I spend too much time thinking about cars that should exist, but don’t.
Blame can be laid squarely at the door of the manufacturers, since they’ve spent the last decade or so turning niche products mainstream, if that concept isn’t too paradoxical.
You can barely move for compact crossovers these days, or three-door hatchbacks masquerading as coupes, or the saloon-turned-hatchbacks that sprang up a few years after Saab decided its 9-3 had to be a regular saloon in order to compete. Dålig timing, as they say in Sweden.
Essentially, if you want a car, someone, somewhere is probably making it. Except for me they aren’t and it’s a constant bugbear. The trouble is, I barely have two pennies to rub together so most new cars are out of reach.
Ones I actually want to own are even further out of reach, as rapid technological advancements push modestly entertaining cars into higher pricing brackets.
That’s why I asked for the budget rear-drive saloon to come back – a car that used to be everywhere when rear-wheel drive was the accepted standard, but is now consigned to BMWs and other luxury items. I suggested automakers take Dacia’s uncomplicated lead with a puritan attitude to specification, and sprinkle it with the simple fun of cars like Mazda’s MX-5 and Toyota’s GT86. Serve it for under ten grand and you’ve got yourself a cult classic.
Now, as I click through classified ads hoping in vain to spot an old Alfasud within my meagre budget, I’ve realised what else our little motoring world is lacking – another Alfasud.
After the war, Italy was in a bad way. By the 1960s, the south of the country was still in a bad way, and Alfa was tasked with developing a car that could be built there to bring some much-needed jobs and income to the region.
That car was the Alfasud. It broke from Alfa Romeo tradition with its front-drive layout – something Mercedes only turned to with 1997’s A-Class and BMW still hasn’t done without a MINI badge on the snout – featured a simple flat-four engine, didn’t weigh much, and stuck to tarmac like the leavings of a dog to a loafer.
It was also inexpensive – a budget car, if you like. At launch in 1972 a new one cost £1,399. Okay, Mr Poverty 1972 probably wouldn’t cross-shop with the £875 Volkswagen 1302 or the £974 of an Austin Allegro a year later, but you were getting an Alfa – and that really did count for something back in the day.
It should count for something today too, but the right car doesn’t exist.
No, not even the MiTo. Fun in its own owl-eyed way, you still need to fork out over £14,000 for a bottom-end MiTo, which is a bit much when our old favourite the Sandero costs less than half that.
You can probably see where this is going.
The Sandero proves it’s possible to make an effective car from proven mechanicals and sell it at a truly budget price. It therefore must be possible for any company – Alfa Romeo included – to do the same. It could be five doors, like the original Sud and indeed the Dacia. It wouldn’t need to weigh much – basic transport is the aim here, not luxury.
Because it’d be light, you could get away with an engine of modest capacity. I don’t doubt an old Fiat 1.4 FIRE unit could be brought up to modern emissions standards (and the tooling will have paid for itself by now); if not, a modern MultiAir or even TwinAir would do the job – the latter having some of the character of the Sud’s flat-four.
And somewhere, somebody must know how to make it handle. In a sub-tonne front-drive hatch, how hard can it be these days? The Sandero is nice in a French floaty way; the new Sud could be a little sharper and a little firmer.
Most importantly, the price. Alfa is putting all its eggs in one basket by developing the 4C, and the upcoming Spider, and upmarket 3-Series competitors. Why not save a few eggs for my budget Alfa omelette? I’m thinking less than ten gees at the very most – but the closer to the Sandero, the better.
I’m not sure about anyone else, but if Alfa offered a simple, fun hatchback with a bubbly engine for mildly specced-up Sandero money I’d be all over it.
Just remind them to rust-proof this one. Not that they’ll make it. Maybe I should start looking for a tidy Alfa 33 instead…
Images © Alfa Romeo, Saab and Dacia.