Bringing it all back home.
There is a quality about Italy and Italian cars in particular that brings out the romantic in us all – and as we know, often to our cost, romance often impels us to carry out impetuous acts. Like driving from Lüneburg in Lower Saxony to Naples in a 45-year old motor car for example. And not just any 45-year old car, but an Alfa Romeo. Why? For a nice photograph and more to the point, to take the car back to its birthplace.
Some of you might know that a 1978 Alfasud Sprint entered our lives in 2014, supplementing a 1990 Alfa Spider — now departed. We purchased the Sprint partially restored and in sound, fully roadworthy condition. And while it wasn’t exactly the Alfa Romeo we had been looking for, (I was after a 1750 Berlina), we’ve had no regrets since. It’s not a daily driver, but we use it as a normal vehicle several times a week.
It’s nothing special to drive an old car, especially as the Sprint drives just like a modern one, despite being 45 years old. Yesterday for instance, our 17-year-old neighbour’s boy (who is currently learning to drive) sat behind the wheel for the first time. His comment: “Yes, a bit easier than in the tank I’m currently learning in, but it’s got everything you need”.
But sometimes having everything you need just isn’t enough and having already taken the Sprint on a most enjoyable 4000 km ‘Tour de France’ in 2022, my wife and I decided to embark upon a more ambitious and romantic mission. To bring the ‘Sud home. A large part of our circle of friends couldn’t understand why we wanted to made this trip with a car just shy of its half-century, simply to ‘put it in front of the factory gates’, but Alfa Romeo ownership does strange things to otherwise rational people.
So on the 1st of April, when everyone else was busy with their April Fools’ jokes, we packed our bags. The following day, we got on the road, heading south. Leaving Lüneburg at 9.00 in the morning, the temperature remained stubbornly below that number. No fun with a car in which the manufacturer had installed something that was described in the brochure as a ‘heater’, but in reality is more akin to a Neapolitan joke. On the way south — through the Eifel and Luxembourg — the incessant cold was joined by a steady rain. Shortly before Dyon, this damp cold led to carburettor icing and a short-term loss of power – a well-known problem of Alfasuds fitted with single carburettors.
The next day, south of Avignon, the cloud cover broke and the sun showed itself for the first time. With the ambient temperatures more to its liking, the little Sprint purred like a kitten. Thanks to its dual-flow exhaust, retrofitted by the car’s first owner in Germany, the ‘Sud roared like a big one with the motorbikes as we drove through the tunnels, which sometimes encouraged my wife to open the window to enjoy the sound. At a pleasant 19°C we reached Mougins on the Côte d’Azur where we were to visit a friend and spend the Easter holidays.
Following an enjoyable Easter break, we got back on the road towards Turin, and the (real) start of our ‘Giro d’Italia’. Turin is a great accumulation of historical stones. Small and large churches, small and large palaces. You can stroll for hours under arcades, past the shop windows of all the well-known, but also unknown brands, from one café to the next.
The street scene is like that of any usual European city: BUV, CUV, SUV. You can see that the Lancia Ypsilon is a big seller here and the number of other Italian brands is felt to be slightly more numerous than in other countries. Occasionally, older vehicles can still be seen. Most of them are Fiat Pandas.
In addition to the historically relevant sites in the city centre, a visit to Lingotto (the historic former FIAT factory that went into operation exactly 100 years ago in the district of the same name) was on our agenda. This impressive architectural building now is a fast-food temple and shopping mall, interchangeable with any other in the world.
We also paid a visit to the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile, where many of the vehicles are embedded in nicely made dioramas. Perhaps due to the fact that I have seen a lot of formed sheets of steel over the course of my life, but there were hardly any new, exotic or never-seen-before exhibits. For me the real gem was a Abarth X1/9 prototipo. Looks bigger in photos than it is in reality.
Upon leaving the building, the best-wife-of-all said, “the Matra Museum was more interesting”.
