ALFA ROMEO 8C COMPETIZIONE ON THE ROAD.

Alfa Romeo, Automotive Design, Car Styling, Italian Cars, Maserati, Sports Cars, Supercars, Tuned for the road Add comments

On the occasion of the delivery of the first Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione, tet me share with you this report I compiled last year for few motoring mazaines around the world.

On a sunny day, I have eventually driven the new Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione.

It has been a very long time coming since I missed my chance at the Imola racing track back in September 2004, when Paolo Massai was about to let me take the steering wheel.

Yet, I can call myself very lucky.

Apparently, I have tasted the sexy and red beauty even before the first owner gets his one by the time you read this report.

The rush now is to offer a flavour of what the lucky owners will experience when they get their very own Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione. To get their car they had not just to pay the price but they had to win the race first. The race to enter into the top 500 list. They have brilliant enough or so passionate to first enlist their advanced booking at the Paris Motor Show late in September last year. They have passed through the Alfa Romeo screening and have been selected to be in the top 500 list of would be owner. Eventually they got confirmation - from the AR8C Competizione “Ambassador” that their order has been accepted with the information about which time their car will be built, completed, tested, polished, pampered and delivered.

“Each of the 500 cars has now an owner with a name and delivery time. The first cars will be delivered in Europe starting in October this year, in Japan they will land one year later, in let-hand-drive only  version but with the required adjustments for rear-view mirrors, headlamps and few more details. In the U.S.A. the first units should delivered in May next year. All Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione will be completed by the end of 2008″, said Domenico Bagnasco, the father of the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione technical development. The official selling price in most European countries, where the VAT (Value Added Tax) is set at 20%, is € 162.500. In Japan and the U.S.A. it is slightly higher to pay for transportation and P.D.I. service.

Official colours of the car body are Rosso Competizione (60%), Rosso Alfa Romeo (12%), Black (10%), and Yellow (10 units).  Alfa Romeo will paint the remaining 80 units in individual colour as requested by their owners. Indeed of the entire lot of 500 units, 497 are different and unique. There are only tree units that (all Rosso Competizione) that are equal.

However, I did not drive one of them but one of the two “test cars” Alfa Romeo has built for publicity and news purposes that will not be registered. These two units, after their round of road tests by media from all over the world and exhibition at few motor shows will be locked up in Museums.

 

On the new Balocco Test Track.

Well, you have to admit that driving at speed a powerful Alfa Romeo that is bound to be preserved as a piece of art in a museum is quite a responsibility.

However, this is our job and we had to take the challenge.

 

The early hours were cold but as soon as the Italian sun was high enough the climate become warm and by the time I sat in the car and started the engine I was pretty warm. The car is cool, though. Very cool.

Where shall I start from now? The design, already quite familiar but with a difference? The technique, long anticipated by all media and somehow not entirely new? Or shall I start from the driving experience?

 

I am sure you want to know how it drives, how it sounds and how it feels. In a second. First let me point out that now the official name of the car is 8C Competizione (with two capital C) and that, strange enough, the makers has not released so far the technical specifications data, which suggest there might be some minor changes in the pipeline.

Well, on a closed circuit a car like this is as fast as the circuit allows and its driver can handle. On the straight line everyone is nearly as good as Schumacher and I could read the speed of 240 kph on the longest and fastest straight line. May be I was a bit faster before braking and shifting from 5th to third before the chicane but I had too look ahead and not to the nicely designed tachometer.

   

Certainly this is not a record but it still is quite a performance (of the car, not mine). Indeed taking the car to this speed with the engine running at some 5800 rpm and in top gear is to the credit of its superlative ability to turn around the “Lesmo” bend at quite a speed. However, professional drivers with some confidence of the track might reach here the top potential speed of the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione. The maker’s official claim is 292 kph, with the engine revving at some 7000 rpm. but according to Mr. Bagnasco this is rather conservative and according to the latest test on the high-speed ring in Nardo (why don’t they call the Nardoring?) the car has actually topped 300 kph.

