Per Sempre Alfa is the offical magazine of the Alfa Romeo Owners Club of Australia (Queensland Division). This is an on-line version of an article originally printed in the magazine and is subject to the Australian Copyright Act. Other than for the purposes of and subject to the conditions prescribed under the Copyright Act, no part of this work may in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, or otherwise) be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted without prior written permission.
As Ian Hyland discovers, when you buy a classic car, you get more than just metal and rubber - you also get a slice of history. Every car has a story to tell, and each year of your ownership adds another chapter.
I've been talking to editor Keith Faulkner for a long time about doing a story on my Giulia Super experience. In a way, it's fortunate that so many years have passed; the experience is now much richer and will make more interesting reading - indeed more heartening reading.
Coming from New Zealand originally in the early 1970s, my earliest recollection of these cars was them winning the Benson & Hedges six-hour production car race at Pukekohe around that time. In Sydney, I often used to visit Mildrens out on Parramatta Road (the used car division). I always lusted after a GTV105, but when I drove one, I wasn't all that impressed.
The salesman suggested I test a Giulia Super and I was hooked - even went to the extent of putting down a deposit on one. Shortly after, however, came the opportunity to take a job in PNG so the Alfa idea was put away as a dream for a few more years. When eventually we went to buy our first Alfa, it was 1977 and I'd set my heart on an Alfetta GTV. I went and drove one but found the headroom too claustrophobic. It was suggested I test an Alfetta Saloon. I loved it, bought it, and so began my love affair with all things Alfa Romeo.
Fast forward to the early nineties; we had emigrated back to Brisbane and were able to indulge my Alfa fantasies again. Firstly I bought a lovely 1750 GTV, then as a daily driver my second 75 Twin Spark. Around this time I got involved with AROCA and got a real buzz from the encouragement people like Richard Anderson gave us. It was at my first Driver Training Day at Mt Cotton that the seed was sown; I was looking at Peter Brown's Giulia Super. Richard Anderson had built it and it was rumoured that it was pretty special. Well it didn't look anything special to me; a bit tatty if you like, but it had a 2-litre motor, big brakes and apparently handled very well.
Peter Brown, being the sot of bloke he is, very kindly offered me a drive. Unlike the GTV, which was very tail-happy, the Giulia Super seemed impossible to spin. It had superb steering and could be put wherever you wanted it on the circuit. In short, a really Super little car. Don't forget those first impressions, because they come into play later in the story.
With a little too much money in my pocket, I began thinking of another Alfa, maybe something the family could enjoy with me. Pity I didn't consult with them on this issue because it too had implications I didn't realise at the time. Okay, a few months later, I'm browsing in Unique Cars and blow me down, here's a fully restored Giulia down in Adelaide. Big money though; I think around AUD$10,000 was the ask.
So I phone the guy - he's pleasant and knowledgeable - and he tells me the car belonged to a family friend, had a minor accident and had been restored over a long period of time. Within a few days, he'd sent me a load of photographs, receipts and record of restoration. So, I ignored the two golden rules of classic car dealing and bought a car sight unseen which had apparently been restored but had not been substantiated.
The car arrived just prior to Christmas and as I drove it along Beaudesert Road en-route to my factory, I remember thinking that it wasn't quite like Peter Brown's had felt to drive. Never mind, I thought, it's got a lovely interior and I'm sure my good mate Norm Golding at Alfamotive would be quickly be able to bring it up to scratch.
After a week or so with Norm, the brakes were working, it idled again and we'd pinpointed what we thought were a few minor faults. To sort of clear our minds about these faults, I took the car to Alfa Guru, Richard Anderson. My thinking was that he'd built Peter Brown's car and the London-to-Sydney car, had an intimate knowledge of Giulias and so would be able to put his finger on what needed doing. As we drove around Albion, Richard kept remarking that the thing had a mind of its own, ducking an weaving all over the road, especially under braking. He had a good look around underneath but couldn't see anything massively wrong. Then he gave me a real shock, suggesting that the chassis may be a bit twisted - everything didn't look quite square. His next suggesting was that we buy a good shell that he knew off and make a new car using the mechanicals of my Super. I couldn't see myself building a bits car, if you like, so that idea was not seriously considered, but Norm and I devised a plan to right things. First on the list was a reconditioned steering box, not big money but piece of mind that a major component was right. At the same time we rebushed all the suspension with urethane bushes, reset the springs, lowered the car slightly and put in a set of Koni dampers.