From Turin we drove to Tuscany and stayed in a small former palazzo. From our room we could see the sea, looking out over the vast olive groves of the estate.
On a Sunday – not a good time – we visited Pisa (for me the second visit, for my wife the first and for both of us the last).
On the way back, we stopped briefly in Forte dei Marmi before we drove back to our tranquil village of Bibbona. The following day we planned to visit a place we had been to about 30 years ago: the Badia a Coltibuono winery in the heart of the Chianti region. We then drove to Siena for coffee and pastries at Café Nannini (owned by the famous singer’s family), which has not changed since my first visit in 1987.
We’ve become accustomed to the (typical) noises the Sprint makes, so we no longer perceive many of them — although the exhaust note never fails to raise a smile. Wind noise? Oh, yes, lots of it. (That’s why I didn’t replace the non-functioning radio with a new one, but made a blanking cover that corresponds to the car’s delivery state, which would have been without a radio).
On the subject of smells however, we have experienced a few peculiarities. After every refuelling, the Sprint smells of petrol. I can’t explain why, there is no discernible leak. Also, when the ‘Sud gets really hot (after stop and go etc), there is a distinct smell of oil afterwards. Inexplicable, since we only used one litre of oil on the whole (6400 km) trip. A consumption that was far below my expectations.
The third day was dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte. Having driven the Route Napoleon in the opposite direction from Grenoble to Cannes last year during our ‘Tour de France’ with the Sprint, we visited Napoleon’s villa on the island of Elba this time, the place of his first exile and starting point for his last 100 days. On the way back from Piombino we discovered a 5 kilometre long avenue.
From Tuscany, we continued south to Gaeta. On the SS1 Aurelia before Rome, drama struck when we were hit by a stone thrown up by a truck. Fortunately, it hit the front edge of the bonnet and not the windscreen. It could have been worse.
After Gaeta we diverted to visit the picturesque town of Sperlonga. In the village car park was this rarity:
Then onwards to the Palace of Caserta, one of the largest castles in Europe. (This baroque palace was built as the residence of the Bourbons during their rule over the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily.) This was also the scene of our only technical ‘malady’. After the stop and go through Caserta, we arrived at the parking garage at the castle with a decidedly hot and bothered Alfa. There, a guard directed us to a parking space right in sight of his little house. I turned off the engine and we got out. Then he told me to drive closer to the wall. I tried to start the engine, but apparently it was so hot in the engine compartment that it had real problems getting going again.
Naturally, you can experience that strangers react positively to the Sprint, and yes, of course it flatters the ego. (Excuse me, but why else drive an old exotic car with all its adversities?) On our journey through the Sprint’s home country however, this happened less often than one might have thought. The Sprint appears to have become almost completely unknown in Italy; one explanation being that even today the ‘Sud seems very modern. My wife has a completely different rationale. She says Italians are so richly surrounded by the past — lots of old stones and what history has happened in them — that they want to look from the present to the future at every available opportunity. (A not unexciting theory, as it would also explain the Fiat Charter™).
A less desirable Italian phenomenon was the traffic, which took the shine off the driving at every turn. The drive to the Amalfitana starting at Salento for example was complete hell. On the way there were kilometres of traffic jams, stop and go, and then up to Positano we were stuck between lorries, buses, campers and cyclists, all at a crawling pace. From Positano to Salerno things got a little better. But as for ‘having fun’, this was a complete impossibility, since I simply couldn’t find an opportunity to make the most of the Sprint’s nimble chassis. Even on well-built roads, often no more than 60-70 km/h was allowed. Worse, there were usually representatives of the various police units (Carabinieri, Polizia Stradale, Polizia Municipal or simply ‘Polizia’) at every corner, all well equipped with the latest radar guns. Often, however, the road condition itself was so bad that it was no fun to give it the spurs.