To hit the magic mark the car must be fluent enough to allow the engine to reach 7250 rpm, just 250 rpm short of the red line, set a 7500 rpm. It is really a matter of aerodynamics and distance.

You do not need to reach the engine’s upper limit to reach the speed of 100 kph from standing start, though. Just 4.2 seconds and second gear will do that, at some 6500 rpm.

The engine response is simply delightful, the 4.7 litre V8 completely redesigned by Alfa Romeo from the Ferrari/Maserati block, has so much torque at low engine speed that the car gets the punch and acceleration of a racer. With that comes the fantastic sound of the engine and gears shifting mechanism. The massive torque and the lighter body clearly qualify the car among the top in class. Only a direct comparison will tell the true and yet that comparison will be difficult to make when performance, beauty and exclusivity are combined.

Now the difference between Michael and myself clearly comes out very clearly when it is time brake the car, to shift in the right gear at the proper time, to steer the car through the ideal line at the highest speed the car can handle it and eventually to resume acceleration out of the bend.

Here it is not a matter of flooring the throttle and keep the steering wheel straight. It is a matter of driving skill and, naturally enough, of being familiar with the circuit.

The Balocco track did not help this time. Not only it has been redesigned and radically changed but they had just finished covering the road with a new layer of fresh asphalt. In few words the track was rather slippery at unpredictable spots, and some new bends very trick indeed.

Well despite all this, despite the remarkable torque of the 4.7 litre V8 (reportedly reaching for 470 Nm at 4750 rpm.) and despite my amateurish skill the car never surprised me, if not for its outstanding road holding, stability and agility. Sure if it roof could have been 200 or just 150 mm. lower on the ground (see the images comparing the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione  with the Alfa Romeo Giulia TZ or the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale to see how cars have dramatically evolved in the past four decades),  it would have been a lot easier and simply amazing. The car’s centre of gravity is as low as possible, of course, but today’s standards for safety, driveability, and comfort are entirely different and today sport cars are dramatically heavier and taller.

On the other side, all I had to deal with was a bit of entertaining over steering and some caution.

That goes to the credit of the excellent chassis, with racing type, double wishbone with hub carrier and arms made of forged aluminium, suspensions front an rear (Sachs shock absorbers and spring by Italian specialist Cima) and the big 20 inches Pirelli P Zero tyres, 245/35 at the front and 285/35 at the rear, mounted on perforated special aluminium wheels designed for maximum lightness and best brake ventilation.

Steering the car around tight bends was all right but I felt the steering was not as direct as I expected. Project manager Bagnasco said it is even more direct than the brilliant one of the Alfa Romeo 156. Here turning the steering wheel by 14 degree deliver one degree at the wheel. Mathematics cannot be argued but I am not fully convinced and I suspect that Alfa Romeo has been a bit conservative to avoid any difficulties to less experienced drivers.

Anyway, as drivers can sometime overestimating themselves or underestimating the law of physics, to make sure that is entertaining and safe to drive in all conditions, the 8C Competizione, comes with the latest development of the Alfa Romeo VDC system, the unique stability and traction control system further evolved by the company, which ensures that the driver and the car are always on the same wavelength and away of potential troubles. The VDC system allows the driver to have some fun and the self-locking differential lets the driver control acceleration and stability in any situation with extraordinary efficiency so that a bit of over steering can be induced.

Disconnect the VDC system and you are on your own, with torque delivery ready to spin the car 360° at leisure: just steer the wheels and floor the throttle.

When it comes to sheer performance we have to refer to the specifications as measured by Alfa Romeo which says the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione takes only 4.2 to reach 100 kph of speed from standing and 12,4 to cover the first 400 metres.

All cars come with what Alfa Romeo call “Selespeed”: the well established automated mechanical 6 speed transmission that is electronically controlled an actuated by an electrically governed hydraulic mechanism. The gearbox is installed on the rear axle in typical Alfa Romeo “transaxle” style (a design first adopted back in 1937 by the wonderful Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 B and resumed in the 1972 Alfetta) to obtain the best possible weight distribution on front and rear axle. This and the “in-board” engine (actually installed behind the front axle in a sort of front mid-engined layout) means that in the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione  the weight distribution is almost perfect, with 49% of the load on the front axle and 51% on the rear. With two passengers that turns into a perfect 50/50 balance.

