1979 Alfa Romeo Alfetta Sport Sedan

1979 Alfa Romeo Alfetta Sport Sedan

  • Chassis #: AR116582002690

While the post-war Alfa 1900 Berlina was advertised as "the family car that wins races," the slogan for the late '70s automatic-equipped Alfetta Sport Sedan could have been "a truly sale-proof car."

The Alfetta was Alfa's attempt to regain its technical edge with a sophisticated drive-train and suspension. Its previous models were powered by an engine dating to 1954 and a suspension dating to 1962. In 1975, the cash-strapped company offered the same twin-cam alloy engine, but with fresh Sprint and Sport Sedan (Berlina) styling, a 5-speed manual transaxle and deDion rear suspension. Hampered by a power-robbing Rube Goldbergian approach to emissions, Alfettas proved as sluggish as their sales, and quickly reaffirmed Alfa's reputation for blown head gaskets and terminal rust. New features included heavy steering, a rubbery shift linkage and an insatiable appetite for driveshaft donuts. The American distributor, attempting to explain away Alfa's plummeting sales, pleaded for a sedan with an automatic transmission, surely an essential enhancement for the American market.

In 1978, a batch of 2,000 Berlinas with air conditioning and a ZF three-speed automatic transaxle was assembled for our market. Not surprisingly, buyers attracted to air-conditioned cars with automatic transmissions did not shop Alfas, and Alfa enthusiasts were offended by the unsporting nature of the car. More than half of these "Alfamatics" were shipped back to Italy as unsaleable. Italians immediately fell in love with the luxury of an air-conditioned, automatic Alfa. The repatriated cars, now badged "America," sold well enough that the model was put back into production for the Italian home market.

The SCM Analysis

I recommended an "Alfamatic" to the former owner of the car pictured here. He wanted the convenience of an Alfa four-door, and I observed that the Alfetta's reputation for destroying donuts did not apply to the ZF-equipped cars since they avoided the driveline shocks of the clutch-equipped cars. During his possession of the car, the owner improved its already good condition to better-than-new. Its heavy stock bumpers were replaced with stainless units from an earlier Berlina, and fog lights and mild cams were added. The car passed a smog test after a careful tune-up and fresh catalyst.

Several months ago, however, the worst possible failure happened to this car: its rare ZF gearbox gave up. Fortunately, a used unit was located at Alfa Parts Exchange. The last time I saw the car, it was sitting tail-high on jackstands waiting for the replacement transaxle to be installed. Fearing this might not be the last of his problems with the car, the owner decided to sell. He could not find a buyer who would offer as much as $1,000. He finally let it go for less than that.

An alert SCM reader then forwarded me the following listing from eBay Motors for this same car, being offered for sale at no reserve by its new owner:

"This is a 1979 Alfa Romeo Sport Sedan with a clear title. The engine is solid and runs strong. It is in great running condition. The exterior is black and the interior is tan and brown. The car has the original Alfa Romeo wheels with expensive Goodyear AquaTred tires in near-new condition. The engine is in great condition. The automatic 3-speed transmission is also in great condition. The car has a few extra parts including two cams, four armrests, smog gear, etc. The paint is nice and the interior is fabulous. Fog lights are in complete working condition and come with the yellow covers. The seats are in great condition. All the gauges work, as far as I know. Decals are in good condition."

The no-reserve status suggests that the seller really had no idea what this Alfa would bring. The high bid of $3,606 on May 19, 2001 is astonishing for (arguably) the least loved of all Alfa Romeos, and is no doubt prompted by the car's remarkable condition. The real question: who would so cherish an Alfa sedan that appeals to so few and struggles to make $1,500 on the open market? One possible answer: an Alfa enthusiast who is not deterred by the Alfetta reputation, and for whatever reason needs an automatic rather than a manual-shift car.

Alfettas are a problematic model. The SPICA system is difficult to get through smog tests, and those that have not already rusted into oblivion are at the nadir of their value. It's likely that this car, thanks to the care invested in it, will be one of the very few to survive. It's in the new owner's interest to hang onto the car and assure that it does: in 20 years, it will surely be rare (after all, this model is rare even today, with few being sold initially, and most of those already gone to that great Italian crusher in the sky) and may even have some small degree of collectibility. Most likely, the new owner should just drive and enjoy the car, and realize that if he decides to sell, he'll confront the same prejudices that prompted a previous owner to nearly give it away.—Pat Braden

Note: In spite of its "great running condition," this car had not changed hands 10 days after the sale. The seller was still "tuning" the engine in an attempt to pass California's mandatory smog check.

(Photo courtesy of auction company.)

Price Guide Values

Year/Make/Model Low High
75-79 Alfa Romeo Alfetta GT (U.S.) $2,500 $4,000
75-79 Alfa Romeo Alfetta sedan $2,000 $3,000

Search Price Guide

Years Produced (Sport Sedan) 1978-79
Number Produced 2,000 (US market)
Original List Price approx. $7,000
SCM Valuation $1,500-$2,500 (at time of print)
Tune-up Cost $200
Distributor Caps $50
Chassis # Location Windshield surround and bulkhead
Engine # Location Passenger side of engine block
Club Info AROC, 10 Raskin Road, Morristown, NJ 07960
Web Site http://www.aroc-usa.org
Alternatives Triumph Mayflower, Fiat 131 Mirafiori, Trabant
From the July 2001 issue of Sports Car Market.

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