A Farmer in the City

Alfasud reflections. 

The author’s 1979 Alfasud 1.2 Super. Image: Paul Doyle©

The 1971 Alfasud was a game-changing car, not only for what we would now call the C-segment, but for Alfa Romeo itself. Unfortunately, while the ‘Sud was to become the conceptual template for an entire generation of similarly sized (if not as technically ambitious) cars from rival manufacturers, it was something of a disaster for il Biscione. Not a brand-killer by any stretch, but nevertheless the case against the ‘Sud is not inconsiderable.

By re-orientating the carmaker’s centre of gravity to the crowded and heavily contested free-for-all of the compact C-segment the Alfa Sud programme placed the Milanese carmaker squarely in the gunsights of the mighty Fiat Auto group. It also had the effect of lowering Alfa Romeo’s average transaction prices, driving down its image as the builder of superior motor cars – a matter its subsequent reputation for slapdash build and premature corrosion would only serve to amplify.[1]

By the early 1970s, the Italian economic miracle was unravelling in a spiral of politically-motivated industrial unrest and violence amid growing inequalities between affluence and economic stagnation. Terrorist atrocities, assassinations, strikes and stoppages became the daily news headlines as Italy’s position as posterchild for post-war reconstruction and prosperity faded.

Its much-vaunted motor industry too was struggling to adapt to new realities within a changing Europe: The rising economic power of their German neighbours, the increasing reach and ambition of the EEC, which was nibbling away at Italy’s once protected car market and the distant but real threat from Japan. Consolidation and diversification was the order of play, but for Alfa Romeo, under state control since the 1950s, ongoing viability in this new paradigm was the primary issue.

Some fifty years after the event, it’s difficult to be sure what precisely Alfa Romeo’s intentions were for their small car line, because they must have realised that taking on Mirafiori was a fight they simply couldn’t win, no matter how brilliantly realised their offering might be. Fiat Auto simply had too much scale, experience, not to mention outright guile for the outcome to have been anything but foregone. Add to this the 1968 advent of the 128 model[2] – a thoroughly modern and rationalised front-drive Fiat, pitched and costed to near perfection at the heart of the home and export markets and the mountain Alfa Romeo faced in rivalling them really was of Gavia proportions.

Yet commercially, a compact Alfa Romeo made sense – there being a market gap for an entry-level, yet upmarket car – especially in Italy. Lancia had already demonstrated that. But small cars traditionally equal small profits and the more expensively conceived the car is, the more elusive that break-even point becomes. Therefore, the business case needed to be rock-solid.

Image: Paul Doyle©

The Alfasud was an expensively conceived car, quickly becoming the darling of those who appreciated fine engineering and elegantly wrought technical solutions wrapped in a modernist, aerodynamic and highly space efficient package. Yes, the ‘Sud was very, very clever – a tribute to Rudolf Hruska’s visionary team of engineers and the design skills of Giorgetto Giugiaro and his Ital Design cohorts.[3] But unlike the Citroën GS with which it bears close comparison, the solutions applied at Portello were rooted in simplicity, ease of servicing and repair.

A full run-through of thoughtful design solutions would double the word count here, but amongst them included inclined front struts, which allowed for a lower bonnet line, a double bulkhead, which not only aided refinement and boosted body rigidity, but provided a protected, segregated space for the heater unit, wiper motor, brake master cylinder/ servo and battery. Removal of the (inboard) brake pads took minutes thanks to Allen-headed adjusters which retracted the pistons. The only really awkward repair was that of the handbrake cable (acting upon the front wheels and therefore not very effective), which was a real bind to replace.[4]

Even the much criticised horn placement (you pulled the right-hand column stalk toward you) proved perfectly logical in practice, especially since the headlamp flash function was mirrored on the left-hand stalk. One notable irritant was the boot release, which was mounted next to the nearside doorsill – not relocated on right hand drive cars – a real pain on wet Saturday evenings when you were juggling an armful of groceries.[5]

Even the manner in which the bootlid rested against the rear screen (the boot emblem protected the paintwork) was clever, even if the exposed hinges were not terribly attractive. For such a compact car, the cabin was spacious and airy, with a deep and unimpeded boot compartment. However, the early Alfasuds were starkly furnished in the extreme: rubber floormats, plastic upholstery, four speeds and no rev-counter.

Later models gained some niceties – the Alfasud Lusso had cloth seats, headrests and carpets for instance, and the revised Super models gained further interior refinements, but until the 1980 facelift, all ‘Suds were saddled with cheap and flimsy interior fittings, with a vast array of visible self tapping screws to remind all and sundry just how cheapskate it all looked.[6] Poorly wrought as well – interiors disintegrating with even greater alacrity than the exterior.

There really is no getting away from the rust issue. As much as the concurrent Lancia Beta’s scandal might be said to have been overplayed, the Alfasud’s was by contrast somewhat underplayed – such was the media’s ongoing affection for the little Neapolitan giant-killer (many motor journalists putting their own money where their mouths were). Life with a ‘Sud would prove an endless and futile battle against those dreaded ferrous pustulations. Sadly, even the most fastidious owner without recourse to full rust-proofing from new would lose the battle against the oxidising onslaught. Matters improved throughout the car’s lifespan, but the corrosion issues were never eradicated and remains the primary reason so few have survived.

