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BACK TO BASICS: The Last Alfa Mail

'65 Berlina is courtesy of Bring-a-Trailer

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BACK TO BASICS: The Last Alfa Mail

BACK TO BASICS:

The Last Alfa Mail

If you’re an automotive enthusiast not yet familiar with Bring-a-Trailer, an automotive hot spot offering virtually anything with an engine, you should get familiar. Despite BaT’s premise as an auction site, you don’t need to bring money; in fact, it’s probably better if you don’t.

I visit Bring-a-Trailer most days, and on one of those days – having just learned that North Texas is down to just two dealers selling Alfa Romeo, and in all of Texas Alfa has but three! – the site’s inventory included what looked to be a pristine 1965 Alfa Romeo Giulia Berlina. This small 4-door of the mid-sixties combined jewel-like construction and power (its standard DOHC four was all of 1.3 liters, roughly the same displacement as a contemporary Beetle) with an upright architecture and generous greenhouse. And while the Giulia Berlina didn’t possess the cachet of Alfa’s coupes and spiders, some six decades later it offers cachet in spades. Today, Alfa Romeo should bottle it – and then sell the hell out of it.

For reasons unknown to me, the U.S. market has been a tough one for the Italians and – to a similar extent – the French. Both countries offer compelling designs built atop interesting or visceral platforms…and those cars go nowhere in the U.S. marketplace. Today’s Alfa Romeo showroom, which is often paired with Maserati, features both the Giulia sedan – a 3 Series/C-Class competitor – as well as the Stelvio crossover, built on the same platform but offering a more versatile 5-door layout. And both models come with standard 4-cylinder powertrains (which are responsive) and V6-propelled Quadrifoglios, capable of on-road heroics. 

Giulia Quadrifoglio - courtesy of David Boldt
Giulia Quadrifoglio – courtesy of David Boldt

I like the Giulia platform a lot. But it’s one size too large to enjoy as a flickable platform, and at least $10K too expensive to be considered accessible for singles and young families. But if its size does work for you, buy one before the next Giulia grows inevitably bigger and predictably more complicated.

More recently, Alfa has introduced the Tonale, a small crossover with a plug-in hybrid drivetrain and a platform shared with the Dodge (remember Dodge?) Hornet. Based on the ad campaign, it’s targeted at the same audience as BMW’s X1 or Mercedes B-Class: young professionals living – I’ll guess – in urban zip codes. But as appealing as the Tonale may be, in establishing a spec attractive to women it seems to ignore those elements making Alfas attractive to men. As most people in retailing would know, women will buy vehicles spec’d for men, but few men will buy vehicles designed for women. The Tonale, in its current guise, is essentially a non-starter.

In my limited experience – 12 years on import showrooms, followed by roughly 30 years in automotive journalism or automotive PR – Alfa and its U.S. subsidiary need to go where the other OEMs aren’t. And this ’65 Giulia Berlina design would be a start. 

Building a small, elemental 4-door with a conventional powertrain, no nanny aids, and on the dash little more than an AM-FM head unit would give young families a motoring experience not unlike Mazda’s Miata or Subaru’s BR-Z, but with the convenience of four doors and an upright architecture. Under the hood a twin cam, normally aspirated powertrain – in the traditional Alfa mold – would be good; the folks at Mazda could sell Alfa one. And if that idea doesn’t fly, Stellantis has a 1.3 liter turbo four capable of providing similar performance and, we’d guess, competitive efficiency. 

Attach what’s under the hood to a standard manual trans or optional dual-clutch transmission, tune the ride/handling mix to one that’s ‘sporting’ and keep the price point closer to $30K than $40,000. And with both the ICE platform and an (inevitably) EV sharing the costs of body stampings, you could make a business case for the new/old design selling in the latter half of this decade. 

In its Neue Klasse lineup of EVs, BMW is about to introduce an upright architecture to the electric space. And a visit to any Cars and Coffee makes clear there’s a real affection for sport sedans (BMW and Benz from the ‘80s) with these same upright proportions and analog presentations. Alfa could expand its customer base by building a car no one else is building, while – concurrent with the Berlina’s intro – creating showroom environments no one else is offering. 

Before you think the above exercise is simply daft, take another look at the Berlina pic. What driving enthusiast wouldn’t want that?

Boldt, a contributor to outlets such as AutoTrader.com, Kelley Blue Book and Autoblog, brings to his laptop some forty years of experience in automotive retail, journalism and public relations. He is a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, The Washington Automotive Press Association and L.A.'s Motor Press Guild. David is the Managing Editor of txGarage, a regular panelist on the AutoNetwork Reports webcast/podcast, and the automotive contributor to Dallas' Katy Trail Weekly.

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