Alfa GT Junior.
A classic Italian.
The Essence of the Game
The GT Experience
GT, Grand Touring: A car that combines the comfort of a sedan plus the handling abilities of a sports car -- the fun car for the long haul.
There are some things that just take your breath away.
Besides the obvious one, a classic car exposition from the House of Alfa might be the other.
I can't imagine any other company being able to pull off a daylong show. I mean, when BMW does one, the show is over in less than an hour. (The sturdy but dull, Birkenstock Shoe, must be their model in the drafting division.) Add another hour and a half for a show by Corvette; another 3 hours, perhaps, for Ferrari -- And a mere drive-by for the entire range of either VW or Morgan should do the trick there - I mean, how many angles could there be to view what is, essentially, the same shape?
Even up against Numero Uno, Ferrari of Maranello, Alfa will take precedence. Seduction is none too strong a word to use with these cars, especially when viewed through the wide-angle lens of their long and unique history. Their list of stunning classics simply boggles.
Besides spawning Ferrari itself, Alfa Romeo initially defined -- and then continually redefined for hopeless car companies trying to get it right -- the meaning of GT.
GT. Grand Touring. Something American car manufacturers never really had a sense of. In the early, co-opted versions of the term here, the GT badge added to the car name rarely meant more than a couple of bucket seats plunked down on the floor and a stick-shift added to what was, essentially, the very same car before the cheap add-ons. Even Britain and Japan -- the great automotive producers that they are -- never caught on to the essential, automotive application of the term.
It took the companies from the foot hills of the Alps, on the cusp of the European continent -- the cars of Bavaria; the companies of the Piedmont Plateau in Northern Italy; and Talbot Lago, Bugatti, and Peugeot of France -- to conceptualize and then properly mold the term into its proper metallurgical expression.
GT. Grand Tourismo: The First-Class, outer lane of the Autobahn, reserved for a distinct class of car -- and person. That weekend trip from Milano to the lake house in Geneva; the yacht waiting. Since you are stopping for a leisurely lunch at one of the best inns in the Alps, the two of you will not be caught under-dressed.
You open the trunk of your car and throw in the two small pieces of luggage. You slide into the highly functional yet incredibly comfortable bucket seats. You look over at your Sunbeam Alpine Tiger parked along side. Had it been better weather, a different and much shorter trip -- perhaps a quick trip into the Bergamo foothills for a light feast of the town's famous polenta -- well, OK. Perhaps a wind-buffeted jaunt in the convertible would have been fun. But that's not what this is. A weekend-long outing demands a bit more on the 'comfort' front and forces one to let up a bit on the all-out sporting life.
But then you turn the key: You quickly realize that you are not sacrificing that much! The very first tap on the gas tells you that this will be anything but a boring sightseeing excursion. You wait for the engine to warm. The RPM's to climb... You've forgotten entirely about your green Alpine.
As you shoot up the rise and follow the signs North to Lago di Como and beyond, the familiar scream of your Alfa GT Junior 1600 wakes you up. You grab the 9:30 and 2:30 position of your stark but functional steering wheel and get on it. Let the fun begin!
Now there are obviously many cars to choose from when you go hunting for a classic GT -- or a classic Alfa Romeo. Americans are familiar with the venerable Alfa Spider (à la The Graduate) and not much else (Alfa's long disappearance from the American market does not help in that regard). Up-market collectors know the gorgeous Giulia Sprint and the racy, GTA. And the Junior's better-known cousin, the GTV 2000, ranks as well, having given the American family of the 1970s their first taste of Ferrarista on the cheap -- a way out of town that made the getting there as much fun as the arrival -- and for very little more than your neighbor paid for his Bel Air! (Or Fiat, if we're still in the Alps). In fact, it is with the GTV 2000 (2000 = 2 liter) model that the Junior is often confused with.
While the 2000 (and the even rarer, 1750) was a good car - the Everyman-Euro-Deluxe GT Package of the day -- the Junior was where the action was.
First of all, the Junior is a driver's car. Not that the 2000 was all slag, mind you, but we're comparing... apples with apples, so to speak. Where the 2000 is a good-enough, sweet-enough, Red Delicious... a fun, good-eating apple, the Junior is a real Mac... something tart and a lot more serious where the taste bud meets the fruit and where tire meets the road.
