History of the 1987 - 1990 Alfa Romeo 33
The Alfa Romeo 33 was in production from 1983 to 1995. The successor to the Alfasud, it was available as a five-door hatchback or a five-door estate, each with seating for up to five. It is a front-engine, front-wheel-drive car with optional four-wheel drive.
The Alfa Romeo 33 was launched in 1983 alongside the Alfa Romeo Arna, as joint replacements for the Alfasud. The car was available as a 1.2-litre, 1.3-litre, 1.5-litre and 1.7-litre model over its life, the latter with an optional 16v derivative. At launch, the range consisted of the 33 1.3 and the 33 1.5 Gold Cloverleaf.
In 1983 a 4x4 derivative was launched, built by Pininfarina. Known as the 4x4, later models were rebranded the Permanent 4. An estate was also launched, first called Giardinetta and later called Sportwagon.
A mild facelift in 1986 led to new indicator lenses, plus a wholly revised interior with a new dashboard. A new 1.7-litre engine was introduced, and by 1988 a fuel-injected derivative was available. For 1990, the Alfa Romeo 33 was facelifted in line with the 164. These are the best 33s for regular use, as they were galvanised in the style Alfa Romeo had perfected with its 164. A 16v version of the 1.7 was introduced too, as a range topper -– and the Permanent 4 was renamed Q4 for 1992.
Almost one million Alfa Romeo 33s were built; at the time the highest number for any Alfa Romeo product. It was replaced in 1994 by the Alfa Romeo 145 and 146, based on the Fiat Tipo but using the existing Alfa Romeo boxer engines.
The Alfa Romeo 33 is derived from the Alfasud, and as such uses a range of flat four engines. These range from 1.2 to 1.7 litres, via 1.3 and 1.5, while a 1.8-litre 3-cylinder diesel was also available in some markets.
All 33s used 5-speed manual gearboxes, mostly driving the front wheels –- though the 4x4 and Permanent 4 model was four-wheel drive.
There are few better-balanced 80s hatches than the Alfa Romeo 33, and even fewer with such nice engines to boot. Unsurprisingly, the car drives like the Alfasud which it replaced and upon which it’s based –- it’s lively, with fairly neutral handling and a great sense of fun. The revvy little flat fours sing the higher up the range they get, and they’re a riot on a good B road.
Alfa Romeo’s boxer engines are hardy if looked after, though they need regular cambelt and water pump changes to stay in top form. On the 16v version, had gasket failures aren’t uncommon, and valves can burn out from about 75,000 miles if the engine hasn’t been well cared-for.
Trim won’t always be easy to source, though you’ll have better luck hunting in Italy -– Alfa’s strongest market. Check the fuse box for water ingress, Alfa Romeo 33 electrics are among the car’s worst points, and it has been known for such oddities as automatic window lowering at 4000rpm in extreme cases.
Alfa Romeo rustproofed the 33 after the 1990 facelift, so later cars tend to be resistant to rot. The floorpans can still go though, so watch here. Earlier cars can suffer from rot in the arches and behind the bumpers, so check carefully when you’re buying.
The most desirable Alfa Romeo 33 is the Permanent 4, with the Green Cloverleaf following closely behind. The Gold Cloverleaf is also desirable, but the sporting models are the ones which command a premium. Standard small-engined 33s are relatively rare, but they have more of an interest value than a financial one.
None of the alternatives except Fiat’s Strada and Lancia’s Delta have quite the same Italianite flair as the Alfa Romeo 33. More prosaic choices would include the Austin Maestro, Ford Escort, and Volkswagen Golf.