Image: Paul Doyle©

But it was a dynamic paragon; even well into its second decade, there was little that could hold a candle to a well driven Alfasud on an undulating stretch of road. Its surefooted roadholding, suppression of body roll, superbly modulated steering and supple, well-damped ride made for higher than average speeds – even if the little 1186 cc boxer-motor lacked ultimate firepower, it was smooth as silk and made a marvellous noise about its business – the crackle of its exhaust being utterly infectious as you went quickly by never going slowly. Bigger engines brought more power and torque, but none were as delightfully elastic as the little 1200.

But over time, the Alfasud suffered a protracted death by stealth and bitter expediency as its specification became diluted; seemingly every technical change further undermining the essential purity of the original. Larger, lower profile tyres robbed the steering of its fluency and response. Wheel fight became a factor as power outputs grew. Ugly plastic addenda sullied the elegant Giugiaro lines. It seemed as though Alfa Romeo engineers had forgotten the art of chassis dynamics.[7] Sadly, by its 1984 demise the Alfasud had become rather ordinary – less so owing to the relentless pace of development across the industry, but as Alfa Romeo elected to primarily chase sales volume[8], management appeared content to diminish it, either through neglect or ill-considered change.

Was the Alfasud therefore a case of pearls before swine? It is certainly likely that a sizeable swathe of customers neither knew nor cared about the elegance and subtlety of their cars’ technical layout or the cleverness of its body and engineering. It was simply an inexpensive car. But even allowing for the perceived (and laudable) necessity to create a thoroughbred Alfa Romeo in miniature, the decision to place the car squarely in price and specification against mainstream offerings seems in retrospect to have been asking for trouble.

Final assembly at Pomigliano d’Arco. Image: jalopnik

But even ignoring the (not inconsiderable) labour and build-related problems which beset the Milanese carmaker, it is difficult to see how the Alfasud programme as it evolved could have broken even, given the sophisticated technical solutions employed, the fixed costs associated with the Naples plant, not to mention the costs of lost production as Pomigliano d’Arco’s problems multiplied.[9]

Was the original Alfasud’s austere specification and placement in the market a factor of its semi-state nature or was it Hruska’s own beliefs and orthodoxies being followed?[10] Would a better specified, better finished and more expensive product (à la Fulvia) have proven a more financially rewarding option in the longer run, allowing the carmaker to focus upon quality, rather than chasing volume (which failed to materialise) and then being forced to sell on price? After all, given its technical sophistication and dynamic superiority, it was worth a lot more than most of its putative rivals. But it is probably a little late in the day to be speculating on all of that now.

Image: Paul Doyle©

The Alfasud ought to be remembered as one of the finest compact cars ever made. A technically brilliant synthesis of logic and pure unalloyed inspiration wrapped in a pert, well proportioned shape. This side of a Citroën GS at least, the Alfasud was the compact car everyone who cared about driving aspired to own in the 1970s and well into the following decade. But instead it is recalled primarily for its unparalleled ability to disintegrate.

That a car with such immense promise should be holed below the waterline by a series of largely avoidable factors is no less than a tragedy. But if the Alfasud underlines anything, it is that governments, while quite adept at certain matters, are mostly hopeless at the business of fast moving consumer goods – like motor cars for instance. The Alfa Sud experiment, intended to bring much needed employment and opportunity to an impoverished area was a highly laudatory one in principle, but foundered on a combination of naivety, arrogance, politics and a fundamental lack of meaningful dialogue between the relevant parties.

Yet despite its tarnished reputation, most owners adored their cars, broadly consequent of its effervescent personality. Many would become repeat owners, despite the level of depreciation, often high-maintenance nature and less than stellar service from Alfa Romeo agents. The Alfasud then was a car of immense character – one for which many (this former owner included) would make repeated excuses for, despite the ongoing pain.

Brilliant, if fatally flawed. On balance, the Alfa Sud programme probably did more harm than good for the carmaker’s fortunes. In cold business terms at least, it is quite difficult to envisage what positives can really be drawn from the Biscione’s Southern experiment. But when the rural collides with the urban, it rarely ends well.

Alfa Romeo was struggling for relevance and viability in 1971. Fifty years on, how much really has changed?

[1] Not that Alfa Romeo’s contemporary Arese-manufactured models would be paragons in the arena of rust-protection or bullet-proof build either. But the problems at Pomigliano d’Arco were of an altogether greater order of magnitude.

[2] Rudolf Hruska was one of the senior engineers working alongside Dante Giacosa on the Fiat 128 programme, prior to his recruitment by Alfa Romeo to design the Alfasud.

[3] The ‘Sud was reputed to be Ital Design’s first major commission and the one which put them on a sound commercial footing. Curiously, according to author, Marc Stàbel’s Citroën sources (for his impressive history of the GS), Ital Design proposed the Alfasud design (or a close approximation of it) to Quai de Javel prior to Alfa Romeo taking up the option.

