28 February 2013

Alfasud turned into an Alfa-dud

Rusted: Government meddling to blame


The Rudolph Hurska-designed Alfasud was the Subaru Impreza of the ’70s.
It was fitted with Alfa Romeo’s first boxer engine, placed ahead of the centre line of the front wheels and combined with a rigid rear beam axle, rack and pinion steering and front inboard disc brakes.
The Alfasud’s low centre of gravity meant it cornered as if it was on rails, and better still it didn’t have the usual understeer associated with front-wheel-drive cars.
Autocar magazine voted it the best front-wheel drive car ever built, keeping in mind this was during the early-70s and years before the VW Golf and Ford Escort XR3 appeared, unrivaled by anything since the days of the Mini Cooper S.
There was just one problem. The Alfasud was built as a cheap car with an Alfa badge, intended to appeal to the masses by an interfering government that controlled Alfa Romeo at the time, reminiscent of the British Leyland fiasco in England.
The Alfasud was not built in a factory in Milan where it should have been built. Instead, the Italian government insisted that its production would take place in an old factory outside of Naples in the south of the country. This was their attempt of trying to create more employment and reducing the exodus of young Italians heading to the more affluent and stable industrialized north.
The combination of an unskilled workforce and the endless supply of inferior Russian steel, meant the new cars were rusting on the production line before the paint was applied.
Alfa Romeo could have solved their rust problems by finding a different steel supplier and introducing a quality control system to the unskilled workforce, but they didn’t. They tried to solve box section areas and anything with a hollow cavity from rusting by filling it full of expanding foam, which only compounded the problem — the foam retained water and the cars rusted quicker, this time from the inside out!
The Alfasud is a car that is rarely seen today in Europe (remember that rust never sleeps). It never made its way over to North America, either.
The cars that left the factory during the mid-80s were magnificent little cars with all of their problems solved, and in many ways responsible for Alfa’s current success.
The company figured out how to build sporty family cars for the mass market.
I’m looking forward to Alfa Romeos long overdue return to North America when new models will be sold through the Fiat dealership network.

1 Reader Comment

  • 1
    Nigel London UK & Ontario Can September 23, 2013 at 09:55
    I have owned 8 Suds over the years and still have a 1.5 Super for the UK and plan to ship a 1.5 Sprint Veloce Trofeo over to Ontario within the year. The latter cars did actually use better steel. The Sud was far from a dud as more than a million were made. Production started in 1971 finishing in 1989 with the last Sprint. The 33 continued in production with the same engine and chassis until 1995. Almost as many Sprints were built than the entire run of Spiders. The Sud is still an outstanding drive, even Clarkson was very nice about it recently. The factory issues were more complex than you suggest and Alfa was not alone. There were a lot of dud cars at that time but the Sud was not one of them. The Pomigliano d'Arco plant built Aflas until 2011 and now it builds Fiats.

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