There is never anything wrong with an Alfa Romeo. Maybe you end up finding things you don’t like, or maybe a piece of the seat falls off in your hand and the sunroof refuses to shut because of some software quirk. That’s just the universe poking you with a test light, to see if you’re any good. A true dyed-in-the-wool wheel-and-pedal man (or lady, or child) will find everything ostensibly wrong with an Alfa Romeo and then label it not so much wrong as accident. Too much grappa at lunch on the assembly line. A few typos in the code. The best of intentions, ruined by gremlins.
Because there is never anything wrong with an Alfa.
I worked on Alfas once. After college, in Missouri, for a living. My boss was a man named Carter Hendricks. Carter was an Alfa Person. His shop was perpetually full of old Italian things. Also a lot of stuff that was not Italian but interesting anyway. We listened to a lot of Billie Holiday, on a small, single-ended tube amplifier that Carter had designed and built. It filled rooms on something like half a watt of output and made instruments seem to be playing inside your brain.
I told Carter that I wanted to be a writer, and so we talked about writing, but also Alfas and Lancias and the French Grand Prix driver René Dreyfus. Usually with my head buried in an old Duetto or Giulia Super or some other piece of genius. But that action was always unnecessary, because those cars never needed repair, because there was never anything wrong with them.
We argued occasionally. Possibly because I was, in the years immediately following college, an occasionally argumentative and tone-deaf doofus. But there was never anything wrong with Carter. Or me, come to think of it.
I was reminded of those days shortly after the launch of the current Alfa Giulia. Pretty car. Perhaps afflicted by the line-grappa. Last summer, I wrote a piece for R&T’s website about the problems various journalists had encountered with Giulia test vehicles. A writer at Motor Trend had one of the cars refuse to ascend his driveway. A friend at Jalopnik was stranded by the side of an interstate. Car and Driver’s technical director grew so gun-shy, after watching various Giulias misbehave in testing, that he brought an OBD-II trouble-code reader on the media launch of Alfa’s SUV, the Stelvio.
I later referenced Alfa history while filming . Responses appeared on Alfa-enthusiast sites. “Really starting to get annoyed,” one read, by “this talk about Alfa not being reliable.” Another suggested that I go write for Kittens and Cuddles magazine. (Good title, if a bit fluffy.) “Meh,” said a third—my thoughts were “nonsense.”
I nodded as I read those words, because they were right. Flaws do not exist on an Alfa, because no flawed thing is ever worth loving, and the Quadrifoglio was one of the few modern cars I had ever loved. Shame washed over me like cold rain.
A few days after that web story ran, I received a phone call from Reid Bigland. Bigland was then global head of Alfa Romeo and Maserati, at Fiat Chrysler. He had on the line with him Roberto Fedeli, Alfa’s chief technical officer. A 26-year veteran of Ferrari before coming to the marque from Milan.
They wanted to talk Giulia.
Here it comes, I thought. There are no problems, on an Alfa. “I want to apologize,” Bigland said. “We have had some software issues with the car.”
Fedeli spoke English with an Italian accent. They delayed the start of Giulia production, he said, to make sure the cars were right. Mine and others were not. This was embarrassing, but they would like to make it right. Would I like a loan of another test Quad, for another track day?
It seemed a generous offer. Time passed, and then there was a hole in my travel schedule. I made a few calls and ended up at Buttonwillow Raceway Park, outside Los Angeles, with a blue Quadrifoglio. The car was dialed, fast, dreamy, impeccable. A BMW M3 with better steering. A Mercedes C63 that didn’t feel like someone had welded a box of anvils to the front bumper. It chewed Buttonwillow to bits, no hiccups. The best Quad I had driven, in terms of brake modulation, damper goodness, the indescribable variation that can occur between identical items built on the same production line.
Which was nice, but also somewhat expected. Grain of salt, right? You do not often get a misbehaving car sent to you by the chief of the dang company.
I was sitting in the paddock thinking about this, windows down and stereo on, when a track worker walked up. White pants and shirt, carrying a flag, the whole deal. She laughed and smiled. Stuck her head in the passenger window.
“This thing’s great. How is it?”
I reached over to turn off the music. The moment I touched the volume knob, the center-console screen went dead, controls neutered. The music kept going.
I did a double take. Then a smile back out the window, unable to keep from laughing.