1972 Alfa Romeo Berlina 2000
Mercedes C55 AMG, Subaru Impreza and TVR Chimaera, amongst others
Why I bought it:
"Cue the 'always wanted one', 'passion', 'spirit', 'brio' and so on. Well no, actually, not at the outset anyway.
"Since the Chimaera was sold in 2011, I've missed it for any number of reasons, but one in particular is that we've never had anything since which would look at home in a 'village green' classic car show. I like all sorts of events and motorsport ranging from Sunday Services to Moto GP, but I ashamedly love a lazy summer afternoon in middle England, Pimms in hand and so on - it's all the more enjoyable if you're a participant.
"However, we have a young daughter now and frequently take my parents out for weekend jaunts, so two-seaters were out. Whatever we chose also had to fit inside our 1930s single garage, have decent performance and cruising ability and, preferably, not require me to spend the rest of my natural life hunting spare parts. I looked briefly at Neue Klasse BMWs, Volvo Amazons and various Zetec-engined Anglias. All fine cars, but the X factor just wasn't there; then I saw a '69 Giulia at a car show and realised that Alfa ownership was the way to go - the hunt was on!
"The next bit will be familiar to many classic car owners, i.e. spending months traversing the nation looking at irredeemable piles of scrap. A few examples:
(Supposedly) reputable classic car dealer: "There's nothing wrong with finishing a repair with a skim of filler!"
Me: "Not when it's done to disguise a cover sill welded over the old rotten one..."
"This and other structural repairs, seemingly carried out by an eight-year-old with a thermic lance - on a car with an asking price north of £20K!
"Soon enough however I was looking at YOD 675K - 'Alice' as christened by my daughter is not concours, but in a different league to what I had seen previously and on January 5th this year, I drove home from Harwich with - cliche alert - a grin from ear to ear.
"Imported from Italy in 2015, two previous owners, 41,000 miles young and now ours."
What I wish I'd known:
"I had budgeted obviously for immediate repairs and improvements, but having to take the head off straight away was frustrating, particularly for the sake of one missing valve collet. Hey ho - on the upside, replacing the head gasket along the way was a good bit of future-proofing and, let's be honest, if you buy a 46-year-old car you should be prepared for a few surprises along the way!"
Things I love:
"The shape - I adore its old school three-box design. The interior - I love the chrome and veneer combination and the build quality is better than you'd think. The under-bonnet view - adheres to the mantra of 'never use a piece of pressed tin where an expensive aluminium casting will do'. The noise - exhaust crackle on the overrun (unavoidable twin-cam cliche - sorry). The space and visibility - top-hat design, square boot and thin pillars equals comfort for lanky friends, space for luggage and, something we've all long since forgot, the ability to see out properly!
"Most of the above is self-evident before you've even turned a wheel. Driving it is no less enjoyable. Of course the outright performance is average by modern standards, although 0-60 in 9.5 seconds is perfectly respectable and would have thrashed most other 2.0-litre saloons in 1972. Of more practical use is the engine's flexibility and close-ratio five-speed box making overtaking easy even at higher speeds.
"You don't really notice the brakes even coming straight from a modern car. This says a lot for how good they are - discs all round, strong and progressive, enough said. The handling is also perfectly acceptable - of course there's no escaping it has a live axle, albeit a well located one, and the roll angles are hilarious by modern standards, but once you're in tune with it you can really hustle along.
"Final 'love' - I don't think I've undertaken even the shortest journey without a friendly wave or thumbs-up from another driver and many a conversation has ensued at traffic lights and petrol stations. It's not essential to generate rapport with your fellow motorists, but there's a feel-good factor about it even when it's slightly misinformed - "my dad used to have one of these... he loved his Cortinas."
Things I hate:
"To quote Motor magazine from its July '72 road test:
"Back in 1968 we were quite tolerant of the 1750's rather heavy steering with its low gearing and vagueness about the straight-ahead position, but these faults, perpetuated in the 2000, are much more noticeable today since cars without the more precise rack and pinion steering have become quite rare."
"In fairness, you adapt to the straight line vagueness and low-gearing very quickly, but three-point turns are arm-popping, made worse on our Berlina by the fitment of 185 tyres instead of the 165s on the test car - suffice it to say, once they are worn out we will be reverting back to a narrower section. The upside to the above is really good feel through higher speed corners, so it's not all bad.
"First time passengers are often surprised that I don't rank the car's left-hand drive as a shortcoming. A combination of slim hips (it's 1.5 inches narrower than my girlfriend's Micra) and the aforementioned great visibility make it easy to place, at least once you're accustomed to sitting next to the kerb. Passenger participation is very useful when overtaking, but overall it's really not an issue and somehow makes the car feel, well, more Italian!"
"It's too early to calculate an average running cost. Most expenditure to date has been to bring things up to scratch mechanically - bushes, bearings, brackets, ball-joints etc, or, expensive one-offs like new seat belts front and back. This and the (non-essential) fitment of period Momo Vega alloys. We're in for about £5k since purchase, but I don't regret a penny of it as it's a keeper, and in the 3,000 miles travelled to date, it's been extremely reliable.
"Depreciation is not an issue obviously, road tax is free and no MOT is required. Fuel consumption weighs in around 20mpg and insurance is £160 full comp.
"Spares availability is excellent - Classic Alfa and Alfaholics being the two leading sources."
Where I've been:
"As you will have gathered from the mileage comment above, it's not a trailer queen. It was bought to be used at every opportunity and if it gets caught out in the odd shower then so be it. We've had numerous days out in the Chilterns (we live in north-west London) and plenty of others further afield - Telford and Duxford for owners club events, Great Yarmouth and Bridgnorth for family weekends, to name but a few. A spring 2019 trip to the Netherlands is on the cards also."
"There is no 'what next' in terms of swapping it for anything else - we love it and intend to enjoy it for a good while yet. Naturally there's a constantly evolving list of things to do. Next up its boot lid springs and headlamp reflectors - never a dull minute!
"I'm also hatching plans for its use as an occasional wedding car, by way of a contribution to the running costs."
"In terms of out and about, aside from the aforementioned Netherlands trip, I've just signed us up for the PistonHeads Sporting Tour in October - if you're going, we'll see you then!
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