That must make things square, I thought, and sure enough it did drive a lot better, even turned corners and stopped in a straight line. Funny thing, though, it seemed to have a droop on the front LH corner. We checked and rechecked the springs - it was level all round, seemed to be all square, bur still had a sad looking front end. What could it be?
After I finished writing Part 1 of this article, I went through my file of invoices to see where my Giulia Super and I had been.
As I mentioned previously, we did some pretty major work on the suspension and steering in an effort to get it all square, level and correct so the car would track and drive properly. I should point out that among these suspension mods were Avanti Spares' adjustable camber upper control arms. These are really a must for camber adjustment if you intend doing any competition work at all and I have used them on all my 105 cars.
So, we get the car pointing right and then we decide that the engine needs more than a mere tune-up. Despite copious receipts from its previous Adelaide owner, the engine rebuild had not been well done. The work had been carried out by a recognised authority in South Australia no doubt, but he wanted to know nothing of the problems we were having. Never mind, I've got my tried and trusted friend at Alfamotive who seems to enjoy these cars as much as I do.
So it's out with the motor and yes, it needs a total rebuild. It's an original 1600cc - a sweet little motor and that's what we want to recapture. The first thing needed was a crank re-grind, then new pistons, liners, rings and bearings. Moving on to the head, all the valves were replaced and new timing chains installed. It really was a major rebuild and I'm still scared to look at the bottom line five years later.
While the motor was out, we took the opportunity to to push the car next door and have the engine bay resprayed so that it looked right, not the tacky gloss black favoured by the previous owner.
Over the next year, my receipt file tells me we carried on with our mechanical rebuild. The gearbox came out for a total rebuild and or course at the same time we put in a new clutch, clutch cable and new clutch booster. As we'd gone that far, why not rebuild the tailshaft and put in a new exhaust system.
Crikey, looking at it now, it seems the only thing that hasn't been rebuilt is the rear axle. However, it has never given us any problem - cross fingers - and I hope that continues.
The gearbox, however, was another matter again. Although it had been rebuilt, as I headed south to the 1996 McLeans Bridge Day, the damn thing kept slipping out of fifth gear. The gearbox was in and out three times, I think, before the problem was fixed - in the end it was something simple like a pressure spring that wouldn't hold it in fifth any longer. All this rework was covered under warranty by Alfamotive and is one of the reasons I use "Norm's Place" almost exclusively for my Alfas.
By this time in the story, I'd had the use of my Giulia for a full year and I was happy with the way it performed and handled. However, it still had this droopy look about it on the front left hand corner. The guards seemed to hang over despite all our suspension work and so on. I'm thinking about this all the time and then Peter Brown arrives at a meeting with his Super freshly repainted. As usual, we are comparing notes and I then make another decision: What the heck, let's have the car repainted - really spruce it up as a follow on from all the mechanical restoration we've done.
So, away I go to Rust Rite at Clontarf, who Peter had recommended. They suggest that I can save some money by stripping the car myself. So, over one weekend, we gut the interior, take all the external brightwork and the like off it. No problem really. I tape and label all the wiring as we go so it will be easy to put it back together.
When the car went off to Rust Rite, we asked for it to be put on the chassis jig to see if we can rectify that sad droopy front corner. Sure enough, that chassis leg was well out of kilter and they arrange to pull it 25mm back to square. At the same time, the front guard is cut off, realigned, and then welded back back on. Over the next month or two, any rust is cut out and the car eventually re-emerges in a coat of deep and shiny Blue Polippo. We also put in a new windscreen - still available from Protector Glass. The finished car looked pretty good on the traytop delivering it to my home.
