Value for Money

by Michael Lew (Per Sempre Alfa - April 2000).

"Sweetness", I said. "Lubby", I crooned. "I will never spend any more money on the Duetto", I promised.

"Promise!", I promised yet again, flashing all thirty two pearlies at my wife, the kind of smile which says, "Trust me".

Should have seen her face.

The Duetto has been rebuilt to a standard where to go further would mean a full back to bare metal restoration of concourse standards i.e.: the whole works. Just the kind of restoration we could not afford but one which I would dearly love to do.

But no. My wife had finally drawn the line and to cross it would mean divorce. To lose my wife over a Duetto is simply not worth it. I therefore made a solemn promise to my wife that I would never spend any more money on the Duetto. Three years of spending is enough and I had learnt my lesson.

My word is my honour.

So I went out and bought an Alfetta sedan instead.

It wasn't my fault! I had started a new job in a law firm at Salisbury and needed a daily driver.

Without question, the Duetto could not (and will never) be used as a daily driver.

My daily driver has to be a car which amongst other things, could be driven in all weather conditions including hail, could be parked anywhere anytime, be inconspicuous and if I were to lose it somehow, what the hell. Most importantly, it had to be some form of Alfa.

I scraped up a limited budget (to put it generously) and started to scout around for a car but with my level of budget, names like Beetle, Moke, Lada or even worse, Hyundai came into mind. I got depressed. A Brisbane City Council Bus it will surely have to be.

On my way home to tell Number One the news of my new job, I happened to drive past what is now, the Steel Cat Tyre Centre at Albion. Back then it was known as the Caddieshack used car yard.

For the past three months, I had seen this silver Alfetta sedan sitting forlornly in Caddieshack's yard. No one had bothered to even make an offer on the car. So it just sat there and was used on occasions as the proprietor's staff transport and customer car.

I knew this car's background. It used to belong to a lady customer of Volare Alfa's at Albion. I recall looking at the car once at Volare and commenting that it was really a lovely Alfetta despite my lack of interest in Alfettas.

I believed that all Alfettas were rust buckets, heavy and lacked performance but I always loved the look of the car especially those with four round headlamps.

The Alfetta's lady owner should be commended for what she has done for the car during her ownership. The Alfetta would always be taken to Volare and Volare only for its services and repairs. Unfortunately, being an ageing Alfa, the car simply gave her so much trouble that it was no longer feasible for her to keep it. It simply became a burden so she traded it in.

I recall seeing the car for the last time and telling Scott that I would not really mind buying this car for Lakeside. Funny how things can happen.

The Alfetta was traded, I believe to a dealer in Springwood who in turn, traded it to another dealer who sold it to the Caddieshack, which as fate would have it, is just round the corner from Volare Alfa.

I inspected the car and found it to be in reasonable condition although it had some problems most unusual to Alfas i.e.: rust, crunchy second gear, shonky electrics, non-functioning air conditioner and smoky engine.

To me, the Alfetta was just another Alfetta sedan but to Alfa Romeo, it is a "1982 Alfa Romeo Sportiva II" (anyone ever seen a Sportiva I?) and it even had a gold (coloured only, unfortunately) plaque sitting in the glove box (once fitted to the glove box lid), proudly declaring it as the 13th limited edition Sportiva II in the world. 13th! Trust Michael Lew to pick up the best.

Anyway, the car came with full log books, receipts and service books. I even found a hardcover "Alfetta Workshop Manual" under the driver's seat. Upon perusal,I found that the car was sold new to "Miller & Baldwin Pty Ltd" in Townsville by Lenellis Motors on 26 July 1982. The car then changed hands a few times and on each changing of hands, slowly found its way down to Brisbane.

The car seemed to be very original despite its age. The engine and chassis numbers match and I would not be surprised if the cylinder head has never been removed during its life despite having some silicone (yes, silicone again - story of my life) jammed into a crack where the air condition compressor mounting bracket was bolted. The engine was rattly but the body seemed sound despite some spots of rust.

The car came with a real slippery set of Firstone tyres (special thumping 'out of round' edition) and had factory 15" alloys which looked as if they have been soaking in nuclear waste for years.

