As Alfa announces GTA and GTAm have sold out, we’ve had an idea for a solution to the Italians’ wider sales woes.
Alfa Romeo has just scored a big hit, and that’s a phrase that has been impossible to apply to this troubled marque in years.
But happily, the $288,000 Giulia GTA and the slightly pricier Alfa Romeo GTAm are sold out. True, only 500 of both versions are being built, but this is a car that costs substantially more than double the money of the previous most pricey Giulia, the $138,000 Quadrifoglio, yet to the untrained eye looks broadly identical.
True, my colleagues and others have become hot and bothered with enthusiasm for the sublime capabilities of this weapon of road and track, but it’s still a relatively ordinary-looking four-door saloon pitched deep into Porsche territory – and it’s a hit. (You can read our Giulia GTA review here).
When did Alfa Romeo last have a sell-out car? That would be 14 years ago, with the 8C Competizione and 8C Spider. The pair were previewed by a concept version in 2003, with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles boss Sergio Marchionne deciding during one of his sporadic bursts of enthusiasm for Alfa that the car should become a production reality.
That news, announced at the Paris motor show in 2006, rapidly generated 1400 orders for the 500 examples that would be produced, despite the $430,000 asking price being a significant multiple of the most expensive Alfa Romeo then on sale. To assuage the disