1980 Alfa Romeo Giulietta 1.8 road test

“Another new Alfa Romeo!” – Renowned motoring correspondent, Archie Vicar, takes a cursory look at the 1980 Giulietta 1.8 in what appears to be a verbatim transcript of period review.

1980 Alfa Romeo Giulietta: source

Original photos by Douglas Land-Winbermere (sic). Due to damage in storage, stock photos replace the actual ones (which were damaged in storage). The article first appeared in the Canterbury Weekly Post June 2, 1980.

Introduction

The performance race continues unabated in these increasingly competitive times. Alfa Romeo have decided to add a 1.8 litre engine to their range of roomy family saloons. As if good looks and capable road-holding were insufficient, the famous Milanese firm has taken the decision to give the venerable Giulietta range a further boost by endowing the car with a 122 bhp engine which allows it to top 60 mph in a little over 10 seconds, putting it well ahead of the Fiat Mirafiori Sport (10.7 seconds) and Audi’s perennial petrol-hungry, boxy, front-drive laggard, the 100 GL 5s (10.7 seconds).

Only Triumph’s antediluvian Dolomite (8.7 seconds), BMW’s peculiar two-door 320 (9.8) and Ford´s mundane Cortina 2300 get to sixty faster. Each of the three play second fiddle to the Giulietta in some marked and incontrovertible way. The Ford burns more petrol and needs half a litre more engine capacity to

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do it. The BMW has two doors and costs a slithery shoe more. The Dolomite relies on ancient underpinnings and has vinyl covered C-pillars.

Performance

Those are the on-paper details but the age-old question needs to be answered: what is the Giulietta like to drive? The Giulietta can be described as a development of the 1972 Alfetta which car added better ride quality and better balance to Alfa Romeo’s sporting pedigree. The Giulietta enjoys a similar layout to the Alfetta: the engine unit delivers power to the rear wheels and has a de Dion back-axle and rear-mounted gearbox too. This provides creditable balance at the cost of a slightly tricky gear-change.

The car weighs 2,520 lbs so the 12% extra power does not go un-noticed! On the test route from Zeebrugge to Seville the Giulietta always felt able to handle whatever the road presented with confidence and élan. The nought-to-sixty sprint requires a firm palm and a heavy foot though due to the inertia of the prop shaft spinning as per the engine’s rotation. Fortunately the syncro can handle the loads as frequent gearchanges in the Pyrenees proved without a doubt.

Notice how the engine continues to pull right up the top-speed which accords with the car’s sporting pedigree. Lesser cars might be designed to have a lower engine speed near top but the typical Alfa driver demands much more than the Cortina man, for example. The Alfa uses thicker engine oil than is perhaps the norm and this means, as for example on the cold morning we started off in Dijon, that one must wait a while for the oil to warm up – fling open the windows and enjoy a pipeful, I say.

Thanks to the power delivery, one can makes smooth changes pleasantly slowly and appreciate the delicate movement of the lever. In short, it’s a car to keep on the boil and one that feels quick even if there exist other saloons that, on paper, are indeed more accelerative.

1980 Alfa Romeo Giulietta interior: source

Living with the Giulietta

Alfa Romeo have placed the ashtray very well: just behind the gear-lever and it has an easy-to-operate lid capable of dealing with an eight-hour smoking day. The car has plenty of room in the rear compartment too, something one can’t say about the BMW 320. One will find lots of nooks in which to lose one’s passport and driving licence as there seem to be a good number of stowage compartments such as the non-locking glovebox and open trays on the centre console.

The parcel shelf seemed big enough for Land-Windermere to sleep on (he is very thin) but he chose to slumber on the soft rear seats for much of the four days’ test. “Very good,” he declared when awaking to take a peculiar photo of a lamp-post in Innsbruck. The boot can hold a good amount of luggage and indeed wine. The low-geared window winders are a safety feature to be commended. One can’t easily trap fingers when closing the sideglasses as they are very slow mechanisms indeed. There isn’t an ammeter but one does find map-pockets (for cigarettes) behind the front seats.

Roadability

The Giulietta provides a ride-comfort revelation compared to the stiff and, some say, brittle suspensions of yore. The new cars still bump a bit around town, as we discovered in Sorrento, but get out of town, I say. These cars aren’t meant for shopping trips. As a family saloon, the Giulietta claims a fine medium and high-speed ride quality.

A rack (and pinion) system belies the speed and accuracy of the steering but we got to where we wanted to go so it can’t be all bad. Light steering though and that’s what matters most. The self-centering character seems almost to have been borrowed from Citroen. Mercedes, take note! Rather surprisingly, the Giulietta understeers far more readily than I had expected meaning that one can easily misjudge a corner after a fine lunch (the Hotel Murillo in Seville is worth a second look and the stay there was therapeutic).

Still, with a good number of miles under the wheel in this test already achieved, it is safe to say that the Giulietta is broadly a fine saloon of considerable visual merit (hints of Oldsmobile?) and, furthermore shows clearly the direction and pace of Alfa Romeo’s resurgence after a difficult few years. Lancia may be looking nervously over their shoulders, I might suspect.

