By on January 30, 2019

Which sedan has the looks of a BMW, but without all the tedious reliability that comes standard from the Bavarian offering? Why, it’s the Alfa Romeo Alfetta, from 1979.

Launched in 1972, Alfetta was the midsize sedan offering in Alfa Romeo’s lineup, designed to replace the old 1750 and 2000 sedans. The new offering drew its name from the Tipo 159 Alfetta, a Formula One car from the 1950s. Like the Alfetta racer, the sedan version featured a transaxle layout and a De Dion tube rear suspension. Both of these features were departures for the company’s road-going models. The developments lent themselves to a better weight distribution, which in turn meant the Alfetta had better handling.

Pleased with their technological development, Alfa endowed the later GTV, 90, and 75 models with derivations of the same setup.

The Alfetta was only available in four-door, notchback sedan format — “Berlina” in its home language. Only one trim level existed for the first few model years, with one engine: a 1.8-liter inline-four. Trim offerings expanded in 1975, when a 1.6-liter engine entered the lineup and Alfetta gained a new base model. Further enhancements to the model lineup occurred as the years went on, with the addition of a sporty 2.0-liter version called the 2000, as well as an upmarket turbodiesel trim called Turbo D. That type of power plant was a first in any Alfa Romeo passenger car. Throughout its life, the Alfetta offered only inline-four engines paired with a five-speed manual or three-speed automatic.

Alfa offered the Alfetta to customers in the United States, just not for very long. Available between 1975 and 1977 in its original format (called Alfetta Sedan), for 1978 and 1979 Alfa rebranded it as Sport Sedan. That latter offering was a version of the 2.0-liter model sold throughout Europe.

Alfetta continued with frequent revisions for a few years as Alfa Romeo prepared its successor. By 1984 the new 90 made its debut, and Alfetta production wound down at the end of the year. Over the 12-year life of the model, Alfa produced over 450,000.

It proved too difficult to find an American-market Alfetta with usable pictures, so today’s Rare Ride is from Italy. It’s a base 1.6-liter example with a manual transmission. With just under 75,000 miles, the sporty blue sedan asks $9,900.

[Images: seller]

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52 Comments on “Rare Rides: A 1979 Alfa Romeo Alfetta, Styled Like a BMW...”


  • avatar
    tomLU86

    As an early teen, I thought these cars were great!

    Good looking, QUICK (for the late 70s),good mpg, and from the ads, 50/50 weight distribution and the “De Dion rear suspension” (I didn’t know what that meant…)

    In the same league as a BMW 320i (though I preferred the BMW, even if it only had 4 speeds early on).

    However, even at 13, I realized it was expensive. Not sure what it cost, but it was A LOT. I think it was more than a (base) 76 Vette, $7650, or the cheapest Cadillac DeVille (plus/minus $100-150 to Vette)

    So I understood why ‘smart’ Americans would go for a Nova F41 instead, or even an Audi Fox.

    One thing I did not know then, was what lemons Fiats and Alfas were. Fiat sold over 100k cars in America in 1975, and their ads were everywhere. But by 1980, when the Strada came out, even I knew Fiat = lemon..and Alfa same.

    One more thing–the Alfetta sedan dashboard is 100x better than the Alfetta coupe.

    • 0 avatar
      EGSE

      “Fiat sold over 100k cars in America in 1975, and their ads were everywhere. But by 1980, when the Strada came out, even I knew Fiat = lemon..and Alfa same.”

      I was shopping for my first new car in 1974 and cast a wide net, looked at Toyota, BMW among others. Fiat had good sales and a strong dealer presence in the D.C. area and maybe thet’s why we knew Fiats were steaming piles even then. By the time the Strada came out the word was also out on their lack of any build quality and reliability. The dealers couldn’t for the life of them apply a fix and have it stay fixed. They seemed to be soul-mates of the Renault 16 my sister owned. We learned to never drive it further from home than you could walk back.
      Seriously, I carried groceries home more than once.

      As for Alfa, later on I worked with two people that had 164’s. They ran well…..when they ran. Both flogged the cars off within a few years of buying them.

      I finally bought a 1974 Valiant. It had that Chrysler POS quality if judged by today’s standards but compared to the Euro cars I was surrounded by it was a paragon of reliability.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      I bought a new ’78 Audi Fox four-door in the fall of ’78, and it was expensive, too – $7428, and that was with automatic (I couldn’t yet drive a manual) and a/c. No radio, as I added my own later.

      As far as a lack of reliability goes, my Fox could give any Alfa a run for its repair money. My main problems were with the evil Bosch K-Jetronic (CIS) fuel injection, and other electrical gremlins. Also the trigger outside door handles, especially on the driver’s door.

