I have had the pleasure and the pain over the last 30+ years of owning and driving almost every model that has been produced by Alfa Romeo. I have had a Sud that dissolved and a 155 that was more Fiat than Alfa and I think it might be a good idea this year to run through the fun and foibles of my six favourite Alfas from the last 50 years. This list will be different for every reader and this is a purely personal choice.
So at number 6 is the Alfa Romeo 75 and I am afraid it isn't the V6. The Twin Spark gets my vote. Yes, the V6 is glorious but this is a bit like saying that a ruby is better than that a sapphire, you want them both. So why the 75 TS? The simple answer is that it is a slightly better-balanced car than its bigger sibling. I know a lot of readers will be aware that the 75 is an evolution of the Alfetta chassis which was released in the early 70s. I hate to say it but the Alfetta is a flawed car; the gear change is awful so how someone signed it off at the design stage I don't understand, as far as I am concerned they should have been shot! The 75 is a bit of an odd beast looks-wise, it looks like it was designed by three different designers who were not talking to each other. One did the front, the second did the doors and the third was responsible for the boot. There is a simple reason for this, the 75 uses the doors from the Giulietta and therefore Alfa did not have to go to the expense of re-tooling 4 doors and you have to remember that Alfa were in dire straits financially at this point in their history (nothing new there then!). The 75 Twin Spark is really the first Alfa that feels like a modern car to drive it has all of the luxuries we expect today; it has power steering, fuel injection and electric windows.
The engine was an evolution of the old 2.0 litre Nord engine that was originally found in the Giulia although the only common part was the crankshaft itself, the block having four extra oil ways to feed the camshaft bearing caps and the head is entirely different to anything that went before. The Twin Spark head fairly obviously has two spark plugs per cylinder but less well known is the fact that it has variable camshaft timing on the inlet camshaft, this was not a first for Alfa as it had been used on the Alfetta gold cloverleaf but it was the only car using variable cam timing at the time. The use of all this "new" technology took the power output up to nearly 150 bhp which made it pretty useful. The 2.0 was still one of the most advanced engine designs at that time, there was nothing produced by any of the mass production manufacturers that compared with it. The only thing that gave away its age was the bore stroke ratio, the engine has a longer stroke than its bore size which was quite unusual by the 1980s. By this time most manufacturers of performance cars had started to use four valves per cylinder, unusually the 75 only had two valves per cylinder. There were plans to produce both a three-valve per cylinder and a four-valve per cylinder engine which would have been interesting, unfortunately, plans for these engines were shelved with the Fiat takeover.
Drive from the engine was fed to the gearbox and clutch by a "live" prop shaft. In service, this was one of the major issues with the 75, almost no one seemed to be able to put the prop together correctly and even today on the rare occasions that we get a 75 in it is not unusual to find the prop out of joint, which causes the engine to feel very rough. When the drive reaches the gearbox it then has to spin up another flywheel with the clutch attached. This huge mass attached to the crank slows the response of the engine and also exacerbates wear on the synchros. The prop shaft and gearbox on a Twin Spark and a V6 are very different, the V6 is altogether beefier, the Twin Spark uses a push-type clutch while a V6 uses a pull-type, even the output flanges to the drive shafts were beefed up on V6s. The Twin Spark gearbox also benefits from the installation of a plate-type limited-slip differential (LSD) which helps considerably with the handling and enjoyment of the car.
In the cabin Alfa managed to create mayhem, as usual, the first acquaintance with the handbrake is always interesting for any potential driver, however with time this becomes very natural. The front electric window switches are in the roof, exactly as you would expect and the glove box will open as you accelerate, mmmm I wonder why BMW drivers think we are a bit mad? However it does work dynamically, the controls are light and work effectively, the gear lever is altogether more direct than the Alfetta thanks to the iso-static linkage. Being rear-wheel drive and having an LSD it is quite easy to get the car to some interesting angles but this is not for the faint-hearted as once the rear end is on the move you do have to catch it quite quickly or you will spin. The 75 has plenty of space in the rear for two normal humans with legs and on the Twin Spark the petrol tank is under the floor so the boot is large enough for a sensible amount of luggage.