But finally, our destination was in sight. You have to imagine Pomigliano d’Arco as any run-down railway station district of any town, only with slightly better weather. Not a place you might feel impelled to put on anyone’s list of tourist attractions. But we weren’t here to sightsee. We were on a mission.
After breakfast at the hotel, we went in search for the gate to the Stellantis factory — latterly known as the Giambattista Vico plant, named in honour of a noted Neapolitan philosopher — where the Tonale CUV is currently built. Across streets whose roadsides were littered with rubbish and some bashfully placed signs, we found an eight-lane access road to — we assumed — the main gate. Far in front of the gate itself were barriers, a building for security and parking spaces behind it. As soon as we stopped in front of the barrier, the gatekeeper came out of his house. My wife got out and explained our request: a photo with the sprint in front of the factory gate.
His reaction was dramatic: “No, no photo!”, underlining this bald statement with appropriate hand gestures. He also indicated that we should turn into the opposite lane, clear the driveway and leave immediately. While the guard was still gesticulating with my wife, I jumped out of the car and took a quick photo. “No photo! This is Private Place” he shouted at me. We got back in, I started the engine, and we left this hospitable outpost before the cavalry arrived.
There’s nothing more that can be said really — you’ve done it, you’ve survived it. But any further embellishment might encourage other people to do something similar and my remaining love for humankind prevents me from offering any incentive. Our mission to put the Sprint in front of the factory gate in Pomigliano d’Arco came therefore to a strange end. Maybe it was our naivety and lack of preparation, maybe also because the plant remains a production site and not a tourist mecca. Still, we tried.
So in case anyone should read any PR stuff from Stellantis regarding heritage and so forth in the near future; for us, they are wasted words, not worth the bits and bytes.
Our tour was 6406 kilometres long. We consumed 6 bottles of white wine, 13 bottles of rosé, 34 glasses of red wine, 18 pastis, 28 beers, 19 Aperol spritzes, 27 gin and tonics, 1 litre of oil and 478.62 litres of petrol (the latter makes an average consumption of 7.47 litres per 100 kilometres).
The driver thanks Andreas Päsch from Balocco Motors in Hamburg. Due to its good care and maintenance, the journey went without any technical difficulties.
23 thoughts on “Sud by ‘Sud”
The beginning of this story reminds me of my first longer drive with a Sud in wintery conditions.
Driving around town the heater was diabolically useless and you needed an ice scraper for the inside of the windscreen. That was what I knew and when faced with a five hundred kilometre trip I took my thickest down jacket.
But as soon as the little Sud was on the motorway things changed dramatically. The very moment the car was moving at more then 120 kph all of a sudden the heater started to work and it worked great. Within a minute or so the interior temperature changed from identical to outside to sauna. You could even see the stream of warm air coming out of the extractors in the C pillar because the ice around them was molten away. But as soon as speed dropped below said 120 kph the heater went on strike again.
Lesson learned: drive the Sud as it is intended to be driven and you have warm feet in winter.
Except for the heater the Sud is a fantastic car for driving around on snow. Predictable handling and light weight with good traction provide much fun and the only complaint is the handbrake working on the front wheels, preventing it from being used for swinging the car around corners on snow.
I’ve always liked the layout of the Sud: flat four just before the front axle, gearbox behind the engine. Was this the best handling FWD car at the time I wonder. I’m too young to have experienced these cars when new.
My mom had a 33 with two double Webers. I remember one drive on a road with a lot of snow and summer tires. Speed was limited and the engine didn’t warm up properly. Heating was only so so, but better than in would have been in a Sud I reckon. The car handled very predictably.
In my dream garage there is always room for a Sud or Sprint. I love the look of both of them, the engine sounds wonderful to my ears, handling is good and I like the interior too.