[4] The handbrake cable allegedly required a special tool to replace, making it a high labour cost, dealer-only job. But ingenuity and some decent fabrication skills could rustle up a workable substitute in a reasonably short time – as this author can attest.

[5] The Alfasud had no exterior boot lock or release – it being actuated by a floor-mounted lever inside the cabin.

[6] The Alfasud’s door cards were precisely that. They quickly warped and distended through water ingress (endemic) and the effects of age and sunlight. The series of self-tapping screws which visibly held them in place made (the necessarily frequent) repairs relatively straightforward. The door pulls – a cheap piece of looped plastic – were similarly prone to failure.

[7] Such was the diminution of AR’s capabilities, one is tempted to ponder whether there had been a flight of the more accomplished dynamics engineers by the latter portion of the decade?

[8] As Alfa Romeo’s financial woes deepened and problems at the Naples plant intensified, the Alfasud was steadily ‘normalised’ both to reduce cost and to ensure it appealed to the widest possible market – largely to its detriment.

[9] The Pomigliano d’Arco plant weathered the Alfasud issues, continuing to build Alfa Romeos, and subsequently Fiat Auto products. Now part of the Stellantis group, it’s currently allegedly being repurposed to build the forthcoming Alfa Romeo Tonale CUV.

[10] It’s unlikely that Rudolf Hruska was the ideal candidate to manage the Pomigliano d’Arco facility – after all, not only do engineers rarely combine the necessary skills required to run a car plant and all it entails, but given the socio-political situation in Italy at the time, it’s possible that knowledge of Hruska’s pre-war background might not have eased potential tensions with the local workforce. 

Author’s note: The title of this article alludes to the opening track of Scott Walker’s 1995 LP, Tilt. Farmer in the City makes allegorical reference to the murder of political writer, poet and film-maker, Pier Paolo Pasolini near Ostia in November 1975. Told in a series of fragments, employing scraps of Pasolini’s poetry, the haunting piece alludes to his final moments as his killers beat him to death. By odd coincidence, Pasolini was driving an Alfa Romeo that night.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

72 thoughts on “A Farmer in the City”

  1. Fiat seemed to be moving into Alfa’s territory. I can recall the aggressive and extremely memorable Fiat ads from that time period aimed at repositioning their brand. And the fusillade of sporting iron unleashed by Mirafiori: 850 Spider, 124 Spider, X1/9, Dino, the eagerly anticipated not at all secret future X1/20. Given Fiat’s increasingly sporting and upmarket (130) posture during this period, not to mention their absorption of Lancia and stewardship of Ferrari, it would seem to make logical sense for the “mouse” Alfa to mount the best strategic counterattack they could muster against this seemingly restless elephant.

  2. The allen head screws in the ‘Sud’s brake calipers (that by the way are the same as the rear ones in an Alfetta) don’t retract the rotors, they retract the pistons into the caliper by winding the hand brake self adjusting mechanism. This simple task needs special tools on a modern car but in case of the little Alfa standard tools were sufficient.

    In the beginning the Alfasud wasn’t that cheap. The initial price of a standard ‘Sud was DM 7,990 at a time when DM 8,500 bought an Audi F103 and a Beetle was yours for DM 4,500.
    For the ‘Sud Alfa also invented the ‘mandatory option’ – stuff that wasn’t included in the list price but had to be ordered because they wouldn’t sell you the car without it. The initial ‘mandatory options’ were 165/70-13 tyres (quite impressive at that time, particularly on such a small and light car) instead of the standard 145-13 and heated rear window.

    One thing that was always criticised was the handling of wipers and heater fan from the right hand column stalk. You rotated the stalk to operate the wipers and you moved it up and down for the fan – sounds as strange as it is.

    165/70-13 was the standard tyre size throughout the ‘Sud’s life until the QV came out. The QV either had 185/60-15 or corresponding Michelin TRX 190/55-340 on alloy wheels that looked identical but of course weren’t. Cars with the TRX tyres were particularly bad in their handling/comfort compromise.

    Alfa put all eggs in one basket with the Alfasud’s business model. The hope was that for the intended yearly production of 200,000 cars (a number that looks perfectly sensible had the quality been better) suppliers would set up production facilities around the Pomigliano factory, creating additional employment. As the production numbers never reached that level suppliers stayed in the North and parts had to be transported to Pomigliano at extra cost and the business model collapsed.
    In the mid-Seventies Alfa lost the equivalent of EUR 800 on every ‘Sud they sold.

    1. Thanks for that correction, Dave – I’m forgetting more than I ever learned. I have amended the text accordingly. The Sud was (for the most part) an easy car to work on – which on balance was just as well, since ours at least always needed something to be attended to.

      The column stalk layout was a bit odd, but one quickly acclimatised. In some ways it was quite astute – placing as many controls at the driver’s fingertips as possible – Lanules on the cheap, so to speak. But the press never let up on the layout. People’s brains are adaptable – a statement which curiously doesn’t appear to apply to auto journalists.

