Alfa in the Family: The 33

Is there life after the Sud? Well at least the Faulkner's new Alfa is red. (Published in 1995)

Most sane individuals would agree that buying a used car under pressure is to be avoided. When that used car is an Alfa, the folly of such a course of action is multiplied ten-fold. However, sometimes the gods favour fools.

Alfa 33For those of you who remember, Part I of this odyssey dealt with our 1978 Alfasud. Despite everything, the Sud was a much loved vehicle and was very much a part of our lives. Most memorably, it was the vehicle in which our newborn son came home from Boothville Maternity Hospital. Alas, both Boothville and the Sud are no more.

Our Italian companion went to meet its maker after being involved in a nose-to-tail accident which rendered it uneconomical to repair. As the vehicle was the family's only means of transport, it was imperative that a replacement be found quickly. We had decided that the replacement had to be a four-door, preferably a hatch-back, run on unleaded fuel and be in good condition. This, of course, pointed to a late-model 33, but as our budget was about $10k, could we find a good one in our price range?

I must admit that the decision to purchase a 33 was not without some doubts. The styling of the model has never held me enthralled- in fact the first time I saw a 33 I was totally underwhelmed! I have always found the Sud very pleasing to the eye- more so than the Sprint or "cockroach" GTV's- and the 33's and 75's seemed too angular for my sense of aesthetics. The low nose and kick-up of the boot line seemed abrupt and forced compared to the curves of the Sud.

The first 33 I drove also left me feeling a bit deflated. What made it worse was that it was a brand new 16 valve Quadrifoglio version that I took for a spin. The vehicle was provided by a dealer at a club night some years ago and the only mitigating circumstance was that it had four adults aboard. I climbed back into our 1300cc Sud at the end of the night with little hesitation.

However, I digress; we were in the market for a new Alfa, and a 33 it had to be. Our search took us to several car dealers on the north side of town that we knew usually had Alfas in their yards. At first, things didn't look too promising. Everything in our price range was a bit ragged around the edges, and ran on leaded fuel.

The best selection we found was at Jim Adness Used Cars at Kedron. We often drive past this yard and usually have a general idea of what there is in stock. The most promising vehicle looked like a slightly worn red cloverleaf, but we then spied a 1988 33 Super sitting off to the side. A visual inspection showed it to be a very clean unit with a good interior: no cracks or warps in the dash, unmarked upholstery and clean carpets.

We had almost forgotten what it was like to have a good interior. Our Sud had its rust exorcised, but the interior was still in a sad state. What would it be like to have a car that didn't have various pieces of dash, hood lining or door handles falling off every time you drove over a bump?

The salesman at Jim Adness was strangely evasive about the 33. He mumbled something about it just having come in, as part of a deal with another yard. He didn't know its history, or what price was going to be on it. Eventually, after a bit of urging, he made some enquiries and we discovered, much to our surprise, that the car was in our price range.

A test drive was arranged and the 33 was found to be surprisingly tight, despite having 140,000 km on the odometer. No doubt this high mileage was a major contributor to the keen price, so a complete mechanical inspection was arranged to find out just what sort of problems we might be buying. The car came through the inspection with flying colours, apart from a question mark on the radiator.

It all seemed too good to be true, especially when the salesman threw in an after-market three-year warrantee. Nevertheless, with a deep breath, the papers were signed and the 33 was driven home.

The first chore was to fit a new child-seat. The other one had survived the Sud accident with no apparent damage, but to be on the safe side, it was cut up and sent to the dump. The 33's compliance plate and owner's manual insisted there were anchorage points, but the diagram showing two black arrows pointing vaguely in the direction of the rear seat was of little help. Eventually, they were located and the seat installed.

Now, in the Sud, a baby seat looked a bit strange, but had a certain amount of style about it. You could even go so far as to say it made a statement: full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes- er, babies. But in the 33, a baby seat looked sort of... well, normal. Perhaps if we sewed a racing stripe down the lambswool cover on the safe-n-sound?

Worse was to come. Over the next few months, the 33 performed without a murmur of discontent. Even the handbrake refused to do anything but work perfectly each and every time it was applied. Ok, the two tinny little speakers mounted under the dash seemed at odds with the reasonable quality Pioneer stereo, but that was small stuff. After the tantrums of the Sud, it was difficult to come to terms with a relatively quiet, well equipped motor car that displayed a reasonable amount of build quality. The familiar Alfa exhaust burble was small consolation for the otherwise lack of personality. As a family member, the car was beginning to be more like a maiden aunt than a wild child.

Fortunately, the 33 began to display a few idiosyncrasies that showed it to be a suitable replacement for the Sud. The Alfa Control- the little computer-controlled sensor display unit mounted on the centre console- began to provide all sorts of spurious information, the fuses for the power windows would blow at regular intervals and the remote boot release would keep working loose. The air conditioning provided an icy blast around your feet, but only a faintly cool breeze at face level. The rear window winder would become detached if the window was wound down past a certain point- necessitating the removal of the inner door panel to reconnect it- and the fuel cap broke into several pieces every time it was removed.

Minor things by comparison to the Sud, perhaps, but truly Alfa.

To celebrate the occasion, we decided to purchase a pair of club number plates. A list of possible combinations was drawn up and a series of phone calls ensued between us, the club and the Department of Transport to determine if our choices were available. Not surprisingly, many of the obvious ones were taken (we've actually seen a 33 with a pair of standard number plates reading ALF-033) and we were half way through our list before we got lucky. Our new plates arrived just before Christmas 1994 and thus our car became FAB-33.

We've become accustomed to the 33 now, but it is hard to shake the desire to continually compare it with the Sud. Moving from a three-door to a five-door hatch has obvious advantages when the car is used for everyday family transport, and the little luxuries such as air-conditioning and power windows have been welcome (even if the choice must be made between air-conditioned comfort or reasonable performance). The car is pleasant to drive and still beats any Japanese car hands down for style and pedigree.

However, as anyone who has been able to make the comparison knows, the 33 is not a patch on the Sud when it comes to handling and sheer driving pleasure, although when we can replace the existing Michelin tyres with some decent Pirellis things might improve. No doubt, in time, we shall come to respect the 33 for what it is and I must admit, I already show a preference for its styling when compared against the latest bodies from Alfa Romeo. Who knows, one day we may look back at the 33 with a lump in our throat and tears in our eyes.

| Alfa in the Family 1: The Sud | Alfa in the Family 3: The 75 |