The interior duco consisted of some once brown, now green carpet, dark brown seats and smelled like a morgue without electricity. The roof lining was clean and all the gauges worked (keyword here is 'worked'). The car came with a CD player and power amplifier the size of phone book. Good audio three-way speakers too.

Another interesting feature of the car was the ingenious method which Alfa had developed in 1982 to contain rust. Just coat it in rubber. When I kicked the rubber strip on the stainless steel bumper bars, they crunched. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the rubber strip had once contained a strip of Russia's best which has now bio-degraded into rust, as intended I'm sure.

But on the overall, I loved the look of the car. The Sportiva range came with four round headlamps, body striping and front air dam/spoiler which made it look really aggressive.

I just had to have it. Besides, the price was right.

Now, the question is, what would you expect to pay for the 13th Sportiva II in the world? Read on.

I bought the car and took it home to one very unsuspecting wife. I'm told that the ringing in my ears will stop sometime in the near future and the bed in our spare room is very comfortable, thanks.

Once home, I was so convinced that I would only use the Alfetta as transport for twelve months that I did not even wash it for the first two months of ownership. I was going to use it as a basic form of transport whilst saving up for a better car once having settled into my job twelve months on. I made a promise to myself that I would not spend any money on it.Worse still, I made that promise when I was smiling at myself in a mirror. My smile definitely said,' Trust me'. All thirty two pearlies showing.

During the first two months of ownership, No.13 took me to various places rather reliably I must admit. Together, we trotted to Toowoomba on a few occasions, meandered five hours west to Meandarra via unsealed roads twice, swanked at Main Beach, Gold Coast once and up to Noosa and Mooloolaba, at least twice. All this in addition to a daily sixty kilometer round trip to work, five days a week.

At all times, I have found the Alfetta to be comfortable and most importantly, it handled well. The car felt stable at high speeds on the highway and was very sure footed in the mountain corners. Fun on dirt roads especially when wet. The 50/50 weight distribution brought about by locating the gearbox at the back, certainly shows especially in the corners. Heaps of torque for a tired old engine with smoothness helped along by having two flywheels, one in the front and the other in the rear.

The air conditioning is superb so long as the windows are down and in the first rain, the car leaked water and blew up both the CD player and half the fuse box which acted as a rainwater tank under the dash. One minute, I had ABBA singing, wipers, headlights and indicators, next minute, squat and three cylinders.

Story of my life all over again.

I have two Alfa's and both leak water.

Did I forget to mention the Alfetta also came with a spider which has a bad habit of running over your thighs in the dark? Until today, I still do not know what it looks like but suffice to say it is big. I attempted to lure it out with all varieties of sweet spider snacks but now, in addition to the spider, I have an ant's nest somewhere under the carpets. All our cars have some form of Australian wildlife in them; the Duetto has a spider and a cockroach, the Camry a gecko and now this. A lousy friend even suggested I throw in a snake to eat everything else in the car. Very funny.

Anyway, after two months, I came to love the Alfetta so much that I broke my promise (surprise, surprise) and spent money to have the second synchro in the gearbox replaced. My fun in driving the car was spoilt each time I had to count to three when changing up from first or down from third.

With Scott of Volare away on holidays, Steve Faggioni of Alfaservice did a splendid job on the gearbox within a day. Not only did he replace the second synchro, he did a swap job on the many cogs in order to spread even, the wear and tear on each cog. He even cured the reverse lights (simply by plugging in the switch) thereby removing my newly formed habit of sticking my head out the window yelling to people to stand clear when reversing or sticking a torch out the back to see where I was reversing at nights.

This done, I continued to use the car reliably, thus reinforcing my belief that Alfas can be reliable so long as they are properly cared for.

I also repaired the once dead windshield spray motor, cleared its clogged jets, stopped the radiator leak, fixed the blown fuse box and relays, replaced the CD player, removed lose wires under the dash, fixed the broken drivers side door lock, secured the left rear passenger window in the wound up position with two large bolts, did my usual 'rust-proofing' and threw out the redundant air conditioning systems, all 12 kilos of it.

