Re: Sunday Times & Clarkson
I cannot scan it to an image, but here is the text i managed to fit into my scanner, okay, some of it hasnt recognised, but you can make out 95% of it.
Every week I find it jolly easy to be rude on these pages about the latest product from some large and faceless corporation. But because I'm fundamentally weak and spineless, I find it awfully difficult to be similarly critical about the heroic efforts of a mere one-man band.
Chances are, the one-man band in question will have laboured over the project, in his unheated shed, for years and years. He'll have ignored the needs of his wife and the education of his children because everything in his life will have been devoted to the creation of his new "baby".
And as a result he'd take it badly if a reviewer peered into the pram and said: "My God, that's ugly."
Unfortunately, however, it will be ugly; and dangerous and impractical with it. That's because cars made in sheds on Black & Decker Workmates are rarely tested in Australian deserts or in the frozen Arctic wastes.
They aren't deliberately crashed to ensure they're safe for people to collide in, nor are they driven round a track for thousands of miles to make sure they're reliable. In fact they're rarely tested at all, and this is another reason that I avoid them. Because most are accidents that haven't yet happened.
Somehow, though, a specially tuned car did turn up at die house the other day. It was an Alfa Romeo that had been breathed on by a company called Autodelta, and since there was nothing else for me in the drive I swallowed my nerves and took it for a spin...
I suppose if any cars can be tuned, Alfas make ideal candidates, chiefly because Alfa Romeo itself is not allowed to tune them. Fiat, you see, owns just about all the car firms in Italy, and each is given a specific role.
Ferrari: your job is to win the Formula One world championship until the end of time. Maserati: your job is to make Ferraris that are a little softer and a little more practical for the middle-aged businessman who wants bespoke engineering on an everyday basis. Fiat: your job is to make cars for the walnut-faced peasantry, and Lancia: your job is to make Fiats for the more successful and style-orientated motorist.
Job done and a car in there for everyone.
But unfortunately that leaves Alfa Romeo with nothing to do. They aren't allowed to compete with any of the others and that means they have to try making cars that aren't too fast, or sporty, or luxurious, or stylish, or cheap. In other words it's in their remit to be deliberately average;
Happily, they're not very good at it. I drove a 166 to Wakefield last week and must say that, on paper, it's complete rubbish. It's slower than the equivalent 5-series BMW, thirstier than a solid rocket booster and equipped with ... well,
almost nothing at all. It doesn't even come with a cup holder and the depreciation has to be experienced to be believed. Buy one tomorrow for £29,900 and in one year it will be worth just £13,000. That's £17,000 gone down the pan. Small wonder, I reasoned, as I plodded along, that they've only managed to sell two in Britain this year.
And yet, beneath the politically inspired ordinariness, you can sense it has been designed and thought-out by people who really do care. It had a soul, that car . . . a real, genuine character that somehow managed to turn every mile of the journey into a heart-warming event.
If I were to be in the market for a large four-door saloon, I wouldn't hesitate for a second. I'd hang the cost and get myself a 166.
Imagine, though, if you could combine this sense of being with some genuinely exciting performance. Imagine if you could free Alfa from its Fiat shackles and untie the engineers' arms. And now stop imagining, because such a car is here, in the shape of the Autodelta 147 GTA.
The heart of the machine is the engine, which is a bored-out version of the renowned Alfa V6. So you get 3.7 litres which, thanks to specially made stainless steel exhausts, a Ferrari throttle system and a remapped computer, means an almost unbelievable 328bhp is to hand, and you're going to die. To try to get round the problem, they've added a limited slip differential, and that started alarm bells ringing even more stridently.
Ford fitted such a thing to its Focus RS and turned quite a nice car into a ething other than a lack x wauc >.-odenly turn sharp left for oaiuMOi : prepare yourself, x ware suddenly turn sharp Limited sbp dWfe a frocK-wheel-drive cars, deduced after a swearv. terrifying drive through Wales k lie RS. Do Not Work.
I was dierefcpc aecidedly nervous as I tippy-toed :se 'x my drive in AutodeSu" 5 passport to the next life. ! d sasc i tearnd goodbye to my wife, - -.i.ggcd the kids: Daddy wasn't commg back.
The accident, I knew within moments, was going to be a big one, because this car isn't ferociously fast. It's much quicker than that Ferrar: throttle!" Forget it. When ; >j scj~h: on the accelerate" \: - .j.; :-'-« hit ibe
20mpg (combined) 0-60mph: 5.0sec 175mph
Mad amount of power and astounding grip make this the hottest hatch ever, now that's all very well and good, but the standard car cannot cope with the power from its 3.2 litre, 247bhp engine. If you even think about going near the throttle, its front wheels light up like Catherine wheels and you go nowhere in a cloud of expensive Pirelli smoke.
The trick is to trickle away from the lights, wondering why you didn't simply buy the 1.6 litre version, and then floor it. But even then you need to be careful, because torque steer will put you straight into the nearest tree.
The fact is that you cannot put large power outputs through the front wheels alone. They've got their work cut out doing the steering and the last thing they need is to be distracted from the job with all those angry Italian horsepowers.
Engineers at Saab once told me that the most power you could realistically entrust to a front-wheel-drive car is 220bhp. A point they proved recently by launching an unwieldy 250bhp front-driver called the Hot Aero.
And yet here's Autodelta putting 328bhp through those front wheels. Are they mad? Do they want to kill only their customers, or are they after people coming the other way as well? Driving a front-wheel-drive hatchback with 328bhp is like playing Russian roulette with a fully loaded gun. It's like trying to fly a helicopter gunship while drunk: you're going to
: i' tompr. takes 5-sec, F.aKvjt yocT Se de^ing 5mph. and therefore there has never been a hatchback this hot before
A corner was coming. And then n was a distant speck in my rear-view mirror. I vaguely remember turning the wheel and I have a dim recollection of being astounded by the grip . . . and then the moment w as gone.
No, really, the damn thing's a barnacle. Normally, in a tight bend, a front-drive car will spin the inside wheel uselessly, which means the one on the outside suddenly has to do all the steering and power-handling. But obviously it can't and you understeer off the road. But with that diff, the inside wheel doesn't spin, it grips and grips and then it grips some more.
Yes, bumps will cause some violent tugging at the wheel, and yes, it paunches horribly while reversing at slow speed, but the upside is a whote new chapter written into the laws of physks.
I'd love to stop at this point and give the man who made this car a nice warm feeling in the pit of his tummy. But I'm duty bound to point out one or two shortcomings.
First, the body kit was awful, but worse than this was the ride. The car I drove belonged to a 22-year-old I'd love to see his insurance bill and he'd set it up completely wrong. It had the compliancy of an RSJ and the comfort of sitting down sharply on the sharp end of a piledriver.
But, I see from the brochure, you don't need to fit springs and dampers made from oak and iron. You can have more conventional stuff if that's what you fancy and take it from me, you do. You can leave the body kit off the options list as well.
This has an effect on price. As tested, my car cost £40,000, which, considering the speed and grip, has to be the bargain of the century. But if you just stick to the engine, the diff and some tasty tyres, it's going to cost a lot less.
Better still, you can have all the important modifications that can be fitted to any Alfa: the 166, the 156 and the GTV. And that's a tempting prospect. It means you can have an Alfa Romeo. Not just a Fiat with an Alfa Romeo badge.