      I think it’s fair to say that the Alfasud was sold at a slight premium in certain markets (the Irish market being one of them), but I can vividly recall UK advertisements where the low price of entry was very much front and centre. A certain element of desperation probably crept in by the latter part of the decade which prompted this – but it did nothing for Alfa Romeo’s image.

    2. The ‘Sud was very user friendly to work on – the complete opposite of most French cars and the GS in particular.
      There were holes in the rear hubs through which the brake calipers could be unbolted without need for a hoist for for crawling under the car. Valve gaps could be adjusted with no more than a small spanner, an allen key and a feeler gauge. The ignition distributor sat on top of the engine and contact breaker points or ignition timing was very easy. Even cambelt changes were very simple because everything sat conveniently and had enough room for hands to work on.

      Alfa kept the ‘Sud’s price constant for a long time in an era when twice-yearly price increases were the norm.
      The first price increase came when the ‘mandatory options’ became part of the standard equipment but even then the lift was very moderate. And you always had the chance to get a new Alfasud for a very favourable price because when your old ‘Sud was corroded through in less than four years Alfa always offered to buy it back at its original price under the provision that you bought another Alfasud. We accepted this offer when our first Alfasud had a hole in its roof after two years and we declined such an offer when we’d have had to buy a 33.
      At the end of the ‘Sud’s life Alfa had gone completely mad with all their special editions of the sprint (a car that looks particularly bad with silly stickers on it) or Valentino and quadrifoglio oro luxury versions of the saloon. One of the worst surely must have been the all-white German-market only version

    3. Regarding unconventional column stalks (and mildly in defence of automotive journalists) after seven years, I still have to think about how the wiper and indicator stalks in my partner’s Mini work on the infrequent occasions when I drive it

      My Boxster has totally rational and conventional column stalks: the indicator stalk requires light pressure for three flashes, or positively clicks into (a different) position for a continuous signal. With the wipers, It’s up one click for intermittent (rain sensing), two clicks for slow continuous, three clicks for fast continuous, push down for a single wipe, pull towards you for a wash/wipe. All very sensible.

      For no obvious reason, the Mini requires you to push a button on the end of the stalk for intermittent wiping, but is otherwise conventional. However, both stalks always return to the central position, which is confusing when using the indicators, as the difference between three flashes and a continuous signal is only marginally greater pressure on the stalk, not a positive click into a different position. If you overdo it when cancelling a signal, you end up signalling in the opposite direction, all very annoying.

      If I drove the Mini more frequently, I’m sure I would become proficient with the stalks, but why should I have to? It is analogous to the three rotary dials for air-conditioning, simple and foolproof, so why deviate from this standard?

      Apologies for my mini-rant!

    4. I’m probably a minority of one, but I like the Mini and BMW stalks. The greatest thing is that the indicator stalk doesn’t make a sound when it self-cancels. Once I noticed and drove other cars afterwards I came to hate the unnecessary click it makes. Daniel, you can also cancel it in both directions, should you so desire. If you’re indicating right, you can stop it by either moving the stalk to indicate left or right. I have the flash indicator thing three times disabled on my car. I like to make my own decisions and don’t want my car to do that. I hate e-brakes that have this automatic function build in. Rant over.

  3. Good morning Eóin. Thank you for a thought-provoking reflection on the paradox of the Alfasud, very possibly the best designed and worst built small car in history. What a tragedy for the company, and for those of us who love cars and appreciate excellence in automotive engineering

    That said, gooddog has inadvertently highlighted an even greater tragedy for the Italian car industry in the advertisements he posted above: take a look at the tag line beneath the Fiat logo on both advertisements.

  4. What delightfully written and commented upon Italian episodes we’ve been enjoying these past few days.

    But Eóin, can you indulge us a little more with the pictures, please? Is that your good self driving with elan on what appears to be a special stage of the Cork “Tarmac” Rally? Presumably you finished first in class? We’ve read how well the ‘Sud handled, though these surfaces must have assisted with the dreaded tin worm – they look truly dreadful.

    Here’s a great excuse not to buy a used Fiat from Remy Julienne

    And another https://youtu.be/mBNYv4reHsY

    1. Andrew: I’m afraid it was a rather younger me on driving duties, circa 1987, with my elder brother wielding the shutter, urging me to really give it some… And yes, Irish climatic conditions and Alfasuds really didn’t mix. I kept on top of ours, but it was a battle I could only lose.

  5. Hi Eóin, thank you for yet another excellent article. Regarding the political tensions in Italy, I must start by saying that the violence that erupted there with groups like the neofascist “Ordine Nuovo” was aided in no small part by a notorious Greek neonazi theorist and collaborator of Greece’s military junta. Now, leaving that aside, I’m glad you mentioned that a side-effect of the EEC was that Italy was no longer a captive market for Fiat and the smaller Italian vehicle manufacturers.

    Sadly, most car “journalists” tell us a story where the automotive market is not affected by any factor other than labour strife and the vagaries caused by oil price fluctuations; a story where those at the corporate pecking order of the larger companies are perfect, unerring, like the “misunderstood genius” sociopathic “heroes” of Ayn Rand’s nonsensical works, and harsh criticism and ridicule is only reserved for underdogs like John DeLorean and single-minded boffins like Sir Clive Sinclair.

