With over one million units sold, the Alfasud is the most successful model Alfa Romeo ever produced, a record that's unlikely to be broken anytime soon. Yet it's also one of the least understood chapters of Alfa's entire history, so here are five things you probably didn't know about the Alfasud...
Alfa Romeo had a factory in Naples before the Alfasud.
Alfa's presence in the Neapolitan area dated back from the 1930s, when the ailing company was rescued by the Italian government. The factory, built between Pomigliano D'Arco and Acerra, was intended as an aero-engine manufacturing site. After WWII, the complex produced diesel engines and light trucks like the "Romeo." But also the "Matta" off-roader and even the Renault 4, under license from the French carmaker. Alfa Romeo wasn't forced by the government to make the Alfasud.
The Alfasud program was a hugely ambitious one: a revolutionary new car, built in a factory rebuilt from scratch and whose staff was mostly new to the job. Yet it wasn't a government imposition at all. It was Alfa Romeo's own initiative. The demand for automobiles was expected to grow steadily throughout the 70s, and the company saw an opportunity to capitalize on that by offering a compact family car with premium characteristics. During the 1960s, thousands of people moved from Southern Italy to work in the North's car factories, including Alfa Romeo. Why not build factories in the south instead? What is true is that the Italian government provided the capital necessary, as the scale of the operation was far too big for Alfa Romeo's own resources. No Commie Steel was used.
Whenever the word "Alfasud" is mentioned, the term "rust" almost inevitably follows it. During the model's early years, premature corrosion of the bodyshell was indeed a problem, one that tainted not only the Alfasud's reputation but Alfa Romeo as a whole for too many years. But why? Contrary to popular belief, the steel used to make Alfasuds was the same used to make Giulias in Milan, and it came from Taranto, Italy, not the USSR. The problem was soon found to lay on poor working practices. The electrophoresis baths turned out to be poorly managed, and the frequent micro-strikes that plagued the factory often allowed condensation to set onto the unpainted bodies, with the imaginable results. However, improvements were made, and by 1975 the situation was under control, albeit Alfa's rust issues could be considered fully cured only from the mid-80s onwards. Visions For The Future.
Alfa Romeo presented in 1982 two prototypes based on the Alfasud 1.5 Gold Cloverleaf, one focused on efficiency, the other on passive safety. The 1.5 flat-four engine of the "Energy Saving Vehicle Alfa Romeo" was equipped with a sophisticated electronic engine management system wholly designed by Alfa Romeo, which allowed the engine to run on just two cylinders at light engine loads. The "Synthesis Vehicle Alfa Romeo" united the previous model's efficiency with truly impressive passive safety performance for the time. The Alfasud bodyshell was reinforced to withstand a 65 Km/h crash into a barrier angled to 30 degrees or being hit at the rear by an 1800 Kg slide traveling at 50 Km/h. They made a wagon too!
One of the rarest Alfasud variants is the Giardinetta. Introduced in 1975, the Giardinetta was the first factory wagon ever offered by Alfa Romeo. Although it offered the practicality of a fully flat load area neatly finished with marine plywood, it found few buyers and production was terminated in 1980.