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Alfa Romeo Alfasud Sprint


Alfasud Sprint


The Ultimate Alfa Sud Sprint 6C with a 2.5 V6 amidships



Some original shots of the series one Sprint




The classic 95 bhp twin carb engine

1st October 2014

In a different time it was considered good for companies to be owned by the state where everything would be run by the people for the people and in this time there was conceived a car for the people, to be built by the people. Unfortunately for Alfa the people concerned were more used to producing olive oil than assembling cars and this car was to be second on my list of my favorite Alfa's!

You know it, second on my list of the best Alfa's of the last 50 years is the Alfa Sud, yes the alka-seltzer of cars makes it nearly to the top of my list of favorite cars. How can a car so badly made get so high on the list? The answer is simple, it is an absolutely brilliant piece of design! Even today no small car gets close to it, yes I know that modern cars have incredibly sophisticated electronics but they are made to a budget. In many ways the Alfa Sud had no concept of budgets, it has got to be one of the more complicated and expensive small cars to produce. The list price was £935 in 1972 comparable to an Austin 1300 GT, however like the rest of my top six Alfa Romeo's there is one model in the range that I like above the rest and that is the Alfa Sud Sprint 1.5 with the 95 bhp twin carb engine. It was the fourth Alfa I ever drove but the first one I ever owned, the three before it were good but I didn't have to have them, the Sud Sprint I had to have. To put my finger on why a Sud was so good is difficult, but I think it boils down to attention to detail at the design stage. Yes I know some of the details are mad, like putting the interior fan on the column switch where the wipers should be; why? But making a flat 4 where the big end bearings could be changed without removing the engine; inspired. With all other horizontally opposed engines I can think of, the engine has to be removed and the crank case split to do any repairs on it or the bearings.  

The Alfa Sud should have been the making of Alfa Romeo, however let us just for a second have a look at VW's offering of the time, the MK1 Golf, and compare it to the Sud; arguably the Golf was the car that made VW. Firstly the Golf's brakes were useless, you could literally and I do mean literally press the brake pedal to the floor and even then retardation was mediocre. Then there was the chassis, where the rear beam axle was bolted on it used to rot out and had to be repaired at significant cost, not perhaps the best beginning for the now mighty Golf. However whereas the Golf had a slight issue (which was addressed very quickly) the Sud could, if used anywhere near water or in a salty atmosphere, fail its first MOT. Unlike the original Sud, the Golf was a hatchback and I suspect that this was a big factor in VW making its name and I know that VW's dealer network was shall we say more supportive!

To this day I can remember my first Alfa in detail, KMR766X a dark blue chrome bumper Sud Sprint, dark brown carpets?!?! with light blue seats, when I bought it, it had fiberglass wings (I wonder why!) and it was brilliant. At the time I lived in a village about 3 miles from the nearest town, the road between the two was superb and it is still one of my favorite roads. Nice and wide, no real issues with cars coming towards you and winding; perfect for a Sud. To this day I don’t think there is much that would keep up with a Sud down that particular road. I recall a few days after I bought it going down to the local pub, the White Horse, and meeting Ted Pearson. After years of me taking the p**s out of his Alfa Sud 1.3SC, oh how he got his own back, it was merciless, there were absolutely no prisoners at the bar that night! On another occasion I went up to Wreslingworth to a garage and I remember this "old boy" (sorry but I was 23!) with a pronounced limp coming out. I was after some advice on something or other and it involved taking my car for a road test. Jesus H Christ I had never been so fast in any car in my life, the fact that it was my own car only made it more terrifying; that was my introduction to Jon Dooley! 

Being a “yoof” at that time the poor old Sud Sprint got modified, Koni adjustable shocks were almost mandatory as were uprated springs. You could also change the bushes in one of the rear arms and fit heavier duty ones which reduced the roll at the rear. Tyres of choice were Yokohama A001's, then of course one had to fit the gearbox out of a 1.2Ti as it had closer ratio's, by this time the car was starting to get quite quick. You could get a bit more power out of the engine by fitting the carbs and exhausts from a 105 bhp engine, so they were duly acquired and fitted. Finally she got painted a stunning pearl blue, a bit like misano blue metallic that Alfa used on the Brera. At the end of it all what a car, automotive perfection, I was hooked, I had caught virus Alfa!

I have mentioned that the technical aspects of the Sud are very good, and that nothing really gets close dynamically in this size car even today, which is easy to say but it does need a bit of justification. So lets look initially at the engine choice. All engine weight in front of the axle tends to make a car understeer (go straight on) and more weight higher up in the car lifts the center of gravity (=bad), so all the weight needs to be kept as close to the axle line as possible and as low as possible. There are three basic engine designs; inline, V or horizontally opposed (Boxer) and the engine can be mounted longitudinally (front to back) or transversely (side to side). This gives 5 basic configurations, as I have never seen a boxer engine mounted transversely! Inline longitudinally, like Audi in the late 80's, which takes the mass of the engine a long way in front of the axle; inline transverse, like nearly all modern front wheel drive cars, which lifts up the center of gravity; a longitudinal V, like a lot of Lancia's in the 70's, where the weight is not very far forward but it is still quite high; a transverse V, e.g. the Alfa Romeo GTA, I take it we have all seen how this beast of an engine just takes up the whole engine bay, no further explanation is really needed regarding where the weight is; or a boxer engine longitudinally like the sud, compact, as near as possible to the axle line and low, very low. If you have ever changed the plugs you will know what I mean. So by using a boxer engine the weight is as low as possible and as far back in the chassis as possible and this was the solution that Rudolfo Hruska used. The use of a boxer engine longitudinally with the gear box directly behind it along the center line of the car meant that both of the drive shafts were the same length. This eliminated torque steer and by having the differential between the engine and the gear box the length of the gear linkage was also shorter.

