Driven To Write’s Top 50 Countdown – 7b

Ranking in equal 7th place with the Datsun Cherry (N12) is the 1984 Alfa Romeo 33 Green Cloverleaf.

1986 Alfa Romeo 33: productioncars.com
1986 Alfa Romeo 33: productioncars.com

With the Alfa Romeo 33 Green Cloverleaf, the Milanese firm continued its struggle to march back to the front of the sporting pack, to chase the Peugeot’s 305 GT and VW’s Golf GTi. Building on the structural foundations of the 1971 Alfa Sud, the 33 had a 105 bhp 1.5 litre flat-four engine and the same basic mechanicals.

This Green Cloverleaf version of the car had stiffer springs and dampers than the standard model; it had extra aerodynamic fittings, a tendency to rust and a noisy, fizzy, raspy exhaust that other makers could only dream about.

Unlike the other cars in the 33 range the GC was fun to drive and faster than a Ford XR3i. And inside there were thicker side bolsters on the seats and a leather rimmed steering wheel too. This was no Escort, no Golf. Perhaps only Astra/Kadett owners managed to see clear blue water between them and the contender from southern Italy. Why was that?

Series 1 Alfa Romeo 33: irishtimes.com
Series 1 Alfa Romeo 33: irishtimes.com

Because the 1984 Kadetts’s designers used the most advanced computer software available to create the interior, a car with more room and luggage space than any of its peers. The cD was 0.30 compared to the Alfa’s (0.4 by some reckoning); the Kadett needed less servicing too.

It asked only 1.2 hours of servicing in its first 9,000 miles and it used less fuel than its predecessor; and finally the Kadett had far better ergonomics than was the norm at the time and even today the car, sleek and refined, is a useable, sturdy and smooth-driving machine. In contrast the boxy, rust-afflicted Alfa 33’s pedals were set too close together and the gearbox a real nuisance. The build quality remained dire throughout its long life.

Yet the Alfa has something the Astra/Kadett doesn’t: the Alfa badge, a characterful engine and a tradition of engineering excellence going back to the days of Fangio. And remember, Enzo Ferrari drove one to work (an Alfa but not a 33).

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

10 thoughts on “Driven To Write’s Top 50 Countdown – 7b”

  1. That is one of the now forgotten cars I was very fond of at its time (from looking at it; I was too young to drive then). I still remember how they sounded. Very Italian.

    Was that version really called “Green Cloverleaf” in English speaking countries? That sounds awful. Here (and I think also in Germany) it was allowed to keep its original “Quadrifoglio Verde” badge, although I suspect that only a small minority was able to pronounce it correctly.

    1. This was a car that attracted my attention in the late 80s. These days it’s hard for
      me to be charitable. The 305 GT or Kadett equivalent are vastly better cars. Alfa traded on the boxer engine’s charms and motoring writers did as well. This car is among the worst of the 50, by a long margin.

  2. I never took to the 33 – they seemed like Alfa’s Allegro to the Alfasud’s BMC 1100/1300. The only ones with any appeal were on the fringes of the range; the proto-crossover Giardinera with 4×4 fom the start, and the mad diesel with a 1779cc VM in-line triple. Probably awful, but what’s not to like?

  3. I know what you mean. In the early 80s I tried an Alfasud Ti with a view to purchasing. Wholly incompatible with size 12 feet, exacerbated by a ‘nervous’ control set-up which did not forgive honest error. That and rust which I’m convinced was audibly fizzing. I bought an Audi 80 instead, and never regretted it.

    I’ve never tried a 145, but put plenty miles on the closely related Tipos, Tempras, and Brava. No pedal problems at all for me, unlike the products of a certain German manufacturer who favours the RWD mid-front engine layout.

  4. I am not sure how such a highly regarded car like the Alfasud morphed in to the unloved Alfa 33; was the 33 really that bad. I had an Alfasud for two years and with size 8 feet no problems with pedals. It was utterly reliable and a delight to drive. I would disagree with Robertas on the “nervous” set-up. I never had any problem, well until I put it through a hedge backwards but I put that down to a damp, greasy road and new rear dampers being tested to (and beyond) the limit.

    My son had a 145 as his daily driver for four years and again absolutely no problems.

    1. It might depend on where you lived. The Irish climate and roads destroyed 33s. I tried a 33 once and could not manage the awkward pedals. As it happens I saw a box-fresh Alfasud today and it didn’t look solid: new, shiny but fragile.

  5. Richard, the Alfasud lived in Belfast and was driven all round Galway and Mayo on fishing trips, my son’s 145 was in Glasgow. Both pretty damp climates and the bent chassis of my Alfasud showed definite signs of rust. The 145 was much better protected. I traded in a Saab 900 for the Alfasud and it really didn’t seem fragile but I was probably too taken with the Alfa to notice. Where did you come across a box fresh Alfasud?

  6. Comparing that nice, fast and nible 33 with datsun chery is almoust heretic. I just can not believe what people are saying and writing about that grat drivers car. Yes there are some quality issues and 33 is not as genius as the Alfasud is but the difference between theese cars is marginal and not big enough to make the 33 a bad car. Its a still great car to drive and the quality and rust proofing is on the side of 33. Especialy with 1.5 or 1.7 engines that comes with better suspension and brakes. There are minimal changes on Sud layout and 33 can not be that different. Period. Comparing 33 with rubish, ugly, bad handling BMC cars such an allegro is nonsense. 33 have lots of strong ponts, bmc crapy cars have none of them. Period.

    So what are the strong points of 33? In 33 we have one of greats engines of the time. The alfa boxer engine. Its a boxer that is miles away form old lumpi vw boxers or subaru boxers of the time. Its more sofisticated, have more bhp/litre, mpg is good, and sound is spectacular.It pulls from 0 to 7000 with no hesitation. Because its a boxer it have minimal weight on crankshaft and the will for rpm is just amazing. Other strong point is also alfasud derived. We have great balance thanks to cars layout and suspension with lots of feedback from direct steering, very predictable handling with sofisticated mcpherson (comparing it to others of the time) at front and self steering rear axle (!). We have the best best engine-gearbox layout for compact FWD car , a flat 4 engine with low center of gravity and longitudinal gearbox behind axle for good weight distribution.). With all that together, understeer is non existing and on-edge-handling is predictable and easy menageable with throtle. You can play with the car in any way, rigth or wrong, you can learn from it like its a modern car, you can make mistakes on te edge when the car is in slide and the car forgive (!) Something that is so Alfa, and something that here mentioned VW or Opel could only dream about. And that all can not be caracteristics of bad car, that are caracteristics of great cars of all time. Minor changes are necesery to make the 33 even a better handling car that the Alfasud!

    Brakes could be better, yes, but versions with ventilated discs are good enough and better than inboard brakes in Alfasud. Seat position? I im 180 cm and have no problems, I actualy adore that low seat position 10 inches from the road. Interior quality is good in series 1, less good in series 2 and 3. Gearbox is not perfect, but its 7 of 10. Only the sincros dont last if trashig it a lot.

    1. Hi Danijel: you make a very good case for the 33. The engine is rather special and I imagine the steering is excellent too: it’s unassisted which is a pain at low speeds but great on the move. And, as my driving tutor said “roll and steer” and you will have no problems. The early 33s work better for me, stylingwise. The late models were cakes with too much icing.
      While the Top 50 list here isn’t intended to be entirely serious, there was some method in the silliness. The pairing of the Cherry and 33 seems to have been inspired by the fact they are almost diametric opposites and neither is whole. The Alfa needed Datsun’s approach to quality while the Datsun desperately lacked charm. Which one would I want to drive? It’d be the Alfa.

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