    That said, I’d like to skip your commentary on the strengths and weaknesses that characterized the Alfasud as a product; they’re spot-on, and I have nothing to add to them, or subtract from them. I want to focus on the state’s performance as a businessman.

    States aren’t businesses, regardless of what the pro-“technocrat” spam that’s been clogging public discourse since the late 1980s says. Their job isn’t to generate profit, but to guarantee their citizens access to education, healthcare, social services, infrastructure (potable water, roads, rail, harbors, electricity, communications, housing), opportunities for personal growth, and the opportunities to find or start a job that’ll give them a decent standard of living.

    With that in mind, the Alfasud project was an excellent idea: an innovating, forward-looking car that would bring back skilled workers to Naples, and create a hub around which an ecosystem of other businesses related to the factory would thrive: much like computers like the ZX Spectrum, the BBC Micro, the Apple II, and the IBM PC begat an ecosystem of third-party add-on vendors. The problem was the execution of the idea. The state did invest in the factory, but was there any attempt to bring back skilled workers who had fled to the North? Was there any attempt to provide proper training to the local workforce? Also, maybe initial production of the car should have started in Milan while Pomigliano caught up with it in terms of training and quality? Who knows?

    1. Konstantinos: Let me say that I was not taking a pop at the Italian government. Their intent was entirely honourable, but predicating success upon an entire support industry growing around the factory left rather too much to chance in my view. State owned businesses can be successful if well run, but they are frequently at the mercy of all the other elements that governments have to provide for – education, healthcare, social services, infrastructure (potable water, roads, rail, harbours, electricity, communications, housing) and so on. Alfa Romeo, like so many state-owned carmakers were often a very long way down the list of beneficiaries when it came to investment funding.

      However, your point stands. As I’m fond of repeating, the blame nearly always rests with a failure of management.

    2. I doubt that Alfa management asked the workers to go and pluck tomatoes instead of making Alfasuds.
      The sad thing is that the whole Sud experiment was set up to create jobs.
      What Alfa learned the hard way for development of the 33 was to eliminate as many rust traps as possible and to automate production wherever possible to reduce dependency of production from workers’ presence or absence.
      When 33 production started the Pomigliano factory had one of the highest degrees of automation in the European industry and history had come full cycle.

    3. I know it’s fun and everything to fling rotten vegetables at the local workforce taking absence without leave to help out in the fields, but maybe if management had been a little more cognisant of local tradition and bit more imaginative in solution they could maybe have coincided the annual shutdown with the harvest period, instead of simply wringing their hands. I suspect that with a modicum of imagination a workable solution could have been found. After all, the Neapolitans had been harvesting tomatoes for hundreds of years.

      [As an aside, I seem to recall Napolina – a brand of, amongst other delicacies, tinned tomatoes, sponsoring a one-make Alfasud racing series in the UK.] Ironic, huh?

      Funny thing. Fiat Auto invested billions on automation in the Seventies (it’s believed for similar reasons), yet the COMAU robots were seemingly at least as slapdash as the humans, given the quality flubs which afflicted Fiat products well into the ’90s.

    4. I’m OK with the fact that the Sud project was started in order to create jobs. What I’m not OK with is that there had been no preparation for it: skilled workers who’d gone to the North needed to be attracted back to Naples. And, as I said earlier, perhaps initial production should have started in Arese while the personnel in Naples got up to speed. Also, it seems that Hruska didn’t know how to handle people who had no prior experience with industrial work and no understanding of industrial and manufacturing culture.

    5. Eóin, the Italian government did something commendable – although current “mainstream” pundits might say otherwise. You mentioned that they predicated success on the growth of an entirely support industry around the factory. This went beyond leaving much to chance; it ignored the fact that some important players of this support industry (more specifically, parts suppliers) simply didn’t have facilities around Naples, and maybe even saw no reason whatsoever to create extra facilities there, or even move there. As to state-owned businesses’ dependency on the other things a government must provide, I think it’s pretty much the same as any other business’ in the same sector: if a business needs lots of land to expand its facilities, and railroads and seaports to allow it to receive raw materials and ship finished products, it needs them, regardless of who owns it.

      To bring this closer to home, I’m absolutely sure Nissan’s top execs took a long, hard look at the pathetic Greek railway system, the expanse of Volos’ industrial zone, and the town’s seaport, and said “we’ve got Sutherland; why exactly do we need Teokar?”

      As for government funding for carmakers like Alfa Romeo, I do remember what I’d read about British Leyland, Jaguar, Sinclair Radionics, and so on: the people who held the purse strings demanded to see results that the taxpayer could look at and say “yup, my money wasn’t wasted”. There’s not much wrong with that. It’s a better motive than Friedmanian “shareholder value”. Of course, the state’s people need to know the company’s sector very well, which isn’t always the case.

    6. Shareholder value might be equalled as a destructive concept only by the idea of communal ownership for all private enterprise. The one useful idea I dug out of Hayek was that of information flow from producer to consumer, in the form of price signals. It´s a narrow idea though. Extend it a bit and you can see that shareholder value is only one factor or channel of information flow and that prices are not the only numbers. The Rhine capitalist model includes many more stakeholders than shareholders and also situates companies in society. Communism subsumes the company into the collective and modern capitalism acts as if there´s no such thing as society.