Conclusion

The Giulietta has class-competitive performance and fine high-speed ride quality coupled with a first-rate ashtray. Technically, it is not a Cortina or BMW and so much the better too. Further, the BMW tends to break-away far too suddenly and has its dated style to contend with. For the money, there is no better family saloon offering the same technical specification of the Giulietta, allied to best-in-class fuel consumption.

Produced by: Alfa Romeo S.p.A, Stabilimento di Arese, Milan 93391.

Slideshow credits: here

Author: richard herriott

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

22 thoughts on “1980 Alfa Romeo Giulietta 1.8 road test”

  1. I’m still very fond of these, being of a certain age and seeing these as I grew up. I have managed to own a couple of Alfasuds, a Sprint and a 33 over the years, but never had the chance of a Giulietta. It’s definitely on the win-the-lottery list of 1980s cars for me.

    1. I’ve become very needs-must over the last few years. My last ‘interesting’ cars were Alfa 156s – the first cruelly written off by an old chap in a Rover 75 rear-ending me at a roundabout, and the second was, how shall we say?… not one of Alfa’s finest constructions. It looked fabulous in it’s metallic red parked on the drive but spent rather too long in that location.

      I’ve had absolutely all sorts over my mis-spent automotive years – a beautiful DS (Borg Warner full automatic 15mpg….), GSA, Visa, 2002, 406 x 2 (one a V6), Ka – but currently a rather more prosaic Mitsubishi Colt 1.1 and an ASX. The Colt is actually more than the sum of its parts and has been fabulously reliable for 6 years now. The ASX? It’s alright if you like SUVs and my wife (who likes the raised driving position) likes it a lot. I’d rather have a car though!

    2. …and yes, the footwell was stupidly narrow – I couldn’t wear wide shoes / boots to drive it. Mind you if I recall correctly the ‘Suds were the same.

    3. The 406 is a marvellous vehicle. I use one often – it’s nearly 20 years old and still very solid. The seats are excellent and the boot huge. It’s €500 short of useless refinements that BMW charge a lot for. In short, it’s all the car one needs, an ideal servant.

    4. The footwell in ‘Suds and 33s was very narrow and the pedals were very slim.
      If your shoes were bigger than size eight you had to be extremely careful to always press the clutch pedal first (on an LHD car), brake second because otherwise you couldn’t get on the clutch once the brake was pressed.

    5. Olly: congratulations on the purchase. It’s been a very long time since I was in a 190E that I can’t remember the ride quality. I do remember the immobile steering wheel and uncomfortable seats. The 190E has old-school trim quality. It’s like furniture. The 406 can’t match that but it is well-assembled in its anonymity. The boot is huge and the rear seats excellent. I hope the example you purchased runs as well as the one I use (1.8 petrol).

  2. Ah yes, 406s are fabulous aren’t they? I’ve just rooted out my list of cars owned (31 so far) and there are really only two that I let get away and have lived to regret. First and foremost was the 2 litre 406. We bought it at 6 years old with 110k miles on it, ran it for about 5 years and a further 70k miles and I really could still be driving it now, if only I hadn’t been seduced by the V6 (which didn’t actually last very long – a story for another time).

    The second is the Alfasud 5M. The smallest, sweetest and smoothest revving of the four Boxers that I owned. Not an everyday car even when I owned it as it wasn’t watertight for starters. But it did make me grin!

    1. I’ve just bought myself a 406 2.0 on the advice from this site – coming from a 6 cylinder 190E I’m very happy indeed! The slight loss in ride solidity perceived quality is more than made up for with the delightful steering, absolutely superb handling and and willing engine with well matched ratios. Oh and the leather is a bit nice too!

  3. “Lancia may be looking nervously over their shoulders, I might suspect.”

    Interesting remark, that. I identify more with the shield than the serpent, and the Giulietta is undoubtedly my favourite Alfa in the period between the 2600 Sprint and the 156. These really are lovely cars – terrifically-sized, brilliant handling and, I think, tastefully trimmed and good-looking too. The gearbox really is awful, though – comes close to ruining the car if one isn’t in a forgiving frame of mind.

    1. We have a reader here who owns one of these. Maybe we can get some insight on that.
      The Giulietta is indeed well sized; ditto the Trevi and their enemy, the 320. Cars of this format and size are few. Given that a compact sport saloon is a handy package (it made BMW) then what stops even one mainstream brand from selling something like it?

    2. What stops them? Safety and comfort requirements (adding weight and bulk, diminishing visibility), and of course the general trend towards SUVs/CUVs/WhatererUVs.

    3. If it is implied that a sport saloon must be rear-drive, then the short answer is production realities. The problem is that if the rest of your lineup is all front-drive, it makes it that much harder to justify a rear-drive model, because even when you are nominally sharing engines, you aren’t really – installation demands for things like sumps or ancillaries mean that there is a LOT of extra expense involved in doing it that way (leaving aside major factors like the rest of the driveline, especially but not limited to transmissions). The other point is that when you are geared up as a front-drive manufacturer, that brings with it a level of expertise and focus that makes you very invested at an institutional level in layout uniformity, from platforms to purchasing. The converse is also true – it’s telling that BMW has only gone front-drive by leveraging their expertise with Mini.

