Sunday, June 29, 2008

My Alfa and I

Picture from Wikimedia Commons

[Updated, more grammatically conventional version.]

My first set of wheels was an Alfa Romeo 33. I had always been enamoured with Italian cars for their racing history, gorgeous styling and the wonderful sound of their engines. Well, not all Italian cars, actually. I thought Ferraris to be fatally wounded by their price – they may be wonderful machines, but too often they become symbols (or accessories) of wealth and power, or wee willy compensators.

Alfas, on the other hand, were a working man’s Ferrari. Sure, you can get some boy racers from the marque, but Alfa Romeo also produced saloon cars that were often the refuge for a regular guy on a budget and with family to support, but with a stirring in their soul for some romance on the road. Owning the early Alfas was certainly a labour of love and required infinite patience, for it started to rust the moment it left the factory, and you were liable to set off the windshield wipers when you flipped the signal stalk, so clueless were the Italians when it came to electrical stuff.

But when you stepped on the accelerator, the sweet sound of the boxer engine transported one away from the bills waiting to be paid, grocery shopping that needed to be done, or kids that needed to be picked up from day-care. The throaty roar was a product of necessity – Alfas, like other Italian makes, were constructed to tackle the hilly terrain with aplomb, and for that you needed incredible grip and lots of low down torque to whizz up those steep, bendy climbs.

My midnight blue, 1.7-litre 33 was already seven years’ old when I laid eyes on it. It belonged to a colleague, who was way over his head juggling a mortgage, car repayments, wife, kids and girlfriend on a salary that could realistically handle only three of the above. I tried to temper my glee when he handed me the keys, aware of the pain he must have been going through in having to give up this automotive mistress of his… but, looking back, I guess I didn’t try very hard, to be honest.

The 33 always brought a smile to my face when I got behind the wheel.

It was quick, nimble, and a whole lot of fun to motor around town and across the country. It was also the car in which J and I went for many long drives, talking and sharing our lives, or just listening to music in silence as the cool night slipped by.

The good times were not to last, though. On its 10th year, just months before I would have had to give it up as I was leaving for the US, the 33 vowed not to accept the ignominy of a wrecker’s ball, and decided to go out on her own terms - in a blaze of glory.

One morning, on my way to work, a driver behind me started flashing his headlights furiously. What (TF), I wondered, was the idiot doing? I was just toodling along, minding my own business, and this guy wants to Schumacher me in heavy traffic? It took a couple of seconds before I realised what was happening. Smoke was coming out of the engine compartment, and it had been escaping under the car to the back for all to see, except me.

I pulled quickly to the side, by which time the first flames were beginning to lick out of the front. I managed to save my bag and laptop, and sat on the grass verge in a daze watching part of my life go up in smoke.

Everything else that came after – repairs, insurance and all the nitty-gritty death arrangements – went by in a blur. I never did say a proper goodbye and was not not even collected enough to take pictures or pull out a badge for keepsakes.

Thankfully, John (who owned a Lancia at one time, so he was entirely sympathetic) was at the funeral and had a camera handy. And when he sent me these pictures recently, it gave me a chance for closure, seven years on.

So, goodbye, my 33. RIP.

1 comment:

Jen L. said...


I still recall, on one of our very first dates, how you stepped on the gas with the car at a red light off the AYE at Buona Vista, savoured its vrooom, and sighed with contentment: "This is the sound that drives men wild". I thought I'd never have a chance against your Alfa!