Japanese cars. I love em. I have a soft spot in my heart that you could drive a Skyline through.
Here is the thing tho, they have no soul whatsoever.
Hell they are good! Fast, safe and very exciting to drive (well, some are) a few are even stylish too, but you really cannot get passionate about them. They are a bit like the fridge when you go on holiday, Michael Macintire said that the fridge is the one appliance you put total trust in, and he is right. You go around just before you are due to go to the airport and make sure everything is unplugged, just in case the tv, hifi and Playstation go into electrical meltdown while you are away and conspire to burn your house to the ground. But the fridge? No, we are safe in the knowledge that it will sit there quietly keeping the cheese cold, humming to itself while you are gone, just like any Japanese car, total reliability.
So heres the thing, I have had a sort of ultimatum thrust upon me and I need some help. The wife (long suffering) Is off to do some studies to be come a Midwife (Lord knows why, child birth and the movie ‘Alien’ are much the same to me, although Alien has less yelling…) So she has to quit working at the hospital in the next year and become a student once more, and that means student pay, and that means cold baked beans until she qualifies, so no more splurging unless I get that motoring column (Editors take note! Employ me!).
Now I have been told by beloved that as she is getting what she wants out of life its only fair that I get something too (she is a wife and a half eh!?) So I have the choice of getting a new car, nothing stupidly expensive (if I want it quickly) but then again not a knackered 15 year old wreck. This is wonderful news but puts me in a weird position, do I go for a Civic type R? Very expensive, and at the top, if not over the budget, but fridge like reliability? Civic R is a nice car, fast, sporty and has that wonderful k20 engine. Add to that its a hoot to drive and will never break down and you think we have a winner! But its as a soulless as a hoover, and the price I’m looking at they will have had 10 owners that have wanted to hear Vtec over and over again at 8000 rpm (Vtec is HIGHLY addictive, a dear friend of mine had the addiction so bad he had to ‘see’ if he could ‘hit Vtec’ whilst being loaded onto the Eurostar…) So that wonderful engine will be more than a little battered. There is however another choice, a choice that given I had loads of cash I wouldnt even think about.
I’m talking about an Alfa Romeo.
Regular readers will know of my kink for Alfa Romeo, its like a dirty little secret that everyone who has a whiff of petrol in their blood has, but wont act upon because like me, they are absolutely bloody terrified of owning one. Alfa owners are so brave, so square jawed and manly (even the girls) That they make the SAS look like the Tufty Club. And I’m not talking about all the namby pamby slack wristed company car drivers out there who have fleet cars, you guys are just big pansies, as soon as the Alfa throws a fit you are on the phone to your fleet manager, telling him how he should have given you that v6 Mondeo so you could have been at the meeting on time and sold more copier toner, but secretly you want the damn Alfa fixed because you have a nice cozy date with that little blonde from data processing…
Owning an Alfa must be like being married to the most beautiful woman in the world, expensive to run, and everyone wants a go! You have no idea when she (The car!) is going to throw a major Italian wobbly and you have to go on bended knee to the bank or put more hours in at that terrible day job just to keep her on the road. But owning one, opening the bonnet and seeing that Alfa badge stamped on everything, even if it doesnt move makes it all worth it.
But is it true?
If Alfas were really that bad then why would people buy them? Why would fleet managers choose them over BMW or Audi? I think that its down to care and attention, and the good folk over at the Alfa Drivers Club seem to agree. For some reason you can screw the bonnet shut on a Honda and it will run for years, but an Alfa needs a little care, regular service and maybe (gulp) weekly checks of oil and water. But Im not even sure that the Honda thing is accurate either, I know of Hondas that have sat and refused to move for weeks because of some undiagnosed reason. Even my own Civic had a weird problem that no matter what, I couldn’t figure out. It took a load of money and time and irritatingly it turned out to be something cheap and simple. I think the same will be with the Alfa. It doesnt have an engine made from glass, it just needs looking after, just like we used to years ago before cars became throwaway items like biros. Alfa Romeo can trace its history back almost to the dawn of the 20th century, it was one of the first marques and one of the best racers ever, so a little good ol’ fashioned TLC isnt too much to ask.
I have driven a few Alfas, and have to report they are really very nice indeed, but is it enough? Is buying a slice of automotive history enough? Is having that ‘I drive an Alfa’ feeling when everyone else is in Escorts enough? My brain tells me there is no smoke without fire, and it will explode one day, but my heart tells me to shut the hell up and buy an Alfa.
There is a third choice, the Ford Puma looks nice…