      And in all honesty, the Giulietta existed mostly because Alfa was desperately trying to squeeze additional value out of the Alfetta platform, not terribly successfully. Can you imagine being an Alfa salesman circa 1985? “Step this way, sir. I’m sure we’ll have something in-line with your needs. Does sir have a preference for his window switches in the roof? Perhaps unfeasibly complicated carburation methods are more your bag. We really have a treat over here sir – imagine what you can do with this briefcase. Or if sir prefers, why not look at our in-house rival for the 33.”

    4. I didn’t mean it had to be RWD. The ‘Sud and Trevi showed FWD could work. In the back of my mind I’m thinking of any existing small saloon (which means its all homologated) with some chassis/engine adjustments to make it sportier without being as extreme as a Focus RS or Evo.

    5. There is a Fiesta saloon available. Polos come with a boot in several markets. The Skoda Fabia could be easily salooned. The only point here is to turn a boring supermini into a handy, competent car for “grown ups” who don’t want be forced into a C-D class car or a baseball cap-on-backwards supermini.

    6. Different question then: Does it have to be a saloon? I’d also be happy (honestly: more happy) with a nice, elegant hatchback, not of the boxy type, but rather like a GS or CX…

      The question of being sporty without going to brutish extremes seems to be a difficult one today. With the standard versions in this class already ranging from 100 to 150 hp, how would you differentiate other than by sheer force? And either way, what’s always missing is nimbleness in cars today. Maybe you’re looking for this? Oh yes, if you find it, let me know, because I’m in for it as well.

    7. Simon: yes, it has to be a saloon. Ideally the product will not appeal to the typical hot-hatch buyer and not to the typical mid-size saloon buyer either. It´s for the person who wants a capable, agile and light vehicle that doesn´t attract attention. The problem with sports cars is that they shout “sport” and most saloons are understood as boring cars for boring people. I´d like a smooth, reasonably effortless vehicle that can play when asked to. It´s nothing new: the BMW 320, Trevi and Giulietta did this. Ford´s Cortina 2300 had a bit of it too. The key thing is that the car is under 4 metres and not too wide. Apart from looking boring, the car would probably fail the car journalist filter: “it goes well but looks very boring” would be summary. I see it as low-volume word-of-mouth car not something for double-page spread adverts in the magazines.

    8. Four metres is probably a bit too low as a limit, since all the cars you named are rather in the 4.20 / 4.30 range. This was the standard size for a D-segment saloon a few decades ago. Only in the late 80s / early 90s they started to grow over 4.50 and are now approaching almost 5 metres (has the Insignia already reached it?). I can see why you want this format. They were compact at that time, but still roomy enough.
      I’d still have it with a slanted back though, doesn’t even have to be with a hatch. Nothing truncated and upright, but really a long, flowing shape with inclined rear windshield. Looks even less ‘sporty’ than most saloons.

    9. Fair point. Maybe I’ll make the requirement 4.2 metres.
      The Insignia is a shade under
      5m: 4896 mm. It hides the bulk well; width is an oft-neglected dimension though and it has an effect on one’s sense of the
      car’s manoeuvrability.

  4. The Mondeo 220 ST was an attractive sports saloon from a mainstream manufacturer and a real Q car.

    The Giulietta existed because Alfa originally had forgotten the extremely important Italian market segment of 1,300 cc cars. They had to squeeze every possible sales from the platform because out of the originally intended model range only the low end versions ever came into being and profit margins suffered accordingly. To earn some money they had to make the Giulietta cheaper to produce than the Alfetta and the only way to do this was to fit a cheap and nasty interior, even nastier than the not overly attractive Alfetta’s.
    Later on Alfa completely lost the plot with its model strategy. They gave us peculiar cars like the Alfetta Quadrifoglio Oro and a Giulietta 2.0 for compensation. In the early Eighties, I had a Giulietta with the black plastic rear panel. For a non-Alfista this simply was not an attractive car. The emissions strangled engine was a sorry shadow of its former self and the gearbox with weak synchromesh and terrible gear change was enough to put off any normal prospective customer. Add to that an ergonomically desastrous interior, tinny sounding doors, bad paint quality and error prone electrics and it is no wonder these cars didn’t sell.

  5. There are several possibilities at 4.5 – 4.7 metres, which is still half a size smaller than the Insignia: to my eyes the Mazda 3 fastback looks like a possibility, perhaps Renault Sport could tweak a Megane sedan (it’s available RHD in Ireland I think)? Mitsubishi Lancer is getting on a bit but I think still available in RHD markets elsewhere. Or a Jetta? Each of those four manufacturers has produced interesting driving stuff in the past. I’ll leave the aesthetics of them for others to debate but I’d only give house room to the Mazda I think.

    1. Adrian: Renault do indeed market the Megane Sedan or Grand Coupe as they rather pretentiously describe it in the Republic of Ireland. Not that there’s any likelihood or indeed much interest in a RenaultSport version.

      The Mazda 3 Fastback is a car that has featured extensively here on DTW (thanks again S.V) and will again shortly…

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