I had a friend in high school - it was a brief friendship, but whatever - who was probably the first gearhead under 18 I'd ever known. His name was Tom, and his prize possession was an Alfa Romeo that he said his father had given him, and which he was restoring to get back on the road. I visited his house once - the friendship didn't last much past that - and he took me to the garage several doors down the back alley from his house to show me the car.
At the time, something in me was saying "bullshit," but he sold his story well, and his somewhat pitiful context - the absent dad, the single mom, his virtual friendlessness at the Catholic boys school we attended - forced me to give him the benefit of the doubt. I wish I could have told you what kind of Alfa it was, but we just edged around the dust-covered car in the dim garage, and all I could tell was that it was a sports car, and shorter probably than the Datsun Z car my friend Debbie's sister had bought. (And which, so I've heard since, gave her no end of grief.)
I'd frankly heard of Alfas, but hadn't really seen many of them, especially in my neighbourhood, where everyone under 25 longed for any kind of American muscle car, and anyone over 30 had forged a lifelong committment to big sedans, Buicks or Cadillacs (if you were doing well, which usually meant you were a salesman with a company-leased car.) People between 25 and 30 probably just bought a Toyota and responded to the sneers by talking about the great mileage it got.
Tom and his dream Alfa always come to mind whenever I hear about the make, so when I actually saw one sitting in the parking lot of the Portuguese bar at the bottom of the street, I found myself wondering what happened to Tom.
I also found myself thinking that, sad as he might have been, he had pretty decent taste, since the Alfa parked there on that late summer afternoon was pretty fantastic looking, especially next to the late model BMWs and crossovers in silver and black that are usually parked there.
It's a GTV Spider from the late '90s, with the 2.0 Twin Spark engine, and I think it looks fantastic. Cars from the '90s are afflicted with a severe slope over the hood, pinching down at the bumper to create a pinched, almost vestigial grille that I consider a low point in car design. (See: Pontiac Sunfire.) The Alfa, while boasting the era's bonnet slope, manages to overcome it with the marque's signature triangular grille - probably the smallest example of the type in its history, and one that began growing back to healthy proportions with the 2003 facelift of the GTV.
Whoever owns it is clearly pretty committed to the car, since there hasn't been an Alfa dealership in Canada since before the car was made. It probably lives in the garage all winter, and gets driven gingerly, since spare parts will cost a fortune, and Italian cars in this part of the world have a reputation for unreliability that Fiat/Chrysler is working mightily to overcome. (See: Fix It Again Tony.)
Still, I want the Alfa to come back, and if you can rely on anything Sergio Marchionne says, it is, and not just in the form of the Giulietta that sits under the bodywork on the new Dodge Dart. Based on the GTV parked down the street, I wholly welcome this move, since Alfa is one of the European brands whose design language is almost wholly alien to the dreary gallery of hulking SUVS, beige boxes and overbulked sports cars that get sold out of dealerships here.
So to Fiat/Chrysler I say: Bring on the Alfas! And while you're at it, may we have a Lancia or two as well, please? And Tom, if you're out there, I hope you got your dad's car working again.