Beverly Hills Lingual Institute
Beverly Hills Lingual Institute
Beverly Hills Lingual Institute
Beverly Hills Lingual Institute

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When I See an Alfa Romeo go by, I Tip my Hat

1931 Alfa Romeo 7C 2300 Monza
Tazio Nuvolari
2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
Alfa Romeo Giulia @ Detroit 2017

So said Henry Ford in 1939. He'd watched Enzo Ferrari, Tazio Nuvolari, and Juan Manuel Fangio dominate Le Mans for a decade. Indeed, so commanding was Alfa's lead that, seeking a real challenge, Nuvolari had once foregone four-wheeled competition altogether and pit his Alfa against a biplane.

As you may have heard, after (effectively) a twenty-one-year absence from America, Alfa Romeo is back. The return comes five years later than its Fiat owner had planned; but, in true Italian style, one doesn't rush these things.

It's hard to think of an Alfa which has been as complete a car as its German and Japanese rivals, and indeed there has probably never been one.

BMW M5 @ Detroit 2017
2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

Whereas a good BMW can be counted upon to be a consistently precise driving tool, a good Alfa is a characterful machine that, for better or worse, is more than the sum of its parts. The Alfa driver, the narrative would have it, judges a car primarily on how it makes them feel, rather than on what it can do. California's most popular classic Alfa, the Spider, dates back to a time when sportiness meant involvement rather than ultimate grip.

The Alfa Romeo brand promise is the class of a diva and the temperament of a stallion. It is a noble goal, but has there been an Alfa which has lived up to it?

1967 Alfa Romeo 1750 GT Veloce
2006 Alfa Romeo Brera
2002 Alfa Romeo 156 GTA
Alfa Romeo 159 with classic 1750

It matters not. Through all its tragic flaws, Alfa has remained desirable, sometimes even desperately so, and over more accomplished competition, often for no rational reason.

A good Alfa floods the senses, bombarding with sensations in much the way an arm-waving Italian waiter might. As motoring journalist and presenter Jeremy Clarkson once put it, "You don't get the food any faster, but it's more exciting somehow."

1967 Alfa Romeo 1750 Spider Veloce
1966 Alfa Romeo Spider 1600 Duetto

To love the Alfas of old required a blissful, childlike ignorance of panel gaps, rattles, leaks and squeaks; for the privilege of sweaty palms, blipping cold starts, peaky motors, and assorted cammy theater. Indeed, a good Alfa provides a little drama for its driver to pit their wits against, in a manner that with more modern technology has grown less intimidating, but has ever been intimate and curiously friendly.

As you might expect from an Italian car, much of an Alfa is art which, rather than adding to the overall function of the car, distracts from it. "It shows the world that you put aesthetics above practicality and you won't simply run with the pack," Clarkson mused.

The brand has had many a new dawn. "Such is the lingering glamor of the Alfa Romeo name that even rivals wish it well," wrote The Economist several years ago.

Goodwill has not always translated into sales. Initial attraction does not always lead to a long-term partnership. Equally, many today desire but would not recommend an Alfa.

This time, Alfa insists that it has its quality down. Judging by early tests, too, the new Giulia sedan and coming Stelvio SUV are far more complete and ultimately more capable than their predecessors.

Time will tell how well we will remember them.

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