And it was also the sui generis of the entire line. Just as Alfa begot Ferrari, so also did the Junior beget the bigger milled, and more visible, GTV's.
In this writer's view, the 1600 cc was the quintessential Alfa engine of the era. It was, after all, the heart and soul of the quick as lightening GTA Competizione, the factory racer. And in the Junior wrapping -- if you can't afford the GTA - it is the best way to display its pizzazz.
Now the first Junior came with a 1300 engine -- and the prettiest package. It was almost as good as the 1600 when you were rolling, but a real dud from scratch, i.e., getting up to speed. And the heavier, 2000's (2 liters) were a bit doggy by comparison -- never quite enough harrumph to carry all that Euro-Deluxe weight through the corners.
Oh, yes. Something you should know about the Italians. They are the premier design engineers in the world. But they have his nasty habit of gunking things up beyond the first concept model. The first Junior (1966) was just flat-out gorgeous. Understated and simple -- serene even. Not only was it another piece of rolling sculpture from the fab House of Bertone, but also under the direct supervision of the young Giugiaro -- a Michelangelo-class artist who, luckily, chose our age to be born in*. Nothing wasted inside or out. As soon as you got into it you knew you were in for a bare bones, but thrilling, week-ender. But, as stated, the oomph was just short of perfect.
Then came the next version (1972) with that screaming**, 1600 engine. But, unfortunately, they ruined about everything else on the car. Too many lights, bells, and whistles. I managed to find the impossible combination: the 1300 body with the 1600 engine: Quick, nimble, light and gorgeous!
(Also, a word about fuel injection (iniezione) and the Italians - it's not their thing; just as the V8 is America's domain and the V12 the Italians... so it is that Injection is a Germanic game and most definitely not one for the Italiani. They just didn't work. Find one with Weber carbs... Then you will really have something special.)
In comparison with other cars in its class, the extra prep (and learning) time required is both the plus (+) and the negative (-) aspect of this car. The magic of the BMW 2002 is that it is an instant racer. The German engineers took out all the worry. But you simply cannot drive the Junior to the track, race it, and then drive it home worry free as per the 02. This one requires the full measure of your devotion -- and maybe the expense of a second vehicle to haul it to the track. Nor could it ever be the 'street car' that the 02 is with that car's total vision or ease of transition in traffic -- all at very civilized, low-maintenance, RPM's. While the Alfas low-riding, steel under-guard demands the smoothest of pavements, the unique, shock-tower suspension of the 02 will get you through almost any surface condition lickity-split; you can be doing your taxes in your head -- you won't feel a thing. You can save your race face for the track.
But for that long weekend outing deep into New (and 'Old') England, Europe, or around Lake Michigan, where the winding roads can either annoy you or thrill you to the bone, my choice is the Alfa. It's the only car I've been stopped by the State Police in. As you wind that thing up, the screams can get to you, taking you further out toward the edges of your own driving ability, perfecting your ability to maintain those high revs with each shift.
No, you won't be doing any taxes in your head with the Alfa. The engineers left you in charge. This one will challenge you all the time: all the way there and all the way back.
*The man's name doesn't ring a bell? Besides the prettiest of the Alfas, Giugiaro also designed he Lotus Esprit; the Ferrari 250 Bertone; the Bugatti EB112; the Aston Martin DB4; the Masserati models: 5000 GT, Bora and Ghibli; he did the Lancia, Iso Rivolta and Iso Grifo; Fiat Dino; BMW M1; Fiat Abarth; the fabulous Bizzarini cars; the Lamborghini Calá. In other words, anything that counts in the automotive world. (I'm not anywhere near finished with the list, by the way... My hand is tired!) -- Thank God, neither his nor Enzo Ferrari's mother ever met up with the abortion rights advocates... Yikes! Frightening thought, that!
**PS. Alfas really do scream. If you're coming to this mode of transport from a German, American, or British sports car, it will take you a while to 'get' this -- and, for sure, to learn how to drive one of these properly. High winding one of these others for too long can get you oodles of shop-time and even, perhaps, the irrevocably blown engine. The Alfisti, on the other hand, zip through life on the upper end of the power band. (A reason, perhaps, that Italians are said to have short, happy lives in general.) While this means plenty of prep and retune time if you are a weekend racer, it does not harm the engine. This is where they, and you, will run best.
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