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.

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