20 09 2019

Alfa Romeo Giulia

This is one of the runner-up articles in Hagerty’s 2019 Young Writer Competition. People aged 18-25 were encouraged to enter an 800-word story based on the topic of classic motoring, with the winner being commissioned to write for Hagerty and invited to join our content team at the 2019 Goodwood Revival. The judges, including Andrew Frankel, Paul Garlick and Hagerty editor John Mayhead were very impressed by Yousuf’s story which reached the final three.

Buying a new car as an 18-year-old. Does this call for a trip to the local Vauxhall dealer? A used car supermarket, perhaps? Well, for me, it was a trip over the English Channel, through France and into Italy, where I found my dream car: an Alfa Romeo Giulia. Yes, a 47-year-old family saloon car – the obvious choice.

Modern cars are all very well of course, but I admire classics, relishing the need to contend with unassisted steering, the absence of driver aids and skinny tyres with little in the way of adhesion. You get the idea.

When I began my search for such a thing, I was looking for a relatively cheap, usable car with a lithe, athletic chassis – of which there are many. I soon became enamoured by Alfa Romeo's 105 series; a revvy twin-cam engine, five-speed manual gearbox and rear-wheel drive sounded perfect. Less perfect are the soaring values of 105 Spiders and Coupés, as I soon discovered when I delved into the classifieds, although it seemed that the regular Giulia saloon had been left behind somewhat.

It’s an unusual-looking thing, the Giulia. So faithful to the three-box shape, it stands on soft, long-travel springs and looks somewhat ungainly, despite sharing its underpinnings with the stunning Bertone-designed Coupé and Pininfarina-penned Spider variants. But I immediately fell for it. I loved the deep, concave sweep along the flanks, the slash across the rear arches and the strakes running down the bootlid. The appeal of turning this practical old box into a road racer was irresistible.

These cars last better in warmer, dry climates, and there’s surely no place better to find one than in the car's home territory of Italy. I enlisted the help of my Italian-speaking sister, who chatted to some charismatic sellers over the phone, and then flew over to look at some cars. There were cheap rot boxes, some expensive rot boxes...and then the car: a 1972 Giulia Super 1.3 with twin Dell’Orto carburettors, finished in Indigo Grey with oxblood hide inside.

The unibody was free of rot, the interior was good and the mechanicals seemed strong. The salesman was an old-school mechanic, who generously brought the price down to €11,000, and I returned home delighted with our purchase. I did want to drive it home, of course, but going 1000 miles without incident seemed highly hopeful at best.

When the car finally arrived on the driveway I immediately grabbed the keys and unearthed a few surprises. The car's delicate, wooden wheel was lovely to hold but there were at least three inches of play in the system, while the engine idled at a rather embarrassing 3000rpm and the suspension lacked support when pressing on. Even so, there was an engaging chassis beneath. There was also the obligatory breakdown – outside a prison, no less. And so the rejuvenation began. I fettled the carbs, refreshed the interior with new veneer trim and generally fiddled, tinkered and replaced until everything ran sweetly. Besides this, I made some chassis changes, which I was the most excited about. A visit to Alfaholics in Bristol (creator of the wonderful, 240bhp GTA-R restomod) prompted the purchase of their uprated spring kit, GTA replica alloy wheels and a set of Koni dampers.

After two years of work it's finally finished, and there isn’t much else like it on the road. It feels so narrow and upright but gives a panoramic view past its tiny A-pillars, and you’re swamped in terms of both size and performance by modern metal. It's intimidating at first, but I soon learnt to enjoy it. Producing just 90bhp in 1290cc guise, the Giulia thrives on revs, needing to be driven fairly hard to keep up with today’s traffic. This is no bad thing, however, because the gearing is short and the motor is zingy with an utterly addictive induction bark. The gearchange has an accurate, mechanical throw and the pedals are perfectly placed for enthusiastic driving. 

Tip the Alfa into a corner and the steering gives that familiar, old-school chat. Although my car is now lower and stiffer than before, there is still some body roll, which gives a great feeling of loading up the outside tyres. With the car being so narrow it’s easy to pick your line through corners, while I chose skinny 175-section rubber to allow the car to move around at lower speeds, a key part of the fun. The new damping works well, too; it's pretty firm but gives a great sense of connection, and on full soft the ride remains tightly controlled.

You see, keeping the Giulia's core character was important to me. I didn’t want ultimate grip and performance; I wanted to keep some roll in the chassis and thin, slippy rubber to allow me to reach and breach the car's limits at lower than hooligan speeds. The car naturally understeers a little mid-corner, but it's easily neutralised with a sharp lift of the throttle, and slides can even be held under power if given enough momentum. A wonderful thing to be in and gratifying to drive fast, there’s something deeply special about this era of Alfa. I adore driving mine, and it might just stay for a very long time.

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