From absolutely nowhere, from being so far off the enthusiast radar as to not even register, the most recent Alfa Quadrifoglios have been an absolute revelation. Both Giulia and Stelvio have been the most exciting arrivals in their respective segments for years, combining a powertrain of exquisite quality with dynamic excitement and no little finesse. That they both carry that illustrious Alfa badge will surely have done their cause no harm at all, either.
But something has been missing - a hot hatch. We're living in a great time for the sector, with Ford on fine form, Hyundai making an excellent first appearance, Renault delivering both sublime and ridiculous and even Toyota having a stab once more. Alfa Romeo would be a welcome addition to that group; a car that could distil the Quadrifoglio panache and prowess into a smaller, more accessible package would surely be something very special indeed.
The problem is Alfa's lack of a suitable base product, both MiTo and Giulietta being old and easily outclassed. Even when they did attempt fast versions (five years ago now), they weren't up to scratch, so it's a daydream that's going to have to wait until their replacements at the very least.
Regardless, the successful rebirth of the fast Alfa Romeo inevitably draws the attention back to Cloverleafs of yore. And, specifically for the sake of this story, the 145 Cloverleaf, a car which appears to offer an affordable and interesting route into classic Alfa (and ergo classic Italian) ownership.
The 145 Cloverleaf (and even gawkier, five-door 146) was no great hot hatch icon, but there's probably more to recommend it than you might think. When Autocar bought a Cloverleaf far more used than this one, it was praised for its "great engine" and "peachy chassis", so while it might not be remembered like a Clio Williams or 306 GTI-6, it's certainly no duffer.
Particularly so given the state of this one. It's on half the mileage that the Autocar Cloverleaf was on nearly a decade ago, and sits nicely on a set of O.Z. wheels. Being racing red means this 145, naturally, is one of the fastest Cloverleafs around as well. The ad describes it as "a nice car that drives well" but needs tidying up a bit - surely par for the course at 22 years old for anything that once was less than £20k.
Now it's yours for £3,000, which looks mighty tempting given the Alfa's rarity, curio appeal and performance. The downside? It's a Japanese car, recently brought into the country by the selling dealer and said to be rust free. If its import status can be overcome, the Cloverleaf looks to be a perfect start classic - as well as a reminder of how sweet naturally-aspirated hot hatches can be.
And if not? Handily, there are two more UK Cloverleafs currently for sale, which must be some kind of PH record. One is a Proteo Red car, a private sale that's even cheaper than this one; the other a trade sale at £4k. So you could have all of them for less than £10,000, and that doesn't seem a situation that will last for long. Especially so if Alfa does finally pull its finger out and deliver another Cloverleaf hot hatch worthy of the name. Until then, the Japanese car on the funky wheels will suit just fine...
SPECIFICATION - ALFA ROMEO 145 CLOVERLEAF
Engine: 1,970cc, four-cyl
Transmission: 5-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 155@6,200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 138@4,000rpm
First registered: 1997
Recorded mileage: 87,000
Price new: £14,884 (1996)
Yours for: £2,950