      Economic geography is a fascinating topic. Some places with no obvious resources thrive and other places with a wealth of natural resources get the oil curse. I think the central planners of the post-war period thought industry could be anywhere, moved like a piece on a game board. But the underlying reasons for one place´s poverty are sometimes hard to overcome.

  6. On the subject of Italy’s car industry, were there any pre-war companies that had the potential to challenge Fiat’s domestic dominance or at minimum become a solid 2nd?

    One factor about the Fiat 128 would be how the former (sans later Zastava) featured a three-box saloon layout to the Alfasud’s two-box saloon (later hatchback) layout, could the Alfa Romeo have been more successful as a three-box saloon as well as a two-box hatchback (had it been a possible to develop two spin-offs in place of the two-box saloon)?

    1. The Alfasud’s ultimate failure didn’t have its roots in a lack of versions, real or perceived.
      I doubt that a booted ‘Sud would have corroded less and it was corrosion that killed the car, not the question if the boot was separate or not. That the ‘Sud as well as GS and 128 didn’t feature a hatchback was the logical consequence of the fact that around the Mediterranean buyers preferred cars with a separate boot lid. That’s why we also got such beauties like VW Derby or Opel Corsa TR.

    2. Here’s what a three-volume Alfasud might have looked like:

      Less odd than some booted hatchbacks, I think.

    3. Dave

      My point was not the corrosion issue that would have hampered things regardless, rather it was whether the lack of a more conservative Alfetta style three-box saloon with separate boot lid proved to be an additional handicap for the Alfasud based on the success of the Fiat 128 as opposed to the existing Alfasud’s two-box saloon layout.

      The two-box layout did allow Alfa Romeo to later convert the Alfasud to a hatchback (as happened with the GS, 127, 104, etc) though it could be said Fiat had the confidence to persist with a three-box layout for the Fiat 128 (Zastava aside), despite being an entry-level car perhaps the fact the Alfasud was also an upmarket car meant it was afflicted with the same issue that affected the higher segment two-box fastback cars like the Beta/Gamma and Rover SD1 in pushing away conservative buyers after a premium car they associate more with a typical three-box saloon.

    4. That´s a good question. Evidently Fiat decided they could afford to answer the question themselves by buying up the competition. Fiat´s good luck was that it entered the mass market; that left the others are niche players. Germany and France were large enough for there to be several large contenders for the mass market. I think the short answer is that Italy wasn´t big enough a market to support more than one big player.

  7. Excellent article and good discussion. Just some personal recollections – around 1978-1980, I was in Italy, and it was possible to rent an Alfasud from Avis in Milan. So it was done, and there are two fond memories: one of running around the hills near Aosta, pushing the car as much as one could, and never being disappointed. Impressive for a rent-a-car! And a small one at that.
    Second was on the autostrada, close to flat out, around 100mph, and being rapidly passed by a Countach on full bore. Never forget that – no matter how fast you think you are going, there are bigger fish in the sea. And that was one a very fast one…
    The Alfasud may have been made poorly, but at the time, while it was a bit flimsy in the trim, it was a delight to drive.

    1. Geoff: Kind of you to say so and thanks for sharing your recollections. I can also recall many, many memorable drives through the West Cork countryside in a variety of ‘Suds. They were a joy to drive.

      Your description of the Countach put me in mind of a line from Melville’s Moby Dick; “What are the Rights of Man and the Liberties of the World but Loose-Fish? What are all men’s minds and opinions but Loose-Fish . . . And what are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish, too?”

    2. Mea Cupla. Started it, but never got to the end. One of these days…

  8. I’d like to request once more of the DTW powers that be the installation of one of the numerous WordPress footnote plugins in order to make footnote-heavy pieces like this one easier to read. Having to manually scroll down and back up again gets tiresome. Such a small thing that would have a big impact for us avid readers.

    Thank you for your consideration.

    1. Eóin I have many fond memories of driving my Alfasud (1.5Ti hatchback) rather too quickly on Irish roads; 180 miles from Cong to Belfast in three hours late on a July evening. The Irish climate was ultimately the cause of its demise. On a greasy, damp back road I exceeded the modest limits of my skills and the higher but finite limits of the car’s adhesion and bounced from bank to bank. Inspection of the badly damaged body work showed extensive rusting despite factory/importer applied Dinitrol rust proofing. I completely concur with the excellence of the driving experience and the ease of maintenance. I even changed the front brake pads myself.
      Great series of articles. Will we ever see its like again?

  9. Those are very evocative photos by P. Doyle. In hindsight, Alfa needed to make an Escort type car and obtain Ghia X prices for it. Back in those days I suspect the rigid framework of brand values was not such a factor. They perhaps did not think they could charge more for a small car; this is what BMW did by charging so much for their little Escort, the 2002. Nobody minded and perhaps they even enjoyed paying so much for such a spartan car.

