The cars we loved.
Last week I saw an ad in the newspaper announcing Columbus’ first new Alfa Romeo dealer in decades. I immediately thought the Fiat/Chrysler Group were going about the relaunch of their red hot Italian brand all wrong and here’s why.
When I was a teenager my dream car was the Alfa Romeo GTV6. The GTV6 had been around since 1980, but the late model (1985-1988) cars with their fuel injected SOHC 2.5L V6 and revised interiors were the ones I found most attractive. There were even a few V8 crushing twin turbo models that pushed the GTV6 into super car territory. While more expensive than a fully loaded Camaro or BMW 318, the GTV6 was not out of the reach of most middle to upper middle class car buyers.
As an affordable luxury sports coupe, the GTV6 made sense in the American marketplace at that time. Alfa Romeo had an Italian racing pedgree second only to Ferrari and in the minds of many Americans, it was the next best thing. Alfa’s reputation for performance was boosted by an automotive press that seemed to care less about mundane things like quality and reliability when the growl of the GTV6’s high revving engine captured their imaginations. That was why so many American enthusiasts made the GTV6 their Italian GT car ambassador.
It wouldn’t take long before I would learn why the GTV6 and Alfa owners in general developed a love-hate relationship with their cars. The sublime ride, handling and unique styling that inspired the racer in us all was tempered by rust, electrical problems, over heating and questionable workmanship. To make matters worse, most Alfas were expensive to maintain and suffered from a spotty dealer network. Compounded by parts supply shortages, Alfa Romero was eventually forced to tuck tails and flee the American market for good, or so it seemed.
That was 25 or so years ago and most people my age or older remember both the good and the bad about Alfa cars which brings me to my point about their American re-entry. Assuming that buyers who can afford it have no reservations about quality, Alfa’s solo entry into the American market, the 4C Coupe promises to be every bit as exciting as the old GTV6 was back in the day. The only problem is that the company can’t assume that Americans have not forgotten why they left our market in the first place. Anyone who could fork out 50-60 or $70k for a sports car who is not some sort of digital millionaire is likely to be old enough to remember Alfa in the ’80s.
Sure Fiat/Chrysler pulls the strings now, but bits of Alfa Romero’s cars currently under pin some of Chrysler’s. Their track record has been good, but they consistently lag behind segment leaders as in the case of the Dodge Dart. A better strategy would have been to bring over a real Giulietta (not just the mutated platform that under pins the Dart and Chrysler 200 ) and the subcompact Mito to create market share and prove themselves first.
Its easy to see why the 4C arrives first. It’s the perfect halo car for a company with just a few cars in its stable. It’s compact design features a 1.7 liter turbocharged 4 with 237hp. While that does not sound like much, the 4C’s carbon fiber chassis keeps the weigh below 2500lbs. and the mid engine design will improve handling. The hand built coupe will roll out of Modena in limited numbers and come standard with a six speed dual dry clutch automatic transmission. Not that anyone who buys a 4c would really care, but it can reach 34 mpg on the highway, but so can a Golf GTi and Focus ST with similar power ratings.
Two models will be sold with prices will ranging from 60 for the 4C Coupe to $70k for the Launch Edition. That extra $10k get you special interior and exterior trim, larger 18 in wheels xeon lights and special numbered badges.
Despite its Alfa’s small product portfolio nearly all of its cars have won some distinction among performance enthusiasts in Europe. This positions Alfa Romeo well to be a smaller or more exclusive BMW. The joy of owning an Italian car (that is not a Fiat 200) has been missed on your average Joe American – who just happens to have BMW/Lexus money but wants something a bit more distinctive.
This is where Alfa Romeo could have made a bigger spash on re-entry to the American market. Ti’s not too late of course to introduce the next Giuletta here and maybe while they were at it the Mito as a upmarket alternative to the Fiat 200.
A part of me still loves the quirky Italian cars of the ’80s and early ’90s and wants Alfa to make a successful comeback. Today no car company can exist with shoddy quality. The Italians must have made some improvements to have come this far. Ferrari is a good example of how they have made their cars more ‘user friendly’ for everyday situations, but they are in a different price category all together. The 4C might seem over priced, but for the design and performance passion that comes from an Italian sports car, it could be considered a bargain undercutting the cheapest Ferrari by nearly 160K!
If Hyundai and Kia can become emerging world standards, than there’s no reason Alfa Romeo can’t maintain their design heritage while attaining Lexus like quality at a price point that was more in line with their inflation adjusted prices from 30 in America . For the money they are asking for the 4C, I would expect no less.