After some two years in the United States, I became increasingly aware that many people considered the Alfa Romeo a car, the driving of which should be left to experts. This puzzled me for awhile. I then began to realize that some people have gotten this impression because of Alfa's glorious racing history. In fact, the reverse is true-an Alfa Romeo is a sheer delight to drive, even for the average driver.
In discussing this with Alfa Romeo owners of long standing, it appeared that it would be worthwhile to produce a booklet of this nature leaning heavily on the experiences and knowledge of many enthusiastic and knowledgeable Alfa owners.
What follows is the result.
While it is in no way intended to replace the technical details furnished in the Owners Manual, it is light reading and I am sure well worth a few minutes of your time.
Your Alfa is definitely one of the best and enjoying it is the easiest thing in the world. What's more, enjoying an Alfa goes on all the time. It isn't given to flightiness in the rain. It doesn't try to be cranky in the morning. And it won't turn temperamental at night.
Your Alfa will not make you the world's greatest driver. No car can. But it will convince you that some intelligent people have gone to a great deal of trouble to make a portion of your life as enjoyable and effortless as possible.
We have nothing to tell you that you won't find out yourself. There are no
mysteries about an Alfa. But, as a collection of hints, perhaps these pages will
help you find some Alfa pleasures a little sooner.
Take starting, for instance. It's a plain and obvious sort of thing. But a suggestion: when the weather turns cool you will show a commendable respect for fine machinery if you push the clutch pedal to the floor while holding the key on. It takes quite a load off the engine.
All Alfas have an "easy-starting device." That's a graphic but long-winded name for something that does the job of a choke. Don't make use of it a habit. It isn't that it will wear out. But it pours a lot of raw gasoline into the engine, much of which can't be used. It's a grand thing on a cold day and means instant starts. But pulling it out (or pulling it up, depending on what Alfa you own) isn't necessary in warm weather. Even in cold weather, push the easy-starting device in (or down) as soon as possible after starting for the same reason. Too much gasoline going nowhere.
If you have a Veloce, in cold weather caress it a little by pressing the accelerator part way to the floor while your left hand turns the key all the way over.
With any car, don't let the starter grind the engine over time after time after time. If by any chance it doesn't catch the third or fourth time, turn the key all the way off. Wait a few seconds. Then try again.
Let the car warm up a bit before moving off even in the summer. In really cold weather, remember that "warming up the engine," while fine, doesn't do a thing for the thick, cold grease in the gearbox or differential. A couple of slow miles would be kind.
Most drivers abuse most cars in cold weather. The abuse comes from lack of
lubrication while the oil is cold and slow-moving. The abuse doesn't come to the
attention of most owners' check books until the following spring or summer. It's
quite easy not to drive straight away from the curb. Try it and feel smug.
You're started. How about driving? Just one thing, really: Relax. An expert would say . . .
Don't hang onto the wheel, hold onto the wheel.
There's quite a difference. You'll be surprised the first time you remember this and find yourself hanging, then relax to holding the wheel. Fingers guiding, not gripping is the idea. Your Alfa wants to track straight down the road. Don't try to correct for every little bump; let the Alfa do it while you sit there appreciating the sure-footed suspension.
And sit back in that seat. It's very tiring for passengers and people in other ears to see drivers sitting hunched over the wheel or straight up like a pole and that fine bucket seat not getting a chance to hold you as it was designed to do.
Now that engine. You may know a lot about it already. It's all aluminum. (Alfa engines have been for years.) Or you may neither know nor care much about it. Fine. You don't have to. The only thing we'd suggest is that you remember that it likes to work. It doesn't like to struggle. That's known as "lugging." But it likes to work.
Engines work by turning. That's what the tachometer (revolution counter)
tells you: how fast the engine is turning (revolutions per minutes).
If you're used to other cars, even other sports cars, you're likely to start driving your Alfa in too high a gear. "Too high" if you want to enjoy the Alfa's acceleration and its willing, working engine. Go down a gear and try a different (and higher) rpm. The response is not only gratifying but the tachometer needle is probably now somewhere near its most efficient positions The figure may seem surprisingly high by your previous standards, but your Alfa engine is eagerly delivering on its design.