Nowadays owning a 75 Twin Spark is an interesting experience as the model is not well supported at all. While a lot of mechanical parts are shared with the Alfetta range, body parts are unavailable which means that anybody damage or external trim is only available from a scrap car which is becoming scarce and expensive now. Day to day maintenance is relatively easy and the car does have an engine management computer with a basic fault diagnosis system on it which can help with problems on the fuel injection system. Common problems with the electrics are usually related to the loom connectors, and the heated rear window connection at the base of the A-pillar on the passenger side is a regular source of many issues. The engine itself is pretty bulletproof and will easily do 150,000 miles, the timing chain will need to be tensioned occasionally and it is worth checking the cam timing when you do the tappet clearances. The main issues with the engine are caused by the relays located in the exhaust side of the engine bay, these are still available and it is worth changing them every 10 years. The gearbox is more of an issue than the engine and the Syncro rings will need to be replaced every 80,000 miles or so or you will find yourself grinding your way into second gear. Suspension is generally trouble-free but it is worth checking the bush at the front of the upper wishbone and the bush at the front of the De Dion as they do need replacing occasionally. The body of the 75 was well rustproofed however it is a 25-year-old Alfa and it will have corrosion issues somewhere. The most common areas for corrosion are around the front jacking points and under the trim that covers the rear wheel arch just where the rear door closes but there can be rust anywhere at all so any prospective purchase needs to be thoroughly checked over.
The Alfa 75 was the last car Alfa Romeo produced on the Alfetta Chassis, and as such is the ultimate evolution of the design and it is considerably more refined than its predecessors with most of the major design flaws addressed. The Alfa 75 was released to mark the 75th anniversary of the company, hence the name, and was the last car produced by Alfa Romeo as an independent manufacturer.
Initially, the car came with either the trusty 1.8 twin carburettor, twin-cam engine or the 2.5 litre V6 12 valve engine. These were soon replaced by the 2.0 litre twin spark and 3.0 litre V6 engines, the 2.5 litre V6 engine remaining in service in the first automatic Alfa Romeo ever produced. The car is front-engined with a transaxle gearbox at the rear, both the 2.0l Twin Spark and the 3.0 Litre V6 came with a limited-slip differential (LSD). This transaxle set-up gave the car very good weight distribution and the LSD made the car very easy to control when pushing on.
Suspension is by double wishbone at the front while the rear has a de-Dion tube located by a Watts linkage, which all helps to keep the wheels perpendicular to the road while keeping the unsprung weight of the running gear to a minimum.
The gear change was improved using a modified and much more positive gear linkage, this was one of the major flaws with the Alfetta chassis and its modification was long overdue.
The interior of the car retained some very quirky Alfa Romeo features with the front electric window switches mounted in the roof, the radio mounted behind the gear lever so you could not easily remove a tape when in 1st,3rd or 5th and a very interesting oddly shaped hand brake. The seating position is very Italian in style with the pedals offset towards the centre of the car and the steering wheel, which is adjustable for both height and reach is still slightly too far away for UK tastes.
The Alfa 75 was styled in house and came in a first and second series. These are easily identified externally with the series 1 having yellow rear lights and flush front grill, and the series 2 had red rear lights and a slightly recessed grill; internally the dash lights turned from red to green. There were however a number of models offered with the Veloce being a very popular option. This had front and rear bumpers derived from the European 75 1.8 litre turbo evolution which was never available in the UK, while the V6 was offered with the cloverleaf and Veloce options.
The 75 Twin Spark engine is of particular interest as it deviated from what was becoming the norm in the way of performance engines at the time and instead of going down the 16 valve route they exploited their experience with twin spark technology and came up with a twin spark design, further enhanced by giving it a variable inlet camshaft controlled by the engine management system. This brought power up to 155 bhp while improving torque and fuel economy as the engine was able to run a lot more cleanly than single plug designs. The twin spark is also probably a better-balanced car than the V6, the weight of the V6 tending to make the V6 understeer unless the driver had a very heavy right foot.
This is the last rear-wheel-drive car Alfa Romeo have produced and while not as affectionately remembered as Alfa Romeo Spiders and Coupes the 75 marked a renascence after the low period of the late 1970s