      As far as fun-to-drive goes, I imagine the Alfetta will (pardon the pun) run rings around the Fox. I could see one of these being a blast to drive, especially with the five-speed.

    • 0 avatar
      dig

      I grew up in the late 60’s through 70’s in NE Ohio. My folks were nutty on weird euro cars. First I think a 67 VW square back, then a ’69 Opel GT, then I think a ’73 Caprice. Of course all got the tin worm badly in the rust belt.

      Then we switched to Italian in ’76 and got a “real” car. a ’76 Fiat 131 Mirafiori! It had a 5 speed. That is the car I learned to drive on and got my DL.

      Went in the USAF after, was sent to Europe and what do you see? Alfa Alfettas, GV coupes, etc. It was the early/mid 80’s. I had all of them over time including an old 500, a 127 coupe, and a 128 sedan. None of them cost me over 500 bux. GV we could never keep running.

      I was in DE most of the time but it was fun to drive Italian. I would like to have one of these Alfetta’s again. Not for 10K bux though.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    I remember the 70s and 80s Alfas, with their rubber flex couplings on the driveshafts between the engine and transaxle. That was sort of a neat way to even out the weight distribution instead of pushing the rear axle forward and under the rear seats and pushing the front axle as far forward as possible… which they seem to have done with these cars anyway. ISTR Alfa still built cars this way well into the 1990s.

    The De Dion rear axles were interesting. Since we don’t see them anymore these days, I’m not sure they were all that superior, but anyhoo… Getting at the inboard rear brakes to do any work on them was kinda tight.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      “Guibos” (the rubber couplings) – don’t most BMWs use those, in place of u-joints? I haven’t owned a Toyota Previa in awhile, but I’m still a member of the Yahoo! owners group, and some owners are now using BMW guibos to replace the couplings on the SADS (Separated Accessory Drive System) shaft.

      • 0 avatar
        Gedrven

        Giubo (JEW-bo), not guibo (GWEE-bo). Short for “giunto Boschi”, Italian for “Boschi joint”, Boschi being the Italian inventor of the rubber flex coupling.

        BMW commonly uses giubos, but I’ve never seen one without any hard u-joints as well. My E34 two-piece driveshaft has a giubo in the front, a U-joint in the middle, and a CV joint in the back.

        Some Lexus (early GS?) have two giubos in the driveshaft.

        Some early Lotus used them on drive axles.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          Interesting. I used to be all about BMWs, back when they were West German. I never heard them called anything but GWEE-BOEz. Even the people who sell them seem to have it ‘wrong.’

          https://www.oembimmerparts.com/BMW-Flex-Joint-Guibo-By-Meyle-p/26117511454-410mye46.htm

        • 0 avatar
          dukeisduke

          Gedrven – Thanks for the background info!

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I’m a sucker for this kind of car – totally in love.

  • avatar
    overdale

    The Alfetta DID have another bodystyle, the stylish GT hatchback coupe, introduced in 1974 (better known later on as the GTV), which outlived the sedan by quite a few years.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t really count that as the same car, even though it shared part of a name. It was pretty different, came out at a different time, different wheelbase, and didn’t actually say Alfetta on it.

      • 0 avatar
        tomm

        “I don’t really count that as the same car, even though it shared part of a name. It was pretty different, came out at a different time, different wheelbase, and didn’t actually say Alfetta on it.”

        Actually, for the initial first few years of the coupe in the U.S., it was called the Alfetta GT. I had a ’76 Alfetta GT. I loved the car and drove it for almost 10 years. Great handling, engine sounded good and was easy to work on. I had it lowered, got nice wheels, and added a sport exhaust. Maybe I got lucky since the reliability was good for me, and it was my daily commuter car all those years. Even living in CA though, the car started to rust around the windshield and few other areas. Body and interior quality were not great.

      • 0 avatar
        Steve Schaeffer

        It’s a 116 series car, so it’s the same car. Just like the 105/115 series Alfas consisted of a sedan, coupe, and spider, the 116 series consisted of the sedan and coupe (Alfetta GT, it does say that on the rear hatch). All the American-spec 116 series cars were 2.0 liters. I dislike that the headline says ‘styled like a BMW’, as if Alfa cared back then. Alfa Romeo was still the creator of the modern sports sedan, with their Giulia Super, and BMW was just beginning to hit its stride in the early ’70’s. It’s more like BMW was styled like the Alfa. Alfa cut their own throat during the ’70’s and never quite recovered.