The Sud's Sprints brakes were also a revelation, if set up properly with a decent set of brake pads they were very effective. On a car that weighed in at 890 kg (note; 5 kg less than the 4C) disk brakes all round were almost overkill at the time when most cars had only just converted to disk brakes on the front! Then there was the fact that the sud had quite big disks on the front; they were just over 10 inches in diameter, but as they were onboard there was no need to fit a 13 inch wheel. However while the design was brilliant and in the hands of a reasonably competent mechanic, setting them up was not an issue. If they were badly set up or you used the wrong pad the results were less than perfect and changing a handbrake cable is a pig!

However the Suds trump card was always its handling, again this is all to do with attention to detail. The attention to detail started with the configuration of the engine as mentioned above, but Alfa Romeo went much further than just the engine. One thing that really affects a car is something called un-sprung weight, and as the name implies it is the weight of everything that isn't suspended by the springs. Un-sprung weight includes the wheel and tyre; the hub; the brakes if they are attached to the hub; a percentage of the suspension arms; shock absorber and springs. The lighter this un-sprung weight is the less any bump in the road will be transferred to the car body. Yes I know you are all bored now with my rabbiting on about un-sprung weight so I have a reasonably good example of how this works; do you remember the office toy from the 80's which had five balls suspended in a cradle by tiny bits of wire and if you pulled one off one end and let it drop one would come off the other end, and if you took two off one end then two would come off the other end etc, etc. So how does this relate to a car? In this example the car body is the stationary ball's hanging in the cradle and the un-sprung weight is the ball or balls you are lifting, the more balls (mass) you lift the more of the stationary balls (mass) will move when you let go and it is the same with a car. The higher the suspension mass, the more car body mass will move when it hits a bump. This is also a double edged sword, as the more mass moved from the suspension to the body, not only does the suspension become lighter but also the body becomes heavier so it is a win, win situation. This also means that for any given ride quality a stiffer spring can be used which improves road holding, hence the Sud's superlative ride/handling compromise.
So there you have it probably the worst built car Alfa Romeo have ever built is amongst my favorite Alfa's. Even with the rubbish build quality, the Alfa Sud sold a healthy 3/4 of a million unitsd but rather than becoming the overwhelming sales success that the company had dreamed of it instead succeeded in another way; it made life long Alfa fans out of a whole generation of drivers! 

2nd November 2010

The Alfasud Sprint is the coupe version of the Alfasud and was my first Alfa Romeo (KMR766X). It shared the Sud's superb handling and road holding characteristics, but the body was totally new. Designed by Giugaro and released to the press in September 1976 at Baia Domizia, Italy the Alfasud Sprint shared no panels with the Alfasud and this allowed the designer to come up with a much more streamlined shape that has room for four.

The chassis is slightly stiffer than the saloon even though it is a hatchback, this is largely due to the high rear panel and a slight increase in weight. The sprint coupe also always had the most powerful engines available; the original version produced 76 bhp from its 1300 cc engine as opposed to 68 bhp of the Sud Ti. This was achieved using a single twin choke carburettor which was enough to enable the car to top the magic 100 mph mark. Pretty good for a 1300 cc car back in 1976.

The Sprint is a very advanced, designed with careful attention being paid to everything from ride comfort to styling, the flat four engine allowed the use of a very low sleek bonnet line while the cloverleaf emblem in the rear quarter panel is the cabin vent. Technically the Sud Sprint has a large number of features that set it apart from the pack, the engine has a single overhead camshaft and is very over square in design allowing the engine to be revved hard with only modest piston speeds. The camshafts are driven by a toothed belt, a first for Alfa Romeo and being a flat four there are two camshafts. Unlike the alloy cylinder heads, the block is made of cast iron and this is very easily serviced in use as all the engine bearings can be removed without taking the engine out.

The gearbox is fitted onto the rear of the engine and these are both mounted north-south in the chassis the front brake callipers are mounted on two lugs on the gearbox and the disks are secured onto the drive shaft flanges by four securing bolts each side all this helps to reduce the unsprung weight. The unsprung weight is important for ride comfort as when the wheels hit a bump they are forced to move, the mass of the wheel and unsprung items like wheel bearings, etc. force the body to move. The lighter the unsprung mass compared with the sprung mass, the less the sprung mass is forced to move and so the more comfortable the ride. The designer of the Sud, Rudolf Hruska, went to extremes to reduce the unsprung weight and even mounted the shock absorbers up side down.

The rear of the car has a vary simple but ingenious suspension design. There is a dead axle which is located laterally by a phanard rod, while longitudinally it is located by four links; two coming from the front attaching to the bottom of the axle, while the two to the rear attach to the top of the axle. As the axle rises and falls it twists slightly, however if the car rolls, one side twists one way and the other side twists the other way turning the whole axle into a roll bar. The rear brakes are also disks and they are controlled by a load sensitive valve on the body next to the petrol tank. The shock absorbers are also mounted upside down on the rear again to reduce unsprung weight.

As the Alfasud sprint developed, the engine capacity was increased to 1490 cc bringing the power up to 95 bhp and taking the top speed up to 112 mph. This was achieved in the usual Alfa Romeo style by adding two 36mm downdraft carburettors, and just before the Alfasud sprint became the Alfa Sprint the power was increased again, this time without increasing the capacity but by changing the camshaft profile and helping the engine breath better by using a 40 mm carb. The Alfasud sprint changed into the Alfa Romeo Sprint in 1983 when it got a major overhaul getting 33 running gear and it losing its chrome bumpers.


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