigree. The Sud was a departure for them, and one born of necessity. Alfa had been looking to produce a smaller front wheel drive car in the 1950s, but by the late ‘60’s Alfa were in a heap of financial trouble and asked for the Italian government to bail them out. In a complicated deal, of course it was, the Italian government agreed.
They duly turned up with wheel barrows full of Lira, with more strings than a violin attached.
The new car had to be built at a repurposed factory at Pomigliano d’Arco in southern Italy, hence the car’s name, Alfa Sud, South. The site was on an old aircraft engine factory used by Alfa Romeo during the Second World War. The government’s great idea was to turn rural and somewhat impoverished southern Italy into an industrial power house similar to the north where Turin and Milan were booming. They wanted to level things up. Sounds familiar? Execution of a good idea proved to be a little trickier.
The employees had mostly construction backgrounds which weren’t entirely suited to building cars and when Alfa along with the Italian govt tried to recruit from the local area they found the local populace were not trained for factory work, being more suited to the agricultural area they’d grown up in. Industrial relations became problematic with absenteeism rates in the Pomigliano factory running at nearly 20%. Hmmm. Alfa pressed on.
The Sud was launched on the world stage in 1971 at the Turin Motor Show. It was less than four years since the designer, Rudolf Hurska had begun work on the project. Everyone was impressed by the diminutive and innovative 1.2-litre four-cylinder “Boxer” OHC engine. This was also the first Alfa Romeo with rack & pinion steering and Alfa’s first FWD car. No pressure then. The Sud arrived on British shores in ’73 with a price tag of £1,399. Interestingly if you wanted a Sud with a brake servo, that was an extra £15.49. Typical of the Italians to have functional brakes as an optional extra.
The Press generally raved about the new Sud. In December 1973 ‘Motor’ said this, ‘The Alfa Romeo offered transmission that was quite outstanding in the ease and precision of its action, and it was one of the few front-wheel drive cars with almost no understeer’. The following year, ‘Car’ tested the Alfasud alongside the Citroen and the Allegro 1750SS. Not surprisingly, the Sud came out on top.
An upgrade of the basic launch model followed quickly with the addition of the Ti. It featured a five speed ‘box an upgraded 1.2 boxer engine aided by twin choke Weber’s.
In 1978/79 following some cosmetic upgrades, Alfa really picked its game up and built the Sprint and Veloce models, with 1.3 and 1.5 engines, more angular body panels and sporting upgrades to seats and suspension. It seems they still weren’t too fussed about braking though. The range topped out with the Gold Cloverleaf model. The Sud was well in front of the opposition, but this was all set to change.
The hot hatches arrived in the early 80’s and the likes of the Golf GTi, Astra GTE and P205 GTi took over the sector. Alfa wasn’t finished. In 1983, the final version of the Alfasud Ti was introduced. It had a hot 1490 cc engine developing 105 bhp called the Quadrifoglio Verde (Green Cloverleaf), the model was also fitted with Michelin low-profile TRX tyres as well as an enhanced level of equipment. Still the brakes were, ahem, interesting.
For all the good Press and the adulation of fans the Sud was beset by problems, not least in manufacturing. One observer later noted that a government sponsored car project in the south built miles from the strong supply chain based in the north was always going to have challenges, ‘baked in’. He was right. Added to that was the Sud’s legendary ability to dissolve on contact with rain, which was exacerbated by the Italians storing unpainted body shells in the open. This became even more problematic when Alfa decided to deal with the problem by adding foam padding to structural box sections, which simply acted as a reservoir for the designed-in water traps.
But for all its faults, this was the first Alfa to bring the legendary and previously unattainable marque to within grasp of mortals like us. For that reason we love Alfa and more so the Sud. At 50 years old this year, we have every right to take a rose tinted look back and smile, a lot. If you have pic of your much loved Sud, ping ‘em over, or, we’d love to do an article of your Sud.