In the early 1980s, Alfa Romeo needed a replacement for its popular but rust-prone Alfasud economy car.
They made the decision to replace it with two different models, the first was for the more budget-conscious buyer, and that was the Arna. It was a collaboration with Nissan, essentially packing the worst of both brands into one spectacularly awful model. The other was the 33, not to be confused with the 33 Stradale of the 60s, but was actually their answer to the VW Golf.
It is almost always overlooked because it is, for the most part, just another budget car. But it’s not, it’s a real Alfa, designed by Alfa Romeo before Fiat entered the scene. It was an incredibly affordable entry point into the wonderful world of Italian cars.
Alfa Romeo Boxer Engines
From a technical point of view, the best part of the Alfasud, the engine, has been transferred to the more modern 33.
While the design may have aged by then, it received enough tweaks along the way to make it still relevant and could easily keep up with the competition in efficiency and performance. Unfortunately, even though the engines proved efficient, they were still vulnerable to timing belt failures. Therefore, for anyone looking to buy one of these models, this is an essential part to replace, regardless of how it looks.
Although these are very economical cars, there are still some totally unique versions that are worth paying a little more.
Of the early production cars, the Giardinetta/Estate/Sportwagon has to be the most beautiful, and there’s a very good reason for that; it was designed and built by Pininfarina. Both the wagon and the hatchback have 4×4 derivatives, and they too were assembled by Pininfarina, which ostensibly meant they came with a premium build quality. Initially the 33 was sold alongside the Alfasud Sprint/TI and as a result did not get the more powerful fuel injected 1.7 liter engine, so until the mid 80’s even sports versions of the 33 had to make do with the 1.5-litre boxer.
With its facelift in 1986, it finally had access to these engines, but there was still a long way to go. When the 33 entered its second run it got its first really hot version, with the Sprint now out of production, the Permanent 4 (later renamed Q4) taking over as the performance model. It developed up to 130 horsepower sent to all four wheels and is one of the last genuine Alfa Romeo cars to be produced.
Innovative but flawed little Alfa
Just like its predecessor it suffered from rusting issues, the 1 series cars were particularly bad and you will be hard pressed to find one without rust today.
In the early 90s, with the (deeply ironic) help of Fiat, they started galvanizing the chassis of all their cars, which meant they weren’t dissolving so quickly anymore. That wasn’t their only issue though, the 33 was built on a budget and even though it looks more modern than the Alfasud, the technology has indeed been reduced in some areas, all in the name of book saving. Alfa’s famous incoming disc brakes were replaced with regular front discs and the rear discs were replaced with good old-fashioned drums. Updated electronics just meant newer, more complex electric gremlins, but reliability was never really their selling point anyway.
Even so, these are still fun cars and really deserve more credit than they get, if you’re in the market for one go for something made between 1992 and 1995, in which case newer is definitely better.
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