27 May 2016

Alfa Romeo Giulia- A Strong Bloodline

No fewer than 23 pages of this month’s Car magazine are devoted to the new Alfa Romeo Giulia. The article is gushing in its praise- full of superlatives that for so long have been absent from stories about this, the most quixotic of Italian car makers.

Some will say we’ve heard it all before- Alfa Romeo have ‘rediscovered their roots’ more times than an ageing ’60s prog rock band. Every car is supposed to be imbued with the DNA of the brand that won five Formula 1 World Championships, 11 Mille Miglia and 10 Targa Florio. The problem has been that really since the 1980s, it’s all been a bit ‘tribute band’- more Rolling Stoners than Mick & his crew. The cars- pretty as they have been- have just not cut the mustard in either performance or build quality when compared with some of their (mostly German) rivals.

But with the new Giulia, Alfa Romeo did something they haven’t done in a long time. They stopped trying to make a modern version of an old model that had become a classic, and instead set themselves a target: build the best production saloon car they could. Alfa boss Sergio Marchionne hired ex-Ferrari 458 engineer Philippe Krief to head up the project and placed the team in skunkworks-style isolation. The easy way- using the existing Maserati V6 and a front-wheel drive layout- was rejected, and a bespoke 90-degree V6 sharing heritage from the F154 Ferrari/ Maserati engine was developed. Driving the rear wheels though a carbon fibre propshaft, the result is a car that lapped the Nürbrgring Nordschleife faster than any other production saloon, knocking 13 seconds off the BMW M4’s time, a car that out- accelerates the Mercedes AMG C63 S.

Ironically, the very moment Krief shut the door and started working on the Giulia in isolation, he began creating something more inherently similar to its 1962 namesake than any other Alfa Romeo since.

For the original Giulia, revealed in 1962, was a masterpiece of cutting edge design. It combined the sublime aluminium twin-cam engine of the old Giulietta, and mated it to superb brakes and suspension in a range of lightweight, monocoque bodies.

And what bodies they were. First was the Giulia T.I. -unveiled in 1962 on 27th June 1962 at the Monza Autodromo, it was miles ahead of the opposition. While many British motor manufacturers were building bigger and heavier saloons powered by bigger and heavier engines, Alfa went the other way. The T.I. was a four-door box saloon designed by Alfa Romeo’s in-house Centro Stile and weighed in at around 1,000kg. Fitted with either 1290cc or 1570cc engines, it drove the rear wheels through a differential- later models had an LSD as standard.  Suspension included four coil springs, with front independent wishbones and rear trailing arms. The brakes- other than the very earliest models- were disc brakes all round.

The sublime Bertone- bodied Giulia Sprint GT arrived in 1963 to provide a coupe model to the range designated Tipo 105, then in 1966 the Giulia 1600 Spider, commonly known as the ‘Duetto’ was launched to complete the standard road car line-up. Racing variants also emerged: the Giulia TZ Tubolare Zagato and the Giulia Sprint GTA, or Gran Turismo Alleggerita both first unveiled in 1965.

One of the Giulia 105 series’ strengths is also a main reason why they are such desirable classics these days. Almost all mechanical parts- engines, suspension, driveshaft and brakes- are interchangeable across all models. For Alfa Romeo, that meant economies of scale that gave them a distinct advantage over other manufacturers, critical in the economically turbulent 1970s.

The other strength of the Giulia 105 series is the sheer quality of the engineering. I drove a 105 series car as a daily driver throughout most of the 1990s and 2000s, and it more than kept pace with other ‘modern’ road cars. The brakes are great, the handling superb and it had more the enough power, even if you did have to rev it to get the best out of the engine. It was also pretty easy to fix- most key mechanical parts are relatively easy to get to (with the exception of the starter motor) and I’ve even managed to lift a head off by hand. Parts supply- due to the interchangeability across models- is superb.

The Giulia 105 series range of cars took Alfa Romeo from a relatively small, bespoke car maker into the big leagues- Alfa are hoping that the new Giulia will do the same again. I think they may be on to another winner.

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