The mechanical gearbox is engineered to work also as a very comfortable full automatic transmission (tuned to please the spoiled American drivers and the Japanese demand for finesse)[1] but I had no time (read fun) testing that on a closed track. Engaging automatically “reverse” (at the touch of a button) is already boring enough. I fully exploited the “manual” shifting playing with the “aluminium” (there is an alternative made of carbon fibre) paddles fitted behind the steering wheel. Never had a problem with it, shifting is as fast and precise as it has to be expected in a sport car of this kind and, if I remember well, quite comfortable. To be honest, I do not remember paying attention to this detail but at least I can report that I did not feel any lack of comfort.

When you let the horses play their gallop and drive at some speed, your attention is focused on the road, the eyes looking far ahead and the ears enjoying the fantastic sound of the engine.

These days it seems that engine noise can be designed and orchestrated; and indeed any car maker can do it. The point here is to go back to the source and to have in your heritage the original soundtrack of a racing V8 engine such as those that powered the famous Alfa Romeo V8 racers of the mid thirties or in the late sixties. The engine is terrific and absolutely a key note of the car’s character. The late Big Luciano would certainly love it. Make no mistakes though: despite its name the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione is not a racing car. It has not been engineered to beat any rival by a fraction of a second on a F1 test.

Carbon fibre and light weight materials have been applied intensively for its bodywork but its frame is a stiff and solid structure made of steel and its comfort is close to that of a Gran Turismo.

If there is an area in the driving and fun potential of the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione that left me cold was the braking. The car I drove had some spongy feeling about the brakes and took a fraction too long to really work hard. Apparently the braking system had been used intensively, the day before and needed some purging. So I was allowed to take another ride in the black “Competizione” and actually realised the car has indeed the braking power it needs and claim. However, I would like to do some fast laps with it before finally committing to a statement on high speed braking potential, even though the reliable Mr. Bagnasco is very reassuring indeed on this issue.

He stated that “the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione can go from 100 kph to full stop over a distance of 33 metres, or even 31 metres, depending on how the distance is measured”.[2]

Rest and admire.

Let’s now take a break from the thrilling driving experience to look at the stunning car, as it rests under the sun and with the snow-white Alps Mountain on the back. After all it is its beauty that has fascinated millions of people which has seen it at motor shows around the world since it made its first public appearance at the 2003 Frankfurt Motor Show.

I remember very well those days, the enthusiastic and passionate reaction of the public, media and industry insiders and the discussions that centred on the key questions. Should Alfa Romeo turn that dream-car into reality? Could they afford to do it? Would they do it?

Those innocent questions were easy to ask, but difficult to answer. Indeed a lot of water had to flow under the bridges and a lot had to change at Alfa Romeo and its landlord Fiat. Eventually it was, once again Sergio Marchionne, to approve the plan and to give the green light in Spring 2006.

Of course everything - or almost - was ready for the production development and few months later - at the Paris Show last year - plans for the production of 500 units were officially announced and some 1200 “advanced bookings” accepted.

Back in 2003, in its official statement for the Frankfurt Show wrote:  ”Daniele Bandiera, President of the Alfa Romeo Business Unit, presented an exciting concept car to the international press this morning. It is called the ‘8C Competizione’ . …
Designed and developed at the Alfa Romeo Style Centre, this prototype will become a true brand icon, evoking a great sports car tradition of which the name is part. In the Thirties and Forties, the ‘8C’ signature that returns here, identified the racing and road cars that were equipped with the new eight cylinder engine developed by the famous engineer Vittorio Jano. The term ‘Competizione’ on the other hand, is a tribute to the 6C 2500 Competizione, the sports coupé driven by Fangio and Zanardi in the famous Mille Miglia race in 1950.”