Here's a rule-of-thumb you might find helpful: In a Veloce, if the needle is below 2500 rpm, you are probably not in the most efficient gear for the road speed showing on your speedometer. (Of course, you'll often be below 2500 in first and reverse. Quite all right.)
If you drive a Standard, use 2000 as your approximate minimum tachometer point in any gear but first and reverse.
Road and traffic conditions affect the point at which you are "lugging" the engine. But your Alfa thrives on work. Let it rip!
While we're here on the tachometer, let's mention a couple of things about other instruments and fittings.
The oil-pressure gauge is the conscience of your Alfa. Chances are, should something ever go wrong with the engine, the oil pressure gauge will whisper first. If the needle should sink from its usual position while you're driving along at normal speeds, answer its message: Stop! Turn off the key.
The center button on the steering wheel, as you've certainly discovered, flashes the headlights. This is a fascinating device and you'll be surprised at the number of times you can find an excuse to use it: warning at intersections, passing double-parked trucks, signaling doormen, alerting a group of children, a herd of bicycles, or a flock of sheep. Don't expect it to persuade locomotives at unguarded railroad level crossings; but signaling other Alfas by flashing is standard practice and wholly satisfying.
Just to the right of the steering column on Spiders, a little to the right of center and under the dashboard on Sprints there is an air-vent control, a push-pull affair. In the summer, you want this open (pulled toward you) for fresh air. In the winter, you also want it open when you're using the heater because the heater takes outside fresh air and warms it. In other words, you will seldom want this control shut. There is a comparable fresh air-vent control that you turn to open on the 2600.
Way up past the dashboard to the left of the steering column and, actually, on the wall between you and the engine is another air-vent control on Giuliettas and Giulias. This is just a little handle you swing around to open in the summer. It delivers a nice blast of outside air to the driver's side. It has nothing to do with the heater so you want it shut in the winter. A remarkable number of Alfa owners never seem to find this very effective control. You've been alerted!
The hand brake, you'll notice, works strictly in a push-pull direction. It
doesn't twist. Many American car brake handles look similar and are supposed to
be twisted to put them "on." Push pull only is the Alfa way.
Plain but . . .
. . . good food
Premium gasoline. You don't need super-premium atomic convulsive gasoline. Just premium, please.
Good quality, nationally-known brand motor oil. No Purple Passion, no Magic Mishmash, nor Jolly Moly. Just good oil will be fine. Less expensive too.
As to the gearbox, may we please insist? You'll find that
we have a lot of company. The recommendation plate on the underside
of your hood, your Instruction Book, and your dealer all agree
with us: use only a Dentax-type (straight mineral) oil in the
gearbox. Dentax happens to be a Shell brand name for this particular
lubricant, which is not a multi-purpose oil. We're not selling
Shell, but the fact is that this type of lubricant pleases your
Alfa's gears no end. They gnash their teeth at anything else.
A Spiders-only suggestion: remove the spare tire and wheel, turn upside down and replace in position. You've just created a convenient, round receptacle for odd pieces of paraphernalia.
For all Alfas, this nice touch: the lug nuts (the ones that hold the wheels on) for the left-hand side of your car are different from those for the right-hand side. Just a little Alfa attention to detail: as a safety measure, the nuts do not unscrew in the direction of wheel rotation. (They do on the left side of most other cars.) Those on the right are quite normal-unscrew them in the regular way. On the left wheels, unscrew them by turning in a clockwise direction. To help you remember, Alfa Romeo has seen to it that there are little notches on the edges of the left side nuts. When you see the little notches, remember they mean something different. Think.
If yours is a Giulietta or Giulia, notice how the trunk lid is held up when open. It's obvious that you must push it up further to release the prop before closing. You'd be amazed how unobvious this is to some service station attendants. Be nearby when the nice man finishes pumping you some gasoline. If he starts to pull straight down on the lid . . . yell!
A few notes on Alfa housekeeping. If you have a Spider, whisk-brooming the top occasionally will do a lot for its appearance. A gentle vacuum cleaning of it twice a year will do even more. Spider rubber floor mats can be removed and scrubbed with any household detergent. And as you probably know, a feather duster is very handy to dust off cars and flexible rear windows.