Yes Freerk the Sud was streets ahead of any other FWD car, until maybe Lotus tried FWD. I never drove one, but often rode with my best friend in his one, holding onto the seat frame for dear life through corners. You couldn’t hold onto the door pulls, they weren’t really up to it. Lovely car, but Alfa re-sprayed it for him when it was two years old…
Back in the late 60s I drove as far south as Pisa in my Triumph Herald – we didn’t actually visit Pisa as there is no beach there. Only drama was a puncture in Switzerland. I remember driving through Italian towns and the locals thinking they could burn you off in their baby Fiats ( my Triumph had tweaked engine/brakes/suspension etc).
Good morning, Fred, and welcome to the ranks of DTW authors!
Thank you for sharing the story of your pilgrimage to Pomigliano d’Arco. I’m sorry to read your reception at the birthplace of your Sprint was so unsatisfying. The ‘jobsworth’ security guard clearly had no appreciation of the significance of your car – and no soul. Despite that disappointment, and the adverse Italian driving environment, I hope you and your wife enjoyed the adventure. You certainly proved that the Alfa was up to the task.
Fred, you have to understand that the Tonale is an absolutely unique proposition in its class, and full of intriguing technical solutions, so the security heavy handed approach is understandable.
Thank you for this engaging travel story- even though you were thwarted at the gate by some narrow-minded security guard. I hope your first, and very well written, contribution is the beginning of a regular appearance among the DTW writers!
Perhaps the security guard was worried that you might ask to use the “restrooms”:
Very enjoyable article, it gave me a notion for another Italian visit.
Even to Pisa. My experience was better, they even laid on a Sunday morning parade of historic and sporting cars beside the Arno – lots of Alfas and Lancias, too many Subaru Imprezas, and the absolute stars were a Fiat 130 Berlina and a delightfully original late-model Fiat 1100.
What a great read, Fred. Was the factory easy to find? I recall a big holiday row with my partner about whether or not a crescent shaped coastal city with a mountain on the horizon (Seen from our aeroplane window) was Naples or not because I couldn’t see the FIAT group factory (Or any other, for that matter).
I once took my vehicle on a road trip back to it’s birthplace but as it was an early ’90s Triumph motorbike it was to un-cinematic Hinckley in Leicestershire. The factory was easy enough to find and no jobsworth stopped me but it probably helped that Triumph had gone onto bigger things since 1991, with bikes being built in a far bigger factory next door and the original had become somekind of parts warehouse. I also stumbled across either the factory or distribution centre for those mysterious anti-seasickness wristbands; Hinckley’s second claim to fame, who knew! Nice pork pies too.
Also, I must ask you what could be the most DTW holiday driving question possible; in Italy did you find that the only people who let you in at road junctions were Lancia Ypsilon drivers?
During my stay in Turin in 2015 I grew fond of the Ypsilon. I even rented one to drive to the Alfa Romeo museum in Arese and to the . Not the best driving car but its little 1.2 litre engine was as revvy and willing as you would expect from an Italian small car. What I liked the most about the Ypsilon was how well it blended with the quiet elegance of the streets in Turin.
What a lovely article and a nice longer read too (thank you Mr. Ur Editor). Such a pretty and romantic car deserves an adventure such as this. Congratulations on the journey, the car and the article.
Thank you Fred. The Sprint is a lovely little thing – good-looking, fun but practical
In a way, your frustrating end to the journey is only apt. The company that lives there now is not in any real sense the company that built your car.
From Robertas’s link I’d make a comment about my general rule of not buying anything from a business that can’t get it together enough to even clean their toilets, but I suspect they might have been similar in the Sud’s time.
I always enjoy a good read, especially an authentic one from a fellow commentator.
Looking forward to more real testaments like this from Fred and also whoever wishes to delve into such a try. It will always be welcomed!
P.S. please don’t tell me that Fulvia’ s and Flavia’s heaters are alike to the Alfa Romeo’s…please don’t…
…and if I may ask…6K km and no oil change? Do you use synthetic oil in your oldtimer?