I also flea bombed the car but this did not kill the spider.

Then came Lakeside.

Whilst using the car to ferry me around the bush and Brisbane, I professionally prepared the car for its first sprint meeting at Lakeside (topped up the oil, all two litres of it and making it go faster by fitting two Quadrifoglio triangular stickers to its flanks).

My first sprint meet in the Alfetta took place late in '99. The Alfetta performed well and managed to keep ahead of other competitors, or was I being lapped from behind? Not sure. I am told that the smoke actually hid the Alfetta from sight. Seriously though, the smoky engine actually lost some of its smoke and the engine, despite being a very tired standard two litre, managed to rev well into the red line all day long without any damage being inflicted. This sprint meeting at Lakeside cemented into posterity, my love for No.13. I used to sprint in the Duetto which, amongst other things, was loud and exposed but in No.13, things were different.

Besides being my daily hack, I now have a club car which;

The only downside with the Alfetta was that it did not handle like the Duetto. No.13 rolled like the Poseidon Adventure and slid around corners like a cat on wet marble. It would not keep straight on straights and the tyres thump from having permanent flat spots.

Having convinced my wife that she drives a late model air conditioned car whilst I am compelled to slog around in a leaky, rusty, non-air-conditioned 18 year old car which was not wholly roadworthy thus risking life and limb each time I travel to work in order to keep the bills down, I received a grant to upgrade No.13.

Firstly, I replaced the old dampers with yellow Bilstein Adjustable dampers. Then, the front sway bar was replaced with a thicker unit. Some new bushes, tie rods and ball joints went in next and finally, shorter and fatter King Springs went in the rear. I resisted the 'Boy Racer' image by lowering the car excessively without reason. I only reduced the overall height of the car between 15mm to 20mm ensuring that the car was still practical enough to drive both on the race track and on public roads. The old Firestones were given the flick by Tyretech and Yokohama A520's (195 x 60 x 15) were fitted.

I took the car back to Lakeside on 4 March 2000 and dropped my personal best by 2 seconds eventhough some Club hoon in a cream coloured Guiletta 1.8 did 1 second faster during his first attempt. Wait till I tell his wife what he did to their only car when she was away in New Zealand at the time; that'll slow him down a "but".

By this time, my wife and I started to realise that No.13 had become an integral part of our lives. Yes, my wife. Question: How do you make your wife love an old 18 year old Alfetta? Answer: fit a CD player. Seriously though, even my wife has started to enjoy driving the Alfetta. She loves the way "it steers" (corners?) and how it accelerates. She has finally seen The Light and I am happy as Larry. Now an Alfetta, next a GTV perhaps?

Unfortunately or fortunately, Alfetta sedans are severely under appreciated despite their positive attributes. Due to a variety of reasons ranging from dubious build quality to rust, Alfetta sedans are worth less than the amount of depreciation suffered by most modern cars in a single year. However to me, this is one of the main strengths of buying an Alfetta sedan. For the money you pay to own one, you would have a highly useable, easily disposable, non-depreciating, high performance, race-bred, daily driver, club car with lots of change to spare when compared to buying most other cars.

Why spend a deposit for a house on a new two litre car built by accountants, just to sell it one year later for biscuits when you could buy an Alfetta sedan for the cost of a dishwasher, use (thrash) it for a year before dumping it for another cheap Alfetta, without blowing up the bank (with parts to spare)?

Better still, you could spend a small portion of your house deposit to buy a fleet of Alfetta sedans, store them whilst using one at a time. When one gives up the ghost, just strip off the good bits, dump the car (for $40 it gets collected from your home) go to your storage shed and pull out another for use. A new car every year!

Convinced? Well, I am! Our No.13 is capable of being used for all the above reasons.

Now, you ask, how much did I pay for the Alfetta as it stands today?


Value for Money or What?

(Editor's Note: Unfortunately, Michael's plan for a cheap and cheerful Alfetta daily commuter didn't last long. Over the next couple of years, substantial amounts of the Lews' bank account found their way into the car, culminating in a professionally prepared rally car that Michael entered in the 2002 Classic Adelaide Rally - but that's another story...)