    1. I wouldn’t necissarily call a 1 series spartan. Maybe I’m unique but I like my things a bit spartan. I wouldn’t mind if my car had rubber floormats. Plastic seat trim not so much, I’d have wool instead.

    2. They are indeed evocative photos. Looking at them I’m struck by how much tidier and less muddy country roads seem to be nowadays. Eoin’s ‘Sud reminds me too of a visit with my parents to a convent somewhere in the Midlands around 1980: the nuns had just got a new Alfasud in the same colour as Eoin’s. Presumably they got a great deal on it. On our way home a couple of the nuns overtook in the ‘Sud, and vanished into the distance. It seemed so much more exciting than the Starlets and Micras that came to be the default transport for Irish convents in the following decade…

    3. Michael: I can just picture Sister Brigid and her fellow brides of Christ tearing along the countryside in their Bruno Cilento ‘Sud; Dana blasting out of the cassette player, the exhaust rasping off the hedgerows, terrorising the locals, with Sister Vincent and Sister Assumpta egging her on to “go on Brigid, give it some holly”! No Garda in the county would lay a finger on them…

      Actually, I met quite a few female Alfasud owners over the years – all of whom absolutely adored their cars. One fascinating lady I met in Chelsea had been a competitive rally driver in the ‘Sixties – knew all the big names. Sadly, I don’t recall hers. Her late model Sud ti QV was one of a series she’d had. Wouldn’t drive anything else, she told me. Another made a point of telling me she had driven hers on the Le Mans circuit. Alfasuds seemed to attract interesting people, but then I would say that, wouldn’t I?

    4. b234r: influencing one person still isn´t that influential. I am hoping to influence Stellantis into letting my manage Lancia´s astonishing rebirth and reversal of fortune but so far my offer has not been taken up.

  10. The Sud just might be my all time favourite car. So many things were so great about it. Corrossion was such a big issue that it enriched the Dutch language. ‘Roest in de folder’ which translates to ‘Rust in the brochure’. Poor Sud, it deserved so much better.

    1. Don’t park an Alfasud under your bedroom window. You won’t be able to sleep because of the crunching noise when it rusts away.

      Alfasud – the first fully bio-degradable car.

    2. Given a long enough timeline I think all cars are bio-degradable. Still, a great tip. I’d park the Alfasud inside 😉

  11. This Alfasud trilogy has been superb, perhaps DTW´s best yet.
    Thanks Daniel, Eoin and of course everybody who posted a comment, because my Alfasud knowledge has improved no end.
    Yes, for me DTW is really an influential motoring site.

    1. Simon: it´s not only the consistency of the German brands. Fiat let themselves down and did so consistently from about the late 90s. The period after the first Tipo was when the rot began: the disappointing Bravo and the lacklustre Croma followed by the lame Seicento. Then the Giugiario-styled Punto carried on the rot. I notice again that the Punto has not been replaced and I realise this had not really caught my attention until now. None of their offerings are proper Punto-type cars.
      This the song referred to in the article: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIJzTWk6bSw
      What´s the connection, Eoin?

    2. Thank you, b234r. We have been very gratified by the response to the Alfasud series, and the Beta series before it. There’s still a lot of love out there for Italian cars!

  12. Mr. O`Callaghan I am still trying to understand why is it a tragedy for the Italian industry the tag line beneath the Fiat logo on both advertisements.

    1. Good morning Elias. I was referring to the fact that, over the past fifty years, Fiat has gone from being an automotive giant and “The best selling car in Europe”, offering a full range of competitive and well regarded models, to its dismal present position where it is largely reliant on a single model, the 500, and is now barely relevant within Stellantis. That took mismanagement on an epic scale and is, I think, a tragedy.

    2. Whenever I go to Italy, I wonder what was actually first: did the Italians just stop buying their wonderful own cars because German SUV lumps seemed more attractive to them, or did they start choosing them because the Italian cars were becoming bad in the first place?
      In the end, it’s probably a mixture of both, reflecting the general decline of sensible car concepts and the rise of everything that’s either “premium” or SUV (or both).

  13. Yes, tragic. One of the fine things about this series on the
    Alfasud is that the people who made the cars have been
    brought into the foreground of the story.
    Sincere thanks to everyone involved.

  14. Alfasud memories… My first proper job was at the office of Norman Foster (now Sir Norman) in central London, in the early Eighties. I was the lowliest member of staff, basically a gopher. One of the errands I frequently had to do was to move his and his wife’s cars around, and deliver them to various places. He drove a white whaletail 911 Turbo, and she drove a black Alfasud 1.5 Quadrifoglio. I used to jump at every opportunity to drive such exotic cars, given that at the time all I had was a beaten up Triumph Herald. The Porsche scared the living daylights out of me – so much power, so wide, so little visibility. Every time I drove it through London I felt my job was on the line! I ended up driving it like a nervous grandmother. The Alfa on the other hand was an absolute hoot. Quick and nimble as you like. Flooring the throttle provoked hilarious torque steer, and a wonderful raucous engine note. It used to hang on so well around corners that I’d sometimes take them several times, just for the fun of it. I preferred it to the Porsche, no question! I always told myself that one day I’d own one. Now that I’ve finished restoring my Mini, I’m looking around for a new project car. It’s definitely on the list. Unfortunately since I started visiting this site, the list has grown longer and longer!