The cloth carpets-and the upholstery on a Sprint-will benefit not only from vacuuming. A good commercial upholstery cleaner will be a wonder. The leatherette on Alfas responds beautifully to either leather cleaner or plastic cleaner. Plastic cleaner for Spider rear windows, too.
Washing cars in the sun is silly. It's not good for the paint. It's not pleasant for you. It's terrible for the appearance. Gets streaky. Find some shade and spend half the time to do twice the job. Cleaning windows? Try ammonia water. Excellent.
When to check the oil? Never immediately after stopping the engine, because there's still a lot of oil upstairs that hasn't dripped down yet. First thing in the morning is an excellent time to check the oil. Similarly, on any car, check tire pressures when the tires are cool, not after many miles of driving or you'll get a false reading.
You get thirstier in the summer than in the winter. So does your car battery. It takes distilled water to "top it up" once in a while. Oh, every couple of weeks.
Air filters are remarkable things. They really do much more than keep large rocks out of the carburetor. Don't forget to have yours cleaned occasionally. If you save the stuff you shake out, you can probably grow a garden in it in a few months.
If you don't believe anything else in this booklet, please believe this: the
spark plug that is as good at 10,000 miles as it was when new hasn't been
invented. The car owner who says, "Haven't changed plugs in 17,000 miles," is
kidding himself if he thinks he's saving money or trouble. In sum, have the
spark plugs changed every 10,000. Perhaps at 8,000 if you're the suspicious
There is undoubtedly very little we can do to stop you if you are determined to "do-it-yourself" as an Alfa mechanic If you're truly qualified, you'll find working on the car a joy. But we don't recommend it for the average owner. We recommend your authorized Alfa Romeo dealer's Service experts. And we groan just a little, for the car's sake, in contemplating the loving owner at work. It has been said that half the qualified automohile mechanics in this country derive their income from putting things right that owners have put wrong.
However, we would be naive to pretend some won't try so -
When working on your Alfa DO NOT use . . .
DO use . . .
Finally, if you poke and fiddle, you will note any number
of aluminum castings. This is modern engineering at its best.
But remember that practically no threaded nuts, plugs, unions,
or fittings on your Alfa need to be much tighter than a normal,
teen-age girl can manage with one arm (and the right wrench! )
You have no idea how much training this takes. Only the really outstanding owner-carburetor-experts are able to accomplish this feat. Let's face it, few attain such heights.
If the Carburetor Twitch is upon you (it is said to be wellnigh universal at certain times of the year), make every effort to fight it down.
If you lose (win), peer into the carburetor throat (it's where the intake from the air cleaner ends) and ask someone to depress the accelerator. If you see a stream of gasoline in there somewhere shut the hood quickly and declare, "There's nothing wrong with the accelerator pump !" Everyone will be greatly impressed. NEVER GO BEYOND THIS STEP and you will retain fame as a Neighborhood Carburetor Expert.
If by some extraordinary and rare circumstance, there ISN'T a stream of gasoline in there somewhere, shut the hood even more quickly. Stand back, frown, and say, "It must be the valve clearances, contact points, plugs, Compression, ignition timing, or the grummnovitch." This will have a sensational effect upon bystanders. Your reputation is secure. While it is, ask friends to remove all tools from your reach and take the car to your authorized Alfa Romeo dealer (quietly) at the earliest opportunity. He knows all about grummnovitches.
But he doesn't know much about Alfa owners. Hardly ever sees them. Their Alfas so rarely need service.
He's happy for them, but lonely. Go by and say hello by flashing your lights once in a while.
The new owners booklet was published in early '63, and was an effort by several persons at Alfa Romeo Inc. (ARI) to publish some of the feelings of ARI's founder Arturo Reitz. It was an envelope-stuffer sent to every new car buyer with a personal note from Mr. Reitz, along with a key fob. For those who don't remember Mr. Reitz, he was the founder of ARInc. Mr. Reitz was the No.1 Alfa enthusiast. He died a few years ago in Italy.
Arturo M. Reitz
Photo from Car and Driver, March 1962
Back to Introduction