I usually change the mineral oil I use every 3000km…but I do mostly city short trips.
Whoever doesn’t understand why one would want to do such a road trip simply does not deserve to be involved in any car related discussion. The reaction of the guard just fits my understanding of that horrible Stellantis deal. I have been driving Opel, Peugeot, Alfas and Jeeps (amongst others) and never would I have expected them to be regrouped and share most underpinnings! But of course when going electric, does it actually matter?
Very nice journey, car and story, thanks Fred!
I would have liked to read that more locals were delighted to see your Sprint, but I´m afraid car culture is slowly becoming a thing of the past.
6400 km and only 1 litre of oil…My BMW E39 needs 1 litre of synthetic 5w40 every 800 km. Memo to people interested in buying a M54-engined BMW: it likes oil.
Lovely article, Fred! It made me recall my six month stint in Turin in 2015. The Museo dell’Automobile di Torino is quite nice, but my favorite place was the Centro Storico Fiat, located in a quiet residential neighborhood of Turin, on the actual 1907 expansion of Fiat’s first home. Only open on Sundays and not that well known (here we have more proof of the dwindling interest in cars these days) it became my little Sunday morning ritual to visit it and just hang out there for a while, with usually no more than 10 people around, even though it was free. Sometimes it was just me and the volunteers minding the place; probably retired Fiat workers. A quiet place to absorb the car culture of Italy.
Thank you for your kind comments.
I am honoured to have made a small contribution to DTW. However, I do not really deserve this honour. For without Eóin, with whose great help my “quarry of words” first became a readable text, this would not have been possible.
Next winter, we will try out the heating power again by exceeding the magic limit of 120 km/h. If it should be illegal by then – I’m sure it will be. If it should be illegal by then – which I assume it will be – it will not be a simple speeding, but a serious scientific investigation.
Even though our “mission” had a somewhat strange ending, we had some fun with this trip and came back with a lot of experiences (in German this is a wonderful play on words).
There were drivers of all makes, not just Lancia Y, who gave us the right of way at junctions. In our experience, the Italian driving culture has become a completely different one from what we remember from 20 years ago or more. Everything feels like it is fear-driven. Fear of damaging the much too big and probably much too expensive and not yet paid for car. Or fear of the immense cost of a ticket. I don’t know.
As for the oil consumption: only 1 litre is correct, I didn’t leave out a zero out of brand infatuation. The low oil consumption always amazes me too, as the Sprint always gives off a certain smell of hot oil after longer journeys. And yes, I topped up with synthetic oil, as there was no other type available at this petrol station.
Fred: For what small effort I made, you are most welcome.
Ah yes, the Alfasud’s heater. I used to wonder if ours actually had one, such was its redundancy. Oh sure, the fan made its noise (2-speeds – no difference), but little of use emerged. Between the water leaks into the interior (instant condensation), the non-functioning heated rear screen (Italian cars and electrics) and the car’s propensity to ice up on the inside in cold weather, the ‘Sud was not a car ideally suited to Irish conditions.
I loved that Cilento Brown car, but it was hard work sometimes…
Great write up, nice car and impressive consumption figures.
It reminded me of my visit to the Alfa museum in Arese in about 1989. I was interrailing round Europe and this was planned to coincide with my Milan trip. I was inspired by an article in Supercar Classics, and had basic information of how to get there, no internet & Google maps in those days.
After walking miles from the nearest train station, I reached the factory gate to be informed (in Italian) that I should wait til lunch was over. I was joined by another misguided soul and together we sat in the sun… At about 1:30 we were let into the factory grounds and directed to the museum building. We were welcomed by a guy, then left to wander around at will. I seem to remember it was on several levels, full of lovely Alfas but completely deserted. The museum workers were busy loading several cars onto transporters which was nice to hear. If you were alone next to a Formula 1 Alfa from the 1980’s you wouldn’t jump in would you??
The lack of enthusiasm for your Italian classic is disappointing, have cars been reduced to just consumables nowadays?
Thank you for a great read this morning Fred. A bold trip to take in any car, never mind one aged 40 years plus.
I’m glad your car was appreciated by a few on your travels but it definitely seems to be the case that general enthusiasm for preserving, driving and apprecating older cars has waned -almost to the level of extinction. Expansion of clean air zones will only accelerate this further in years to come. However, as long as enhusiasts like ourselves continue to fly the flag whenever possible, the spirit will live on and maybe influence a few others.
How marvelous your Sprint must have looked amongst the sea of grey modern transport in the nose to tail traffic around Salento.
It’s a beautiful car Fred and you’ve kept it in great condition. I would have it over a 1750 without hesitation.
Absolutely delightful, Fred. What a perfect little thing the Sprint is…
It seems somehow very Italian that your trip ended the way it did, I think your wife might be on to something with her theory. I’ve always suspected a similar reason for the Italian attitude to politics (but let’s leave it there).
Descriptions of Rome in the Middle Ages bear out something similar, by the way. Its population decimated after the fall of the Roman Empire and not recovered until, I think, the modern era (Florence used to be much bigger than Rome in during the Renaissance), Romans amused themselves with feuding; kicking out popes only to welcome them back with teary shows of piety, then growing tired of them almost immediately and kicking them back out; and looting the myriad monuments from ancient times.
Thank you Fred, both for being bold enough to undertake the trip in the first place and for writing about it so delightfully. And as Patrick Chollet so rightly says, those who don’t understand……
Back in 2018 a convoy of four Jowetts (3 Javelins and a Jupiter) made its way from the UK to Switzerland to attend a weekend rally in Arbon on Lake Constance. Overnight ferry Felixstowe – Rotterdam, drive to Düsseldorf, overnight car-train to Innsbruck and then drive to Arbon. Return was via Strasbourg, Metz, Luxembourg, Namur, Aalst & Ghent to Zeebrugge for a final overnight ferry to Hull. Although such vehicles will cruise all day at 50 mph, that’s too slow for motorways and so we avoided using them, seeing much more of the countryside we were passing through as a result and stopping whenever the fancy took us. Between us we carried a stock of spares just in case – and didn’t need any of them. Everywhere we stopped we found ourselves engaged in conversation with the locals and felt at the end of it all that we’d learned far more about the areas we’d passed through than if we’d been in modern vehicles using the fastest roads.
Covid prevented the planned follow-up expedition to Copenhagen in 2020, but next year…..
Keep exercising that Sud, Fred – they get better the more you use them. And the longer you can keep it going, the smaller its carbon footprint will get.
Lovely story, appreciate the romance. A few thoughts:
– Suds: used to be able (in the 1980s?) to rent them from Avis in Milan. Would take one into the mountains around Aosta and drive the heck out of it. Drove on the autostrada at a comfy 100mph until some totally frightening Lambo came up behind super fast with full lights on… never think you were going fast enough in Italy….
– the issue with Polizia on the roads is a real one. Have to stay away from where everyone else is. Best fun had recently was in the Dolomites, where no one was to be seen, and the winding forest roads were a total delight.
– Stellantis: friends came with Lancia Lambdas for 100 year anniversary. Driving across France, totally welcomed at museums there. In Torino – Fiat gave a “guided” tour of Heritage Hub, and only with some ahead-of-time correspondance, was I able to wander off the group to photograph the display engines (which were superb). But the visit was rather less-than-delightful
– Centro Storico: been visiting those archives for years. Not super active place, but very helpful in their own way. Happy its separate from the larger corporate culture.
– MAUTO: if you have the chance, check out their library or the basement (with >100 cars in storage). The dioramas upstairs are too “designed” so you can’t get close to the cars, but there are gems in that place. Where else do you see a Chiribiri chassis?
Thanks for the post. Hope the ramble is not too much!