    1. This growing list seems to be a typical DTW phenomenon.
      I was quite Citroën-centered in most of my automotive life, not without liking also other cars, especially from Italy or France. But knowing more about many of them now, my interest to stray beyond the doble-chevroned universe has certainly grown.

    2. When my partner and I lived in central London (Chelsea), I was always bemused by the large number of supercars trundling around the congested streets of SW1, SW3 and SW7 at less than walking pace. They were utterly unsuited to an urban environment and must have been a nightmare to manoeuvre and park. Still, I suppose it kept a number of bodyshops well supplied with regular and highly lucrative business.

    3. I don’t recall the 911’s having bad visibility. But good visibility still wouldn’t make a 911 a good car for London traffic, I reckon.

  15. @richard Not sure really. I think he really liked his toys in those days. He had the 911, as well as a helicopter and a glider. He had a big place in the West Country as well as a house in Hampstead. I think a lot of it was about projecting an image of a Rich And Successful Man. It was the Eighties after all 🙂

    1. Interesting to see the topic go in this direction. I have the Dymaxion Car Buckminster Fuller’ book by Jonathan Glancey David Jenkins. I’ve read it when I got it, but forgotten all about it. Time to reread me thinks.

    2. It would be interesting to see if anyone finds the name Leland (Lee) Atwood in their Dymaxion readings… my father was in an architectural partnership with him c. 1950, and said that he was Bucky’s draftsman on the Dymaxion.

    3. Geoff, I had a quick look and I didn’t see Leland (Lee) Atwood mentioned. Sorry.

  16. Oh, again such a great article and so many interesting comments! I‘d really love to meet all you people in the pub to have vivid discussions over a few drinks. I‘m sure it would be a fun night!

    1. Be careful what you wish for, CX.GTi. The last sherry-tasting evening at DTW Towers ended in a police raid…

    2. Daniel, how many times must I tell you? The first rule of Sherry Club is: you don’t talk about Sherry Club.

    3. Oh, there’s a Sherry Club at DTW Towers. Interesting. And I thought it was a serious and reputable press enterprise. If you should hear a sound right now, it’s the bursting of my illusion…

    4. CX.Gti: nice of you to say that thanks. I have thought about it down the years. Where in the world is suitable for such a gathering? The Curbside Classics crowd sometime have meet-ups in different regions in the US. DTW is a little more centred on Europe. Hamburg or Frankfurt might be handy vis a vis trains and planes.

    1. Sorry, I have no idea what you’re talking about…🤐

  17. Eoin,
    In part one, you write that Alfa Romeo considered entering the C-segment in the mid-1960s, quickly followed by re-recruitment of Hruska in ‘67 and the establishment of Alfasud SpA in ‘68. Given that timeline, is it possible that the Sud project wasn’t an Alfa originally, but rather an IRI/ cassa per il Mezzogiorno plan to industrialize the south? After all, the Sud was quite a break from AR orthodoxy, both mechanically and commercially. If IRI had conceived it, passing it on to the state-owned Alfa would make sense; at least that company had experience developing and building cars. Which leads to a fascinating counterfactual: what if IRI had given it over to pre-Fiat Lancia instead, tossing a lifeline to that ailing concern? The FWD, flat four layout has more in common with the Flavia than with any Alfa. The Sud is launched in a higher spec form as the Fulvia II, and even with the corrosion issues, its relatively large volume(more than double that of the Beta and Gamma combined) stabilizes Lancia’s business, setting them up for a fruitful 1990s.

    1. Hi Ben. I’ll attempt to answer that question as I wrote the piece you reference. As far as I could ascertain, Hruska was given a clean sheet and free hand at Alfa Romeo. While there might well have been some prior discussion about bringing auto manufacturing to the south, the Alfasud was all Hruska and Alfa Romeo’s work, and nothing was given to the company by IRI.

  18. I worry that I may be pre-empting an upcoming chapter in ‘Sud’s Corner, but nobody’s yet mentioned the extremely rare Furgone:

    As far as I understand, only available to the factory and Alfa dealerships. The lightly patina’d white example has now been restored by a Dutchman, to far better condition than when it left Pomigliano D’Arco.

    1. Thanks for this Robertas – that’s a new one on me. We have parked the ‘Sud for now I think – not on a steep hill mind you – (the handbrakes were always notoriously weak). I think we’re all Sudded-out for the present time.

    2. Oh dear, that looks a bit Furgone.

      I’ll get my coat…

    3. What a lovely thing. I never knew these existed, Robertas, thank you for sharing it here.

    4. ALfa hada habit of eating their own food when it came to estate cars for internal use.
      This is called Giulia Promiscua (of all things) and was made with slight differences by Colli or Marazzi

    5. Oddly, the van version of the Alfasud looks rather more pleasing to my eyes than the Giardinetta estate, I think because it doesn’t have the severely geometric outline of the latter’s rear side window.

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