Ashtrays: Alfa Romeo Alfetta 1.6

Imagine Helmut Newton coming back from a shoot and discovering he’s managed to omit the model.

Alfa Romeo Alfetta 1.6

A little of that level of carelessness applies here since I left out a big part of the main focus on the car’s key feature.  My only defence is that these are holiday photos and, anyway, when did you last see one of these in the metal? If you did maybe you’d be too mouth-smashed to keep your head clear too.  I was bowled over and perhaps my critical faculties fell out of the window. So we must make of this what we can so will have no choice but to accept a rear interior ashtray only.

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The slide show shows the rear passenger ashtray, one per door. It’s a flip-out, lower-hinged parallel motion design. That is, the ashtray moves rotationally around an axis parallel to the aperture. The whole upper edge is a flange to allow the user to pull the tray open. Fitts’ Law and all that.

For the sake of comparison, this is the one from the 2000 Berlina:

You’ll notice it’s the same principle but the ashtray is below the armrest in the 1973 car. I wonder is the unit the exact same in both cars.

1973 Alfa Romeo Alfetta interior

The above photo is poor: that’s my fault. I am not Helmut Newton. I can’t even really make out what kind of ashtray is involved. Simply being in an actual Alfa Romeo Alfetta almost overwhelmed me, as I said. I think it might be located under the radio unit. It may be a pull-out tray. Having looked about the Web I realise that this interior is not that well represented so I have failed in my public service duty to make a good, clear image available.

If I had one key point to pound home with the force of a demented steam hammer, it’d be that the interior quality is much better than photos suggest. It is still short of what BMW were offering and about the same as the other mainstream makers. The more one sees of mid 70s interiors the more one realises Mercedes were in a league of their own. Only companies in the Rolls-Royce league had better interiors yet even they could not match the supernatural solidity and tightness of M-B’s work.

Nonethless, if you owned and drove this car that quality difference simply would not figure in your experience of the car. It feels so different haptically from a Ford or an Opel. It’s down to the seating position and the relation to the A-pillars and bonnet.

Particularly if you’be only been in modern cars this seating attitude is all the more marked.

Superb comfort: a (blurry) Alfa Romeo Alfetta 1.6

The rear of the car is something of a triumph: snug and unbelievably comfortable. Alfa did a pretty good job of the rear passenger compartments. I have been in a good few of them and they have the same blend of good positioning and comfy upholstering. They compare well to what Citroen and Peugeot managed. And here Benz falls short because most of their rear compartments have peculiarly angled and oddly profiled seats, a bit like cinema seats.

I think one would find a trip in this car more than acceptably cossetting. And you can’t say that about very many mainstream cars today, all of them curse with hard, flat seats as if anyone wants hard, flat seats. There are many mysteries around modern car design. Some can be rationalised by through economic and engineering reasoning. The modern and universal hard, flatness of car seats defies such analysis.

Author: richard herriott

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

14 thoughts on “Ashtrays: Alfa Romeo Alfetta 1.6”

  1. Blame NCAP for the uncomfortable sears of current cars that are necessary to keep your body where it is in relation to the seat belt.
    Old Alfas traditionally had excellent seats as long as you weren’t too obese. The best seats I’ve ever experienced in any car were those of the 166.
    Imagine what Alfa could have done with the Alfetta’s interior if things had gone according to plan with the pictured Alfetta being the entry model of a whole family and the profit coming from larger engined versions instead of from excessive cost cutting to pay for the expensive drive train. The Alfetta story is a true tragedy with a combination of inept product planning, wrong engineering decisions, lack of development by lack of money and the heavy impact of the energy crisis on Italy’s car industry.

    1. Might I propose that NCAP isn´t to blame for the hard seats? I notice I am less securely held by current rear seats than I was in the Alfa. I also would argue that there is so much variation in body size and shape and clothing and seating postures that eliminating 1-2 cm of free-ish play related to sqaushy foam (versus hard foam) makes no detectable difference. The seating/passenger/car/belt systen is a mass of variables of which the foam is the least important. If they are trying to control what they can it´s a waste of efffort. Most of the safety factor comes from the car body, airbag shape and deployment rates and the seat belt´s retarding effect.
      Indeed, the Alfetta is plainly a super basis of a comfortable and capable sports saloon. The oil crisis and Italy´s political crisis hammered the Alfetta, worsenging the inherent problems of an Italian firm´s own culture. Lovely car though. Really a charmer.

    2. The hard seats are not about holding you firmly but about preventing you from submarining under the seat belt in case of an accident in order to keep the belt running over your pelvis bone and not cutting into your intestinal tract.

  2. Good morning Richard, you may not be Helmut Newton but your first photo is a lovely composition and captures the elegance of the Alfetta perfectly. The simple, crisp precision of the wing, bonnet and scuttle are a delight to behold. The sweep of the front wing into the A-pillar is beautiful and, I would imagine, expensively executed with a concealed joint (lead-loaded?)

    The Alfetta is one of my all-time favourite cars. A cousin of mine owned one in the 1970’s and, as a child, I loved exploring the car when she came to visit my family.

    I would love to see automotive fashion swing back towards crisp, uncluttered forms like this, but it’s a forlorn hope.

    1. Thank you Daniel. I must cite Christopher Butt and his blog Auto-Didakt as the inspiration for that photo. Christopher is a wizard with the camera. If you haven´t seen his site, take a look. It´s well-written as well, very well-written.

  3. Hi Richard, yes, I have perused and enjoyed the Auto-Didakt website.

    Regarding the Alfetta, looking through photos on the Internet, I noticed that Alfa-Romeo engineered out the concealed wing to A-pillar joint in your early model when they facelifted the car:

    I imagine his must have been a very expensive modification.

    1. They moved the weld to the bottom of the A-pillar. I notice that the first version has the wing welded to the A-pillar
      which is terrible for crash repair. On the revised model the leaf-catcher panel is now welded to the A-pillar which makes more sense. I wonder why they didn´t do that the first time.

    2. The Alfetta Mk1 had fully welded front wings that were changed to bolt-on items on the Mk2. The Mk2’s nose also is 10 centimetres longer than before. This job was Rudolf Hruska’s task after being fully exonerated as being not guilty for the ‘Sud corrosion desaster.

    1. I don’t smoke. My childhood memory of this type of ashtray is based around how many empty sweet wrappers you could cram into it during a long journey. Usually not many. From what I remember this type of ashtray was fitted to lots of cars of the era.

    2. John: yes, I have the very same memory with the additional horror of brown apple cores. They made for a peculiarly acrid aroma when left a day or two. All of that allows a segue into the matter of Smith Kendon boiled sweets which came in a round tin with extra icing sugar to keep them from sticking together. Something like them still exist but we haven´t had them in the car for decades. They might be in part the reason I visit the dentist with such trepidation these days.

  4. Check out for the original travel sweet. Made on my doorstep!

    And in lots of ways I wish I did smoke; how cool would a Toscanello look, smouldering in the Alfa’s ‘tray on a hot summers drive to the beach?

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