Ahh… Alfa saloons! Robbers and smuggler’s favorite mean of conveyance since 1950, they’re the classic “guards and thieves” motorcars: loved by criminals, needed by the Italian Police, they provided everyone who drove them with superb on-road performance. Since we’re talking Alfa Romeo, so what should be implied is that we’re in presence of superbly well developed motorcars. If you drive every example from the early Giulietta to the 75 you’ll notice a continuous philosophy: a tractable and smooth engine which is never short on power, a soft but dynamic suspension set up and a wonderful, metallic snarl which has accompanied every Alfa since 1910.
As much as we would love to take a classic 6C 2500 “Villa d’Este” for a spin or experience the mighty power of a pre-war 8C 2300 Monza we have to acknowledge that much of the love for Alfa Romeo comes from all those people that over the years have driven them daily and stayed loyal to this brand. So, as we have a more similar life to Mr.Everyman than to Mr.Rich, we think that we ought to celebrate Alfa Romeo in the way we’re more accustomed to: with a black 75 and a black Giulia QV. Sure, the latter is not a cheap cars by any means… but you’ll be more likely to drive a QV when depreciation will work its magic rather than a 6C! We could not be more lucky than we could have wished. We brought together the last and the newest rwd Alfa high-performance saloons for a drive that has had the taste of victory.
The two protagonists of our test are a 1987 75 1.8 Turbo, tuned by Balduzzi of Lodi and a 2017 Giulia Quadrifoglio Verde, both black, mean and angry. The 75 is somewhat of a legend: it’s still revered by many to this day and it’s regarded as one of Alfa Romeo’s most legendary saloons. It’s the definitive Alfa before the demise of rear-driven Alfa Romeos until the 8C of 2007. The last expression of a winning formula, it’s a wonderful car under many aspects, even if it was “just” a largely re-bodied Giulietta 116. Designed and made on a budget, it was the most loved Alfa of the 1980ies and the purveyor of the most classic transaxle – De Dion rear end combo. Of only the 5 initial variants unveiled in 1985 the 75 ended its life with up to 10, including also a diesel variant. Of these, the most desirables are the Busso V6’s, the 2.0 Twin Spark and the 1.8 turbo. The latter was perhaps the most interesting as it was the most successful turbocharged engine produced by Alfa Romeo: after the GTV and Giulietta Turbodelta, the 1.8 Turbo has been the most successful forced induction model based Biscione’s legendary twin-cams. Producing 155 hp and weighing less than 1200 kg dry, it was, alongside the 164, the last fully Alfa-developed models before the acquisition by the Fiat. This specific example has received a tune-up by Officina Balduzzi, which pumped the pressure of the Turbo, fitted a modified exhaust, upgraded the suspension and fitted the desirable Turbo Evoluzione body kit with the spoilers from the Gr. N racing version. The past owner opted for a full black look, which increased the menacing stance of this 75.
On the other hand a stock Giulia QV which provided us with the most modern interpretation of an Alfa saloon. This car is pure Italian renaissance, an exciting car that deserves the name. In many ways it represented the beginning of a chapter that was interrupted abruptly a long time ago by ill management and just plain dumb decisions. 510 hp and a dynamic that is a dream, the QV is indeed the king of all Italians high-performance saloons… also because it’s the only one available, sadly. Ferocious, intuitive and remarkably friendly, we truly believe that this car has set the standard for this segment: no M3 dares to come out when the QV is around. We waited years to drive it and the question that we pose is: is this an Alfa? Yes, the answer is yes. Bear this in mind: an Alfa equals dynamic perfection and the Giulia surely has achieved a level of handling which is hard to beat.
How these two compare? Remarkably, they feel part of the same family, achieving a level of performance so high that make them hard-to-beat daily drivers. In particular, the 75 is the one that gives so many satisfactions that it becomes addictive. The tune up only emphasized the qualities of the car: the engine feels aspirated by its consistent and smooth delivery, while the suspension is just perfect for road use. The 75’s turbo wakes up at 3.500 rpm and then fully awakens at 4.000, never resulting in an abrupt or harsh delivery. The redline comes after an exhilarating progression, with the twin cam emitting its signature snarl. As a testament to the excellent work done by Balduzzi, there are no pops and bangs from the exhaust, giving this arrogant Alfa a somewhat kind nature. The much-critiqued gearbox, with its long-throws is actually a delight to use and it’s very accommodating to quick shifts. Wanna know the best part of the 75? The handling. It’s not harsh and the body roll is well contained and damping is perfectly sprung to absorb the bumps and retain maximum tire traction. The 75 is light and nimble, with a dashboard shouting for nostalgia of 1980ies Italy: due to a not quick steering, it’s slightly slow to turn in at first but once you’re inside the corner, that’s when the party begins. The 75 is on rails and gives you the choice to drive cleanly or just by having fun by exploiting the natural oversteer given by its 25% rear locking differential. The satisfaction in sitting in the comfortable seats which provide more than enough support and driving a genuine analogical Alfa is immense: cars like these will make you question evolution in automotive terms. Fast forward 35 years and you’ll be driving the QV. Much has been written and much have been said and all it’s true: it’s one bonkers car. The dynamics are absolutely of another level, and the sharpness and the ease with which the QV eats the road is simply astounding. While intimidating at first, it’s surprisingly friendly to hustle around. The gearshifts are fast and the car responds with such immediacy that it’s something that will stay at the top of the game for years.
What is truly astounding is how the car is set up: with the controls off you can drive it as you want, exactly like an old Alfa Romeo. If you want to privilege oversteer, you can blip the throttle on the exit and make the tail swing, while if you like to drive cleanly you can follow the book and be rewarded by the car’s perfect set up. In perfect Alfa fashion, the suspension set up is for the road: never stiff, it’s pliant enough to allow you to retain maximum traction on rough surfaces. Then… there’s the sound. An involving soundtrack which penetrates the cockpit, guttural at low revs and screaming at high rpms, it’s what you want to hear from an Italian high-performance motorcar. Opposed to the effective brutality, there’s a tactile quality which is hard to beat: like the 75, you immediately take confidence and you can literally put the car wherever you want on the road. Such is the QV a great car that you feel that it’s part of the family: the same qualities which have made post-war Alfa Romeos great cars for more than 50 years are to be found in a modern and effective saloon. You’re left wondering why Alfa won’t develop further models like the Giulia but you know… they’re building Peugeots now.
Alfa Romeo needs to be celebrated as a Company who has always understood vehicle dynamics better than many others. The quest for rear-wheel-drive is quite pointless at a certain stage, as what makes an Alfa an Alfa is not where the driving wheels are located but how it has been developed on the road. Sure though, there is more satisfaction in driving in constant oversteer, but 110 years of perfection shall be celebrated by two daily-driven icons. Let’s hope Alfa Romeo will stay the same for another 110 years!