        • 0 avatar
          Gedrven

          The 116 came out in 1972 with more than incidental styling resemblance to the E3 (the “New Class”, of which the best-known member in the US was the Bavaria) that’d been around for four years.

          As for the Giulia Super, that’s a fair point, and maybe worth a QOTD: what makes a proper sports sedan, who makes them best, and/or who made them first. The 105 does seem to have predated BMW’s modern era – and with far more impressive weight (BMW have never been particularly light) – but the styling is quite different to my eyes.

  • avatar
    Gedrven

    Doesn’t do it for me; it looks like a runty BMW E12 with an Alfa grill from AutoZone’s clearance rack, while the interior is on par with a 79 Toyota truck. Where’s all that famous Italian style? At least it comes with famous Italian reliability…

  • avatar
    Turbonius

    Cameron’s car from ferris Bueller’s day off.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Is the back seat in this car really that roomy, or are the front seats just pulled forward?

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    I like it. Would own/drive.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    “looks of a BMW, but without all the tedious reliability”

    Best line ever, Corey. One gets so bored with a car that works perfectly every time you start it and BMW is sure guilty of that

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    I bought a new dark blue GTV somewhere around 1975, I think. It was not especially fast but handled fairly well. It was also quite good looking. If not mistaken, I think it had a solid rear axle. I sold it after a few years and got a 356C which I liked much more.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    Wasn’t one of these featured in “Rush”, it broke down on Niki Lauda. Either way a beautiful ride.Incidentally the Giunto in my E36 lasted 160k before needing replacement

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      That was a Peugeot 504, which combined Alfa-Romeo quality with Audi dynamics.

      • 0 avatar
        cimarron typeR

        cool thanks

      • 0 avatar
        WallMeerkat

        Back in the 70s Peugeot were thought of as the French Mercedes.

        Then with the 104 and moving into the small family car market with the Chrysler Europe buyout, from the x05 series they were thought of as mainstream but a nice mix of comfort and sporty handling.

        The x06 series continued this, but the x07 series started to go wrong – cost cutting, over-complex electronics, styling that was no longer paninfarina but rather in house with their ‘cats eyes’ and F355 style grilles applied to all models.

        Though suggestions are that with the second generation x08 models (they stopped incrementing the last number to prevent a clash with the old ‘meant to be a Horizon replacement’ 309) that they are back on form.

  • avatar
    pragmatic

    I always thought BMW stole to look from ALFA

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    Alfa and Fiat, along with other Euro brands, Renault, MG, Simca, Citroen, etc had a difficult transition to meet the USA, and later EURO emission and safety specs. Most of them were gone by the mid 1980s. Some never to return to the USA. By the mid 1980s the Malaise era started to fade. USA brands were often less troublesome than some of the Euros.
    Since this was B I (Before Internet) it was a hassle to source parts for those departed brands.
    It was a tough situation to have to tell a customer, “Sorry we can’t fix it, no parts.”.

    • 0 avatar
      OliverTwist78

      “…and later EURO emission and safety specs…”

      European emission standards (Euro 1 through 6d) didn’t come into force until 1992. Germany was first European country to mandate lead-free petrol in 1986 with a few countries joining the lead-free party shortly thereafter.

      ECE safety regulations have been around since 1958 with incremental updates due to the technological advancements. It wasn’t until 1990s when ECE safety regulations went through massive changes to include the airbags, stronger side collision protections, and such.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    It might be the perspective but it looks like I could hardly fit my feet into that footwell, let alone successfully work the pedals.

    • 0 avatar
      lon888

      This is why Italians make and wear beautiful pointy-toe shoes.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        When I were a lad long ago Down East they were called “fence climbers” .

        I hate pointy toed shoes ’cause I have D witch feet .

        -Nate
        (still looking for glossy black steel toed shoes of any typ , anywhere, and brand made ANYWHERE)

        • 0 avatar
          jatz

          “still looking for glossy black steel toed shoes of any typ , anywhere, and brand made ANYWHERE”

          https://workingperson.com/footwear-1/mens-steel-toe-shoes/steel-toe-dress-shoes.html

          That’s just the first of many search hits for “steel toe dress shoes”.

          • 0 avatar
            -Nate

            Thank you but ;

            As always, there are only two that are shiny and of the three acceptable ones (first row) _NONE_ are in fact available….

            I’d go for a pair of Rockports but they stopped production a few years ago .

            I keep looking and hitting up sites, no one actually has them .

            I wonder if I could have $ome made ? ($hudder$ at the probable co$t)

            My feet got crushed in the 1960’s so good footwear is really critical not just important to look nice .

