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The 33 was never the jewel in Alfa's crown, but as the model developed, the Alfa 33 became increasingly better. These later models became the last Alfas with 'proper' engines - the boxer - the biggest of which, the 1.7 - was the best lump of the series. If you're in the market for a MkIII Golf GTi or an XR3i, you could do much worse than buy an 2nd hand 33 16v Cloverleaf, which were often bought 'fully loaded' as company cars. A good L-reg can be had for under £2000 (the first owner will have picked up the tab for the appalling depreciation), and is likely to come with Recaros in Alacantra (artificial suede, as used in Lancias), Momo steering wheel, 15" pepperpot alloys, PAS and electric windows. Granted, late 33 16v Cloverleafs don't compare to the latest Alfas, but can still give modern BMW 318s and Golf GTIs a good thrashing at the lights. They also sound wonderful, which is more than can be said about most cars on the road. Handling isn't too bad, but not up to Alfa's usual standards - but a darn sight better than an XR3i. Nonetheless, it's still very predictable, although prone to a little wheelspinning at the lights if you're too enthusiastic with the accelerator. The driving position is not as harsh as some reviewers say - particularly if Recaros are fitted. I'm of average height and build(I DON'T have short legs and long arms), and never found it uncomfortable. As a hatchback, it's Escort-sized, and has a similarly sized cargo-space. Rear seats are split-fold, making the 33 a very practical proposition. The finish - interior and exterior is not fantastic; plastics look a little cheap, and panels are thin. Having said that, I'd happily point out that it did share a parts-bin with the Ferrari 355 (door handles and vents). It was also available as an estate - the 33 Sportswagon. Both hatchback and Sportawagon were also available with
4WD. These are much rarer, and more expensive to service, though great fun to drive. I'd certainly recommend one to anybody looking for a fun, fast, practical and cheap hot-hatch.
Back in the 1970s, Alfa designed a wondeful car, a real potential worldbeater as it was better than the then ubiquitous VW Golf. Only problem was, they decided to build it in the south of Italy - due mainly to government subsidies. It was built by peasants and farmers who weren't particularly skilled at putting cars together and in a part of Europe that knows little rain, it was built with little ttention to the damage that water can do to a car. The Alfasud was born. Hold on a minute you say! This is a review about the Alfa 33. Exactly, I say. Alfa took the wonderful Sud - dynamic, with superb boxer engines - and tried to make it mass market - to compete with the VW golf and the Ford Escort. So, they put a new boxy body onto the same sud floorpan, detuned the dynamism of the car - brakes at the rear now became drums, brakes at the front which used to be inboard to reduce unsprung mass now went, conventionally, outboard by the wheels. Gone were body kits, spoliers, and the engines were emasculated. The Lovely of twin choke carbs sat above each of the two widespread cyclinder heads of teh flat four became snesible. And what happned? The car went backwards (hye, you know what i mean) - it failed to go mass market, it failed Alfa fans. Soon they realised their mistakes and bigger flat four engines were introduced again with one choke barrel per cylinder. Spoilers and body kits appeared. The cars looks improved, but it still wasn't a sud. The Cloverleaf Veloce went further with an extra front air dam, and this rare car can still be seen as is something more like what an Alfa should be. Underneath all this, the 33 was actually quite a practical family car. Indeed, the hotter versions were unique in being a hot hatch with five rather than 3 doors. The ride was good, and handling reasonable. Economy can be high 30mphs on a good drive, yet performance from the boxer engine, whilst not ea
rthshattering, still gave some. Betst of all was the lovely engine and exhaust sound - especially on the overrun which sounded like a group of cowboys after a dinner of baked beans. After the G plates, the body was restyled and power steerign added - the older 33s can be very hard work around town - the turning circle is poor and the camber of the front wheels helps cornering but accelerates tyre wear tremendously. The newer bodies are covered to much in plastic - the older style to me is more pleasing. The engines are the real beauties of these cars, but the boxer is now over 30 years old and although the 33's sucesors - the 145 and 146 - used it to start with, it was getting past its sell by date. They are generally very reliable engines - I've had 5 on suds and 33s - radiator damage and the odd head gasket are about the limit, though as the 33s were built to last slightly longer than the suds, there is a very important area to keep an eye on as the engine passes 80,000 or so miles. Cam belt tensioners. These are not serviced items, but should be replaced with the belts. i have had two seize, at a cost of over £500 a time for half an engine rebuild. Also, if buying one of these cars, look for tyre wear on the inside edges of the front tyres. Rust is generally not too much of a problem on G plates and later as the bodies were then galvanised - indeed i still see my old veloce round town with barely a rust mark on it. Bottom corners of the rear windows is a prime location, and stone chips elsewhere on earlier models will rust quickly. Front brake disc wear can also be excessive - as on many cars these days due to harder pads post asbestos. The rear drums will probably never need relining. Clutches may be near slipping on older models, though one of my 33s got to 110,000 miles before it needed changing, and even then, it is not the worst job. Ventilation is appalling, so you need a sun roof to encourage some air flow in
to the car. Electric versions can seriously reduce headroom though. The 33 doesn't really stand up well to todays cars, but it can be quite a bargain as they are inherently quite reliable and still some fun. Try to shop around for a clean example - it will still only be a couple of thousand for the best post G plate models that added fuel injection and 16 valves to give a very pokey 137bhp from the 1700cc engine. Much as I love Alfas, I can't give this car that many stars as it is a rather tired design - if only the sud were still around. Try as it might in later years, the 33 for some reason could never really match that much older gem.