Alfa Romeo Giulia: The Underrated Italian Icon

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The first time I ever knew of the Alfa Romeo Giulia’s existence was while watching the original 1969 version of “The Italian Job” as a wee lad. While the stars of that now legendary crazy getaway through the streets, and rooftops of Turin, were three oh-so-British Mini Coopers, the Carabinieri in hot pursuit all helmed Military coloured Alfa Giulia’s.

Most of us all know how it went down. One was flattened by a falling fiat, one was stuck on the roof of a stadium, one went swimming in the weir, and the last crashed into the steel gates at then end of the sewer tunnel. However, after spending a day with the owner of this sweet Giulia Super 1600, it’s a surprise those Mini’s were able to keep in front. The Giulia Super is an eager driver dream and for the time, pretty darn brisk.

Let’s not deny it. An Alfa Romeo of yesteryear has a special kind of magic seldom found in other classic cars. It is difficult to put into words, but this writer will give it a go, so read on. Sure, the GT Junior, Spyder, and even the SZ might have more of a cult following with Alfisti, but the Giulia saloon is by far one of Alfa’s greatest hits in terms of package combing grunt, handling and comfort, plus it just looks so cool.

The Giulia’s biggest claim to fame when it was first launched at Monza in 1962, was it was one of the first mainstream saloon cars to feature a lightweight design coupled with a more powerful engine. There were oodles of variants on offer throughout the Giulia’s original production run from 1962 to 1977. Ranging from a single carburetted 1300cc four pot to a twin carb 1600cc twin cam, the Giulia TI, Super, Nuova Super and even the Diesel, sold well.

With a five-speed gearbox on option, the Giulia could properly shift. Also, the Giulia was the first Alfa to be designed and shaped in a wind tunnel, and when you see the Giulia for the first time, you pick up details designed to make the boxy saloon as slippery through the air as possible. These included a kamm tail and grooves along each side which channel air through and discharged it cleanly off the end, making a drag coefficient of 0.34, which is very slippery indeed.

The Giulia featured here is a 1968 Giulia Super and has to be one of the best kept Alfa Giulia’s in New Zealand. Power comes from the twin carb twin cam four-cylinder engine unique to the 105 series cars with 72kW of grunt and 136Nm of torque. Zero to 100km/h in 12 seconds and a top whack of 175km/h isn’t blistering by today’s standards. However, for the late sixties, the Super was leaving quite a few sports cars behind.

For owner Tom Bruynel, Alfa’s have been an obsession since the late seventies. “In 1978, a friend showed me a copy of Australian Sports Car Quarterly Magazine. In this issue was a road test report of the Alfasud hatch. I loved the write up and it piqued my interest in the Alfa Romeo marque. I bought my first Alfa in 1980 and have owned them ever since,” says Tom with a smile.

Tom truly is a dyed in the wool Alfaholic. “I love the heritage of the badge, and the fact that its not the obvious choice for people. An Alfa is something totally unique and I love that fellow owners and fans have the same passion as I do,” says Tom.

Tom travels close to 5,000kms a year in the Giulia Super, having competed in countless runs, track days, gymkhanas, and jaunts around New Zealand with other Alfa and Italian car fanatics. “I remember doing a run following a Lamborghini Countach. While he would leave me for dead in a straight line, I was able to hang with him in the corners, which was quite satisfying,” he laughs.

This Giulia Super is completely standard. “It was given a full engine rebuild and I attacked the bodywork three years ago which brought it into the state you see now,” says Tom.

Tom is also well aware of the Giulia’s role as police car. “The car used to be in full Police Squadra Volante livery complete with the flashing blue light on top. My friend, who owns a 156 done up the same way, and I would dress up as Italian Policeman and get invited to charity events. We would chase and “arrest” various offenders and raise money for charity,” Tom says with a smile.

After driving out to Christchurch’s Summit Road and taking some snaps, it was my turn to take the helm. The term helm is meant to be taken literally, for the Giulia’s rather large wheel is certainly no sporty MOMO, that said it does feel good in your hands.

Ahead of a you are two simple white on black dials, which stare at you like a pair of binoculars, displaying engine revs and speed. Housed within them are also the water temperature, oil pressure, and the fuel gauge, with the latter fluctuating like the NZ dollar. Also present is an analogue clock, which was stuck at midnight. Maybe Cinderella was a Giulia owner at some point.

Sitting upright in the Giulia is relatively easy, though you can also really slob out in the seats due to the sublime level of comfort.  The word “minimalist” could be used to the describe the Giulia’s cabin. There is a stereo system, but Tom never uses it. “The best sound system to me is the twin cam engine,” he says.

Firing up said twin cam is a doddle. Turn key and seconds later, all 98 Latin horses are awakened. Select first, and we are off. As we make our way through the twists and turns towards Governors Bay, the little Alfa couldn’t be happier. The five speed manual gearbox slots into each gear with such ease. In typical Alfa fashion, it rises up and out of the floor, making it an easy reach from the wheel. A tell-tale sign of a car with racing pedigree.

The best part of driving the Giulia Super is making that glorious twin cam four pot sing. Keep it in the sweet spot from 4,000 to 5,000rpm and it is a quick little car. It is eager in all that it does, it simply wants to be driven hard, and the harder you drive it, the more you sense the car is enjoying itself. Once you find this rhythm, you and the Alfa really start to cover some immense ground.

Despite still requiring a firm foot to slow down, with disc brakes all round, the Giulia manages to stop a lot quicker than other cars of the era. Also, many say the Giulia Super is a superb handler, and having devoured plenty of bendy bitumen around Lyttleton Harbour and Dyers Pass, I report this as being factual.

Uphill with your foot flat against the carpet, you approach a mid-level corner and you can keep the power on while providing the merest suggestion of a change in direction, and you are round the bend.

With moderate body roll, the Giulia is constantly talking to you, providing the necessary feedback so you can keep it in that aforementioned sweet spot. This results in the biggest grin imaginable as you power this happy Italian car along your favourite hilltop pass to your hearts content. I can certainly believe just how Tom was able to keep pace with that Countach.

The Alfa Giulia Super is a gem of an Italian classic. While still relatively forgotten when compared to other Alfa’s of the era, it is high time people took more notice of this underrated Alfa Romeo.

By Ben Selby

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