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Chapter 17

The Fall

In 1967, a slightly enlarged version of the Giulia engine appeared in Europe. The engine displaced 1779 cc, close enough to endow it with the mantle of the legendary 1750 of the early 1930s. Americans waited two years for this engine to arrive. In 1968, no Alfas were imported into the US as a result of the extensive testing required to meet new US emission laws.
Domestic manufacturers hoped to make the new emission laws fail in the same way they tried to scuttle the seat belt and bumper laws: make the result so unworkable that the legislation would be abandoned. Remember the original 3-piece seatbelts which virtually defied use, and the 5-mph bumpers which were needlessly ugly? I owned a 1971 Nova, and that was the worst-driving car one could ever fear owning. The American emission controls were easily disabled, just as the original 3-point seatbelts had handy "holders" for the shoulder belt, assuring its non-use. On the other hand, European manufacturers were terrified of the US regulations. Rumors of 35-mph barrier tests were common, as was the sense that a failure to meet emission standards (and keep them there) would result in heavy penalties, if not outright disbarrment from the market. As a result, Alfa took a very integrated approach to emission controls with the SPICA fuel injection unit, a mechanical unit adapted from a small diesel powerplant. Alfa's goodie-two-shoes approach to the emission controls caused a major battle within the Alfa club, because a lot of owners wondered what was inside the SPICA pump. At one point, ARI feared that the club's interest in the interior workings of the SPICA pump would endanger its tenure in the US.
The 1750, even with its mechanical fuel injection, has proved to be one of the most engaging of the modern Alfas. It is well-powered, responsive and reliable. With the possible exception of its intake system, a 1750 spider or coupe is probably a better car -- certainly more easily repaired -- than the current clone.
Alfa introduced a new sedan body with the 1750 engine. It was more squared off than the Giulia, and its instrument panel copied the "nacelle" style of the 1750 coupe's dash. While certainly more modern, the 1750 (and subsequent 2-liter) sedan failed to capture the charm of the Giulia berlina. Slowly, Alfa enthusiasts watched BMW become the dominant "sport sedan."
In 1967, Alfa introduced the Type 33 series of sport prototypes, with V8 engines. A roadgoing version of this car, the Stradale, remains one of the most exotic and desirable Alfas of all time. For some time, Type 33 cars, of quite varied specifications, represented Alfa on the racetrack. The two-liter version of the Giulietta/Giulia engine arrived in 1970, and appeared here in 1971. By this time, Alfa was putting most of its available cash into the development of the next model, and so no new body styles distinguished the 2-liter from the 1750, with the exception that the spider lost its pointy tail for a "Kamm" version.
At the world's fair in 1967, Alfa had shown a prototype GT coupe powered by a V8 engine. This car was such a hit that Alfa was almost obligated to put it into production. It appeared in 1970 as the Montreal coupé, the last of the "big" Alfa coupes.
In 1975, a new Alfa chassis arrived. Alfa had hung onto solid rear axles to the point of anachronism. The 1975 Alfetta offered deDion rear suspension with coil springs and front torsion bar suspension. These cars quickly distinguished themselves as having an appetite for rubber driveshaft joints (donuts), and a much lower build quality than former models. A new fastback coupe was greeted with mixed reviews. Alfa was trying to civilize its cars to make them more palatable to a larger public, but in doing so it lost the enthusiast edge which made the Giuilietta and Giulia so memorable.
In Europe, a new, small Alfa appeared in 1972 from a factory near Naples: the AlfaSud. This was a front-drive 4-cylinder with a water-cooled boxer engine. The AlfaSud was available as both a sedan and coupe, the coupe looking rather like a scaled-down Alfetta. These cars were certified for US emissions, but never imported. They did quite well in Europe and England, and it is a pity they never made it here. There were several other Alfas of this era: the Giulia models continued until 1972, and there was a short flirtation with Nissan in the form of the ARNA, a Bluebird-bodied, AlfaSud powered sedan. Small-displacement "Junior" Giulias proved remarkably fine GTA racers, while the 1750 and 2-liter engines, much modified, powered the GTAM cars.
This history has not covered much of Alfa's racing efforts after the 158/159 period. They were extensive and somewhat continuous. A replacement for the GTA-based series of sport/racing cars was the type 33, introduced in 1967 and running in various engine/chassis combinations. Racing Alfas evolved from Type 33 sport racers to full-blooded Grand Prix cars, including the type 179 and 182. Engines were V8 and 12-cylinder V and boxer configurations. For a while, Alfa supplied its racing engines to other chassis builders, notably Brabham, but finally fielded its own cars with some success. Alfa won the Manufacturer's World Championship in 1971 and remains a potent force in Formula 3.
The overall effect, however, was that Alfa had lost its mission. In trying to survive by mass producing cars, it had settled for a degree of dullness which failed to keep enthusiasts in its camp. Suddenly, sport cars such as the 240Z and the 2002 sedan seemed much more interesting. Alfa, in the 1980s, and after 70 years of technical prowess, was seen as a curious, antique marque. In an age of sophisticated electronics, multi-valve engines and superb ergonomics, Alfas seemed very out of step.

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Copyright March, 1996

Paul Negyesi
Budapest, Hungary.
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