Alfa Romeo Giulietta: What to know before you buy

Photograph Courtesy Alfa Romeo

By Ed Higginbotham

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Classic Motorsports.]

Joe Cabibbo
Centerline International

Alfa Romeo’s Giulietta 750 and 101 offer a perfect blend of vintage Italian driving feel and usability that has long made them desirable to Alfisti. In the last few years, the collector car world has begun to discover their charms in earnest. Now is the time to find a solid car and begin enjoying it, whether that means a concours restoration or subtle modifications geared toward comfortable touring or high-performance driving.

When evaluating a car, focus on body condition and overall completeness. In addition to rust in the floor pans, rocker panels, and in the trunk, these cars often suffer from poorly executed previous bodywork, which can be costly to correct to today’s standards. Alfa owners have been swapping parts between models for decades, so you want to find someone familiar with the marque to verify that the major components on the car are correct.

While buying replacement upholstery or a new convertible top is easy, finding correct seats or an intact convertible top frame will be much harder. Missing trim and interior parts for a Sprint can be especially tough to source, and body panels from one Sprint rarely fit another chassis. You can verify that the engine and transmission are in the correct numerical range, but due to Alfa’s recordkeeping at the time, it’s not always possible to verify they are numbers-matching to the chassis.

While many Alfas have suffered at the hands of indifferent mechanics, these cars are actually very simple to work on and maintain. A smart first purchase for any new owner is a set of reprinted factory service manuals as well as a factory parts manual. After ensuring basic engine health, timing and carb tuning, along with a fresh supply of the proper fluids, the best preventive maintenance is to drive your Alfa often and hard.

One of the more vintage-feeling aspects of the Giulietta chassis is the braking system, with its beautiful finned aluminum drums at all four corners. Although a basic service, rebuilding or replacing the wheel cylinders and relining the brake shoes is often enough to restore proper braking. Many owners searching for more modern stopping power choose a front disc brake conversion. Centerline offers a complete conversion kit, which bolts on later Spider calipers, pads and rotors.

The original suspension was both supple and rugged. You should expect light but responsive steering. Most suspension joints have zerk fittings and last indefinitely if kept greased. Unpredictable handling, especially a loose-feeling rear end, can often be traced to worn trailing arm bushings. To firm things up without causing a harsh ride, a simple set of sport springs and an upgraded 1-inch front anti-roll bar paired with Koni Classic shocks will work wonders.

The aluminum twin-cam engine is the heart of the car and was the basis for virtually all Alfa four-cylinder engines used through the 1990s. On most cars, fuel was supplied by a single downdraft Solex carb, which can be replaced by a Weber DGV for reliability and ease of tuning. The near-race Veloce models, with higher compression, hotter cams, tubular headers and twin Weber side-draft carburetors, provided a factory template for countless owners and racers who have modified their cars for increased performance.

If you’re looking for more performance and tractability, increased displacement is easily available. Centerline offers a 1400cc kit for the original 1300cc engine, along with all the conversion parts necessary to install a later, 1750cc or 2000cc Alfa engine.

Ric Lovecchio
RML Automotive

When buying a Giulietta, the most important step is to verify that the car is complete. Trim bits and the most minor pieces are becoming very difficult to locate, and the reproduction market is way behind the curve.

Back in the day, there were some popular mods that consisted of simply bolting Veloce bits on the Normale cars. Also, there were some aftermarket pieces to make them go faster, like hotter camshafts and ignition systems. Today, the market says that these little cars are best brought back to original specifications. Even as stock cars, they still outperformed any small-bore sports cars of the day.

I must add that there are plenty of things available today that allow bigger, 1750-2000cc engines to be put in the 750 and 101 chassis. Then they’ll go like hell. Companies like Centerline offer motor mounts that allow this swap as well as spindles that allow disc brake conversions. Other popular upgrades include trailing arm-to-differential strengthening brackets and a five-speed transmission swap. It really is cool stuff, but I tend to prefer these cars in more original shape; they were in a class alone back then.

Significant and noticeable gains will result from a proper tuning: front-end alignment, correct jetting of the Solex carbs, and tuning in the advance curve in the distributor. This is most important in any small-bore engine.

Proper valve adjustment and cam timing can change the way the car drives at low or high rpm. Alfa Romeo twin-cam engines have an ingenious way of indexing the cams. There is a vernier that allows you to index one or both cams. Lobe centers in: more torque. Lobe centers out: more top end. You can spend all the time you want tuning and playing with this magnificent engine.

All this stated, you can buy a 1.4-liter piston and liner kit as well as higher-compression pistons that will help. At the end of the day, the car that is tuned best–whatever the level of modification–will make you happiest.

These cars require similar maintenance to most other vintage sports cars. We use DOT 5 brake fluid in all of our restoration and preservation efforts. With this fluid, we observe less corrosion in the cylinder bores. Plus, there’s no chance of damaging the painted surfaces with that corrosive DOT 4. Valve adjustment is probably a more intense project than it is on most cars because of the shim-under-bucket means of adjusting the lash. But if the valves are ground correctly, you should only have to adjust them at 35,000-mile intervals.

Oil leaks are common; most begin in the head gasket area. There are numerous techniques and sealing compounds that help here. The most important thing is to let the engine warm up before using it. The aluminum engine pieces take a set and are less prone to developing oil leaks.

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