            The last pair I bought (! $125!) were oil tanned not shiny, I bought ’em anyway and guess what ? they’re painful to wear on my size 12 D width feet so I guess I’ll donate them to the local thrift store and keep wearing my worn out low quality but comfy SEARS Di-Hard safety shoes…

            -Nate
            (EDITED ‘Cause Ah Cain’t spel gud, I want you to know I REALLY APPRECIATE THE TIME YOU TOOK TO LOOK !)

          • 0 avatar
            jatz

            Nate, only took me a couple seconds but you’re very welcome. I’ve battled foot issues my entire life from severely pronated feet.

            Orthopedic casts and the resultant orthotics are only effective for short periods because the cast can’t be made while a foot is under pressure and twisted from body weight.

            I’ve finally resorted to making my own shims that screw into the bottoms of the soles and keep my feet properly angled to prevent the sinus tarsi from pinching shut on the nerves and blood vessels that run through it.

            Sometimes you just have to take your feet into your own hands.

          • 0 avatar
            -Nate

            Thanx Jatz ;

            I understand the take feet into my own hands ~ I have a secret Korean Lady who carves the bunions and things off my mangled feet every month or so, the reduction in pain is amazing .

            Here’s the only ones I’ve found, @ Wallymart : https://www.walmart.com/product/15170170/sellers

            I’d like to try them on before plunking down my $ if possible .

            -Nate

          • 0 avatar
            jatz

            “I’d like to try them on before plunking down my $ if possible .”

            Always, always the problem. The internet may have the product but they’ll never be in a local store for you to try them on and be sure.

            A crapshoot that’s painfully familiar to me.

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    This is a beauty. Stirs my emotions. And I don’t know why.

  • avatar
    BlythBros

    Nice write-up!

    Now, is this really styled like a BMW? Due to the four headlights? Hardly a BMW design, though now it does evoke BMW, to be fair.

    As for the reliability, there is nothing particularly unreliable about a classic Alfa Nord 4-cylinder. Late 90s and 2000s Alfas are where the lack of reliability hit. In fact, compared to a DOHC BMW M42 4-cyl, which wasn’t exactly a clean launch, the Nord is subjectively more reliable.

    If you want to talk about lack of reliability on one of these, I’d mention the SPICA system. Not a necessarily unreliable system, but buying these used after 40+ years, those SPICA pumps sometimes do need an overhaul. Many do ditch the SPICA mechanical injection in favor of carbs, but a serviced SPICA system is known to be quite reliable.

    Fair to mention giubos, and the fact that transaxle Alfas go through them faster than BMWs do, owing to the driveshaft spinning at engine speed vs. transmission output shaft speed. They are a weak link, and somewhat expensive, but by no means a 10,000 mile item. Think 30-50,000 miles, at least.

    • 0 avatar
      OliverTwist78

      Alfa Romeo Type 105 1750 Berlina (1969-1971) and its relative, Type 105 Guilia (1962-1967), had larger low/high beam and smaller high beam headlamps.

      BMW didn’t have the larger/smaller headlamps until 1977 E23 7-Series.

  • avatar
    pdmccmdp

    This review of the Alfetta is worth a watch, and for those who don’t speak Italian, click ‘CC’ for (somewhat reliable) subtitles. What a wonderful noise these cars made.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Neat little Sedan ~ to me the abbreviated trunk and C pillar look like similar vintage Toyotas….

    The interior looks appallingly cheap, I don’t recall other Italian cars being so cheap looking .

    Just the other day a TTAC article made derisive comments about De Dion rear suspensions, here it’s touted as a good thing .

    “Quick” is to me the best thing, there’s not always the space in traffic or road locations to be fast and quick is usually more driver entertaining & engaging .

    Sadly I saw many, many fairly decent looking Alfas (and Fiats too) pass through the various self service junkyards I work with/from, unwanted by anyone, I always though they’d be fun to fix up if bought at junkyard price .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    OliverTwist78

    “Launched in 1972, Alfetta was the midsize sedan offering in Alfa Romeo’s lineup, designed to replace the old 1750 and 2000 sedans.”

    No, the production of 2000 Berlina continued until 1977. Alfetta is more like a sporty GT version while 2000 Berlina more of executive car.

  • avatar
    YellowDuck

    My mom had this exact car, in a kind of purple colour. Dad had boring company cars and so had mom driving stuff like a restored TR3, and Alfa GT junior, and then this thing. Unfortunately my brother rolled it in a ditch as a new 16-year-old driver, having borrowed it without Mom’s permission one evening. One weird thing I don’t think the article mentioned – it had one brake disk in the rear, located in the middle if the axle if memory serves.


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