Now what is amazing is that the car dreamed of by Wolfgang Egger and his team of Alfa Romeo designers back in 2003 was indeed quite a realistic sport car that has gone from the drawing table and the model shop into (limited) series production virtually unchanged.

The only substantial and visible difference in its style is the addition of a cut line in the front bonnet (required by USA legislation) and the slightly higher spoiler lip on the tail, required to improve aerodynamics and stability. Even the overall dimensions have remained almost unchanged. Just almost because in the process the overhangs - that where  meant to be the shortest in absolute terms and in class - have indeed been extended more than it was desirable and desired. The proportions completely have been maintained fairly close though and unless you compare the two cars you would not see the (significant) difference.

Than there is a bit of chrome as an annoying concession to “luxury” and new wheels that are not the most appropriate to the flowing, muscular and sexy, body design.

However the most dramatic changes are related to the power plant and the price. The godfathers of the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione project (with Wolfgang Egger to be considered the father) Mr. Daniele Bandiera (at that time the lider maximo of Alfa Romeo) and Paolo Massai, the engineer in charge of its technical development (all gone, as well as Wolfgang Egger, unfortunately) aimed at a production run of 500 to 1000 units thus making it economically feasible to sell the car at € 120.000 or less. That is less than three quarter of the actual price of the Alfa Romeo supercar.

On the other hand the power plant that was outlined as a 4.2 litre V8, supercharged by a volumetric compressor, engineered to deliver 400 HP and 450 Nm and zero to 100 kph in 4.5 seconds and a top speed “above 300 kph“. The top speed is not quite as high, at least according to official statements, but the engine is more powerful and torquey in its naturally aspirated mode.

 Beauty is not all about it, but is what makes this car irresistible.

 The victories and achievements of Alfa Romeo have gone down into the history book for its repeated success in overturning company misfortune into stunning beauties and racing supremacy, not to mention many fantastic dream cars by the most talented designers ever. Here again, out of another difficult period, is a masterpiece that beautifully and uniquely, combines elegance with power, style with performance, romance with aesthetics, class with boldness. How can anyone resist the fascinating appeal of this car, which is the pure expression of the motor car history and essence?

It is not just a matter of naturally flowing lines, of smooth and yet solid surfaces, of a very simple and yet sophisticated sculpture. It is not just a matter of a tricky size impression that make it looks a young and nimble sports car with its sensual and rounds shapes. It is a matter of history, of family tradition, of heritage, of the typically and unique daring spirit that moves engineering and designers to break barriers and see further out. There is so much of Alfa Romeo history in this Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione, from the powerful, muscular rear wings that accentuate the impression a strong, forceful personality to the rear window that virtually envelops its pillars that collectors simply cannot miss.

The most iconic features of the most fascinating Alfa racers of the past - such as the exclusive ‘whiskers’ and the famous shield - are positioned virtually at the same height of the inspirational car of the past. Indeed at first glance the new supercar from Alfa Romeo shows that the styling of the whole exterior is full of classical references, an ideal opportunity for a modern interpretation of traditional Alfa stylistic cues. From the original 1967 Alfa Romeo 33 Coupé Stradale, or the 1963 Giulia TZ (and its typical round light clusters at the rear sports).

Yet, Alfa’s design language takes a further step forward and this 8C Competizione is not going to be celebration of past glories but also the trend setter of Alfa Romeos to come. An instant classic and a collector’s must-have, sure; but also the starting point of a brilliant future.

Indeed the GTA evolution is on its way to celebrate 100th anniversary of the company. Come back tomorrow for the details.

Complete Photo Gallery: ALFA ROMEO 8C COMPETIZIONE DRIVEN


[1] The 6-speed gearbox, with computerised gear selection by the levers behind the steering-wheel, was developed for very fast gear changes, and can be used in Manual-Normal, Manual-Sport, Automatic-Normal, and Automatic-Sport and Ice modes.[2] The braking system mounts perforated, ventilated discs with aluminium callipers to guarantee powerful, effective braking even with very intensive use.

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