Thursday, 4 November 2010

Out of the frying pan. My new Alfa.

I love my 1998 Audi A4. It is unerringly reliable and comparitably easy to work on when it does break. It has a reasonable turn of speed and handles well, it also has incredible grip and looks different thanks to my controvertial choice of Mercedes AMG Wheels. It is, however, and I am unhappy to admit it, quite boring.

Until some wonderful and far-sighted benefactor kicks open the door of opportunity and gives me that dream job I always wanted, I almost perpetually have No Money. As a result of which I make do and mend and can rarely even entertain the notion of buying a new car. Or an old car, for that matter. However, every now and then an opportunity arises that I just can’t overlook. Well, it’s just arisen, and I haven’t been able to overlook it.

I now own a less than pristine example of an Alfa Romeo 156. It’s a 2005, facelifted car, soon they would wind down production in favour of the replacement 159. Giugiaro oversaw the styling and did a terrific job, it’s surely one of the more elegant of the modern Alfas. Mine is presented in Grigio Lipari with a beige leather interior. It looks fabulous, until you look closely.

It has patina. There are stonechips on the bonnet and the doors. There is paint peeling from the rear bumper and a smashed front foglamp lens, but no dents and no major scratches. The paint is slightly flat, testament to a life in automatic car washes. All is commensurate with the mileage, this car, in five years, has covered nearly a hundred thousand miles. This is by a long way the highest mileage car I have ever bought. The Audi, when I bought that, was twice as old with half the mileage. 

All these factors combined to make this still beautiful car actually within my price range. Alfas are legendary for their depreciation and this one is no exception, even in 1.9 JTD Veloce spec, arguably the most desirable. That it’s a diesel goes some way to allay my reliability fears, the same engine is used by Fiat, Saab and Vauxhall and is pretty dependable as long as the Cambelt and Waterpump are given appropriate attention. Both were changed twenty thousand miles ago on mine, so should be fine for a while yet. And it should be reasonably economical, 70mph arrives at 2000 rpm in sixth. Assuming the whole plot doesn’t disintegrate, and it’s Italian so it might, I shouldn’t end up regretting my purchase.

Inside all is immaculate, the tan leather contrasting nicely with the black on the dash and the red-lit dials. It’s quite heavily styled in common with the exterior, but not horribly dated. The stereo is hopeless but everything works and the air-conditioning blows ice cold, a welcome change after the Audi, who’s A/C has been inoperative since purchase.

What of the Audi, then? Well, it’s twelve years old and needs work. I have to do both rear wheel bearings and investigate the peculiar whining from the front corner, which turned out annoyingly to not be the CV joint, I replaced it and the problem remained. I toyed with the idea of selling it and adopting the newer, more economical and infinitely cooler Alfa as my daily driver, and for a while, it will be. But only for the winter.

I have made a promise with myself not to fall in love with my Alfa Romeo. I will use it while the Audi is off the road, and then sell it after Christmas when the market hopefully picks up. I should get most of my money back, I paid effectively trade buy-in value for it, after I’ve tidied it up I reckon I can justify a typical private sale price tag, low enough to reflect the mileage. Money being so light on the ground at the moment, in fact perennially, I’ll do my best to treat this car as an investment. It may actually be the first time this has ever been done with a twenty-first century Alfa that isn’t an 8C.

 So, all going as planned, I will still have my Audi this time next year. As I type this I am in the mood that I might as well run the old German machine into the ground, which will take a very long time indeed. We’ve been through a lot together and it isn’t about to end just because I’ve let a little latin passion into my life.