Into the garage it goes, ready for all the new door seals and fittings I had been accumulating for some months. Well, it only took us 2-3 days to disassemble it, but I have to confess it was nearly 12 months before it was put back together.
This was the second Alfa I had restored, but I have to say the Super is a different kettle of fish to the 105 Coupe. On the sedan there are four doors - twice as many door seals - and such is the design of these that they are extremely difficult to fit. Each one took a full day. On each door there are both inner and outer stainless steel door trims so there was at least a weeks worth of work for each complete door. I used all new stainless screws and there were all sorts of rubber seals and grommets and plugs - it goes on and on.
Quite often, it got so frustrating, the only way to handle it was to walk away. This policy always works for me and I'm sure it does for other restorers as well.
There were many times I wished I hadn't agreed to Rust Rite's suggestion that we dismantle and reassemble at my place. It might have saved me two or three hundred dollars, but it cost me a lot of heartache instead.
Around this time, I realised that Alfesta was fast approaching and we made an effort to get the car going. Otherwise, I would be Alfa-less, as the 1750 GTV had gone off to play Targa Tasmania with a new owner.
In the week before Alfesta, I got a new roadworthy and raced off to register the car on historic plates. It looked and drove well; no more sad and droopy front end.
We put on a new set of Michelin 165 R15's and parked it ready for Alfesta. Easter Friday, and I'm up early for breakfast and then out to the garage to get the car ready for the Alfesta run up to Binna Burra. Now, the Giulia starts beautifully, usually; just one turn of the key and it's away. This day, however, the battery was dead - and I mean dead! Being Easter Friday, nobody was open so I couldn't source a new battery. The car sat in the garage another day while I journeyed up to Binna Burra as a passenger thanks to my mate Michael Justice.
On the Saturday, I got a new battery and at last I was able to show off the little devil. At the South Bank Car Show I was able to find out a lot more about these super little cars from our southern Alfesta visitors.
Now this isn't the end of the story by any mean. Next month, I'll cover the developments we've experienced over the last two or three years. Come along for the ride!
After my experiences over the Alfesta weekend in 1998, I had come to the understanding that although we had totally rebuilt the body and mechanicals of the Giulia Super, we still had a lot of refinements to go through to get it right.
At the time, the Super was the only Alfa in my possession so I was able to spend each weekend going through the list of must-dos trying to make it better. This was all happening while I enjoyed the position of Competition Secretary within the Cub and I got plenty of motivation from from fellow members who were always ready to offer advice, tips and contacts at various events. Truth is, this motivation kept me right on the ball for two or three years and proves just what you can get out of really being involved in your Club.
Remember the droopy, sad looking front end of this car? Well we had straightened that out and it looked pretty good. However, that made the grill look pretty ordinary. On one of my annual trips to NZ, I came across a company in Christchurch called Brightwork Supplies who reckoned they could straighten the grill. One of my staff was going over on holidays, so I stuck it under his arm and off it went. A couple of days later I got a call from NZ. Uh-oh.
“Yes we reckon we can fix it, but it’s in a bad way and could be expensive.”
“How much?” I ask.
“Oh, around $100,” was the reply.
“Ok, just do it.”
A couple of weeks later my brother came over for Indy with the grill tucked under his arm - beautiful, all straight and shiny and freshly re-chromed. The price - NZ$100 - what a bargain.
Around this time, we also realised the drivetrain was not well, so out with the tailshaft for a total rebuild and rebalance. No vibration any more. Our attention then turned to the clutch, which had become very heavy for around town driving, so we replaced the clutch booster and while we were at it we replaced the clutch cable. Getting under the car to pull the tailshaft out was a mistake; I found some holes in the muffler, so we bought a new exhaust system and mufflers. I would have to say this still concerns me, because to my ear, on startup, the engine sounds a bit tinny and reminiscent of a rotary Mazda I once owned. However, once warmed up, it is fine, and from the outside it seems pretty normal and certainly not as noisy as some of the rorty Alfas my mates arrive at my place driving.
