How this well-traveled Alfa Romeo Giulia found a home on U.S. circuits

Photography by James Heine

Story by James Heine

If you want to spot Allan Thom on track, just look for a slim, red, elegantly boxy, four-door Alfa that leans–sometimes precipitously–through the corners and then streaks down Road America’s straights with aplomb, hounding whatever happens to be in its way.

It’s quite a show.

I’m amazed at the number of people who will find me in the paddock just to say, ‘I love watching your car on the track because it’s amazing how much it leans,’” Allan says. “Or they will laugh and say it reminds them of a clown car because of how much it leans over. But it handles surprisingly well for a car that has as much body roll as it does.”

Alfa Romeo introduced the sporty four-door Giulia in 1962 and produced it until 1978, when it was succeeded by the Giulietta. Along the way, the factory developed variations of the model for the European Touring Car Championship, most notably the Ti Super.

Giulias, Allan notes, were designed to have a certain characteristic body roll. “The handling is very good on the car,” he stresses again.

Allan, who retired last year as president of WeatherTech, the American automotive accessories company, says he has been an “everything automotive” enthusiast for about as long as he can remember.

From a very young age, from the time I could pick up a crayon and draw something, I was often found drawing cars,” Allan recalls. “For most of my adult life, I’ve been, obviously, a motorsports enthusiast and competitor.”

When his English mother noticed his childhood interest in cars, he adds, she introduced him to people such as Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart through books and magazines and frequent trips to the local public library. “I was one of seven children, and she made sure we were all book smart,” he says.

In the 1980s and ’90s, Allan raced in SCCA Showroom Stock and owned Autotechnica, an import tuning shop he began with his friend and longtime American pro racer Peter Cunningham. These days, his car enthusiasm takes him not only to vintage races and rallies in the U.S., but to Europe, where he has competed at Spa and Mugello. He also ran Italy’s Modena Cento Ore historic rally with his son, Jacob.

Legit History

Allan was laid up while recovering from surgery when he discovered the Giulia. It was 2015, and he had been occupying his downtime by searching the internet for his next project. 

He was looking for one of two things: a car that would be eligible for historic rallies like the California Mille, Copperstate 1000 and Colorado Grand, or maybe a vintage racer “that was probably going to be a sedan, because that’s what I pretty much drove all the time,” he says.

Then an eBay thread for the Giulia popped up on Bring a Trailer. The car was in Japan and seemed to have an interesting, if poorly translated, history–including participation in the Goodwood Revival and historic races in Monte Carlo. Also, early in its life, it apparently belonged to an Italian diplomat.

“I’m reading through this thread, and people are questioning the authenticity of the car, the authenticity of the claims the seller is making,” Allan explains. “So, I did a little internet sleuthing outside the thread and, ‘Wow,’ I said, ‘it looks like a legit car.’”

And so it was.

Indeed, the Alfa was owned originally by an Italian diplomat attached to the consulate in Monaco. At some point, he converted his everyday driver into a vintage racer so he could participate in the Monte Carlo Historics. Eventually, he sold the Alfa to British racer and Abarth importer Lincoln Small, who, as the eBay listing claimed, campaigned the car in the U.K. and at the Goodwood Revival in the 1990s–and earned a Historic Touring Car Challenge class championship. Small, in turn, sold it to a Japanese journalist based in London, who eventually took the Alfa to Japan, Allan notes.

“By searching around, I found an email address in some old race results or something similar, and on a whim I dropped an email to Lincoln Small hoping something would pop up,” he recalls. “And sure enough, I got an email from Mr. Small saying, ‘Yeah, it sounds like my car, and it makes sense that it would be in Japan.’”

On top of its appealing provenance, the car struck Allan as “kind of sweet” and matched his search criteria. His next step was to bid on it.

Unfortunately, he was outbid. Yet a week later, the Japanese collector selling the car contacted him via eBay and asked, “Are you still interested in the car? The winning bidder has fallen through. We’ll sell it to you for the bid you made.”

Yes, of course. So, deal done. Car, spares and documentation–including FIA papers and the original Italian title and registration information–arrived in the U.S. by late winter 2015.

“By the [SVRA] spring vintage event at Road America, I’ve got the car updated and ready to race: modern fuel cell, safety upgrades, new seat and belts. I request a waiver on my vintage license based on my prior history, and I’m out on the track again,” Allan says.

Lean Machine

As you might expect, the Giulia is a ball to drive on track. In some respects, it reminds Allan of an early Spec Miata or perhaps a Showroom Stock car.

“I liken it to driving a first-generation Mazda Miata, where you have to be tidy with your driving,” Allan explains. “You have to be precise, and you have to allow the momentum to carry you. You need to complete your braking as late as possible–but as smoothly as possible–before you begin your turning. And then you need to get on the accelerator as quickly as you can as you leave the corner to carry as much speed as you can.”

This is especially true at a race track like Road America, he adds, where the straightaways are, well, long.

But Allan quickly discovered that the 50-year-old Giulia needed more than just updated safety equipment to handle its return to the track. “The gearbox exploded that first race weekend and we had to change it,” he says, “but we finished the weekend. By the end of the summer, the motor had gone soft and it needed to be rebuilt.”

By then, Allan estimates, the Alfa’s 1300cc powerplant was producing only about 95 horsepower at best instead of a more typical 125 to 130.

To give his Alfa added boost, he decided to replace the 1300cc unit with the Giulia’s optional 1600cc powerplant, which was available in the Ti version–short for Turismo Internazionale. It was a move that boosted the Alfa’s output to 160 or 165 horsepower.

The change made the car come alive, Allan says: “The 1600 was the larger motor available in the car during the period. As an updated car, it moved me up a class, but I jokingly say that I wanted an engine in the car that, when I go up the hill at Road America, I can see the rpms climb instead of decline.”

Other Adventures

In addition to Road America, Allan has run his Giulia in SVRA events at another power-demanding circuit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

How did the Giulia perform at Indy? “Fantastic,” Allan says. “I ended up third overall in my final race, first in class. It was pretty special to stand on the podium and drink the milk. And of course, naturally, we had to go kiss the bricks. But the car was a joy to drive, even though Indianapolis also is another horsepower track.”

And while he hasn’t yet run the Guilia at Grattan Raceway or Mid-Ohio, where years ago he won SCCA Showroom Stock races, he anticipates that the car will be in its element on those tracks. “It really shines at a smaller venue like Blackhawk Farms that rewards handling over horsepower,” he notes.

So, bottom line today, after a half-decade of racing the car: “It’s a wonderful car to drive,” Allan says. “It’s not a difficult car to drive. It’s not a handful of a car. It’s a car that respects a driver who is smooth and very precise.”

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sir_mike
sir_mike New Reader
8/19/21 8:20 p.m.

Great story and car.Love tin tops.Best of luck in future races.

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