Alfa Romeo Alfasud Buying Guide
Many consider the Alfasud to be the pioneer of the hot-hatch genre. Here’s how to find a healthy example of Alfa’s family favourite
How much to pay
• Project £3000-4000 • Good £6000-10,000 • Concours £12,000-17,000
Running costs ★★★
Spares availability ★★★
DIY friendly ★★★★
The Alfasud marked a new era for Alfa Romeo; a front-wheel-drive family car with bodywork penned by Giugiaro and a revolutionary (ish) horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine. Of course, Volkswagen had been using a similar layout in its passenger cars and commercial vehicles for some time before the ’Sud debuted in 1971, but the Alfa version used overhead cams, water cooling and almost 1200cc to begin with.
The range grew and, before long, the flagship 1300ti and 1500ti sporty versions arrived, with 85bhp from the latter. The latest cars used twin-carburetted engines to increase response and power to 105bhp. However, somewhat inevitably, the addition of increasingly modern accoutrements – such as plastic bumpers and larger spoilers – rather spoiled the rawness of the original.
Because the boxer engine was very short, a longitudinal gearbox was used – which in turn meant equal-length driveshafts, so eliminating torque steer. In-board brakes also reduced un-sprung suspension mass, so handling was further improved. Meanwhile, the engine’s low, flat nature helped to keep the centre of gravity close to the ground.
Unfortunately, the project was hamstrung from the beginning. Assembly was carried out by largely unskilled labour in a new factory built specifically in the south of Italy to ease unemployment (hence the ‘Sud’). Reconstituted steel was also used for the bodywork, which was a brave move for a company already establishing a reputation for poor corrosion resistance.
However, a well looked-after ’Sud (as opposed to the lower and later Sprint) is a rewarding on-road experience – the engine revs and revs, the handling is delightfully neutral and forgiving, and every drive ends in a smile.
Your AutoClassics Alfa Romeo Alfasud inspection checklist
The iron-block, alloy-head engines are pretty robust, as long as they are well looked after. The over-square design and short, three main-bearing crankshaft mean they like to rev and will sit happily up the range all day long.
A little smoke on start-up is acceptable and, in fact, many Alfisti say it’s a feature, not a fault. It’s partly due to inevitable wear in the valve-stem seals and partly due to oil settling on the bottom of the horizontal cylinder walls.
Cambelts needs regular changing, and in the absence of paperwork testifying to their life, it’s best to get them changed or tackle it DIY – it’s not a difficult job.
Water pumps can be an issue on the ‘Sud, and a tell-tale sign is rumbling from the bottom of the engine. A waggle of the pump pulley will show if the bearing is on its way out. This is a bit of an issue, though, as the pump is an interference-fit into the iron block. Generally, an aluminium water pump in a cast-iron block is going to come out in bits.
Twin carbs can drift out of balance, so if an engine isn’t idling smoothly, that’s the first place to look. Finally, a little snarl on over-run is completely normal.
The gearbox on the ’Sud isn’t a disaster, but sadly it doesn’t quite match the promise of the boxer engine. It sits directly behind the motor with the final drive splitting out to the front wheels, yet it tends to be vague and particularly notchy when cold. Worn bushes in the linkage will make this feel even worse.
The issue lessens as the transmission warms up, but this then tends to highlight two further problems. Firstly, the ’box is inherently noisy. Secondly, as with several other models in the Alfa range, it tends to suffer from weak synchromesh and graunching, unless treated with some sympathy.
Generally the brakes are good, but the handbrake operates on the front, while the in-board brakes and calipers are adjustable. This process can be difficult for several reasons. Access isn’t brilliant in the first place, while discs can often wear a lip on the outer edge, which means pads hit the lip first, not the disc face. Because of the brakes’ location air flow isn’t great, and very lively use can cause heat-induced fade.
McPherson struts at the front use two separate lower arms to control front-to-back movement, with an anti-roll bar mounted to the front arm. At the rear, the solid axle is mounted with a pair of coil-over damper units and five links to control wheel movement.
If the rubber bushes are all in reasonable shape, the ’Sud is nothing short of superb fun to drive. Tyre wear should be looked at closely, though, as suspension components aren’t particularly strong and a small impact can cause a lot of damage.
The bodywork is the Alfasud’s Achilles’ heel and responsible for dwindling numbers in the UK. The front of the car tends to suffer the worst, with inner wings particularly susceptible to rust. Lower windscreen panels are also corrosion traps, as are rear wheelarch sections. Bulkheads remain at risk of the steering rack becoming completely disconnected from the car’s chassis.
Inside a ’Sud has always been a nice place to sit. The cabin boasts good seats (especially in the sporty ti variant) and nicely placed controls – if you are the right shape. Two large dials – for revs and speed – face you directly, with three supplementary gauges in the centre of the dash. The controls are a bit odd, though, as almost everything is controlled from two steering column-mounted stalks: indicators, lights, horn, wipers and even the heater fan.
- 1971: Alfa Romeo Alfasud launched with 1190cc engine.
- 1973: Two-door Alfasud ti launched.
- 1976: Alfasud Sprint coupé launched.
- 1978: 1.3 and 1.5-litre Alfasud ti launched.
- 1980: Range facelifted with plastic bumpers and body trim, revised interior.
- 1983: Alfasud replaced by Alfa 33.
Because there aren’t many left, Alfasuds have become valuable. Rightly so, too, as well looked-after examples in reasonable shape are huge fun to drive and remarkably practical. Motorways aren’t their forte, but get one on fast A- and B-roads and they will get the pulse racing just as well as cars costing far, far more.
It’s a shame that, back in the day, they were considered disposable motoring. However, you do still see them around and the spares market does exist to keep them going. They are straightforward to work on as a DIY project, and if you undertake a project ’Sud, two things are certain: you will end up with a brilliantly fun car and develop some pretty good welding skills.
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