By now it’s 1999 and I’ve had the use of the car for a full year. Wherever I go, it attracts attention. Some people laugh at it, others admire it and many times at Classic Car shows people talk to me about the one they used to own some thirty years ago. In my household, however, my wife and daughter refer to it as “The Ugly Car” and refuse to have anything to do with it. On the other hand, soon after my son got his license, he asked for a drive as we came back from a Club outing at Dick Johnson Racing one day. He and a seventeen-year-old mate were amazed at how well the Super went, discussed the technical issues with me and reckoned it was a lot better than the Corolla or Falcon they drove. Ah, success at last - another convert to European cars!
Late in 1999, we booked to visit North America for a month and I decided to offer the car to Keith Faulkner while we were away. Keith was temporarily Alfa-less and had always shown great interest in the car. What better idea than to loan it to him so he can keep doing Club events and keep the little thing running while I’m away? [The Giulia Affair]
On my return, I wasn’t in a hurry to pick it up, so I left it for another month. Typical Keith, when it came back to me it was immaculate and in his usual way, he had even sorted through a few minor problems with it. I was wrapped. During his time with it, Keith also researched the model meticulously and gave us all a good rundown on the development of this series in a magazine article last year. I think Rowan even got to choosing a name for this one as well.
Around the middle of year 2000, I got tired of the limited turning circle on the Giulia, talked to many people about it but came to no conclusion. Eventually, Michael Lew told me about a suspension specialist up at Caboolture. So it was that one Saturday morning I called on Kev Hayes up there for a full camber, caster and wheel alignment. The computerised equipment used was most impressive and the car was certainly a lot lighter to drive. However, a couple of ball joints need replacing so it still requires another session up there before it will be right.
Coming up on to the end of last year, the Club advertised a Sprint Day at Morgan Park, Warwick. I had seen the track before and knew it was short and tight. At the time, my 105 GTV was minus mechanicals and en-route to the paint shop. What could I use? Why not the Giulia Super? Cruising down to Warwick in convoy with the other members, we found that my 60mph cruise speed was quicker than other Club members at 100kph and it is a nice quick little tourer.
I hadn’t driven the car over 4000rpm before, but on this day at Warwick, I gradually worked up to 6000rpm and used only second and third gears around the circuit. At the end of the day, I felt almost born again; I hadn’t been on a circuit for more or less twelve months - house painting and maintenance chores meant I had a year off. The Giulia Super inspired enormous confidence; you could really carry some speed into the corners even though it leaned over alarmingly at times. The skinny little Michelins had no grip, but this meant I could slide the little thing out at will exiting the corners. Not a lot of power out of the 1600 motor, but you could wheelspin out of a couple of corners and just hold the tail out on opposite lock wherever you wanted it to be. In contrast to the 105 Coupes I own, this car is just so controllable and predictable. I finished the day on a real high; I haven’t had so much fun in a motor car since driving my Formula Ford some years ago.
It really makes you wonder why we all go down the path of building, restoring and racing 105 Coupes when, in my experience, the sedan is the nicer car. Why then, am I embarking on another 105 Coupe racecar? It must be the exotic looks and countless photos we see of them in competition.
This year, we have continued to work on “Julie Super” or “The Ugly Car” (depending on which member of my family you talk to). We’ve sorted out the oil leaks (yes, Ken) and had it in the panel shops for minor touch-ups and refitting of the grill, etc. Living with a Giulia Super is just an ongoing experience; I’m sure we’ll get it perfect one day. We’ve just this weekend completed the Midnight to Dawn Rally in it - came last as it happens - but travelled in style and comfort and after the run agreed that it was just the car for such an event. Come and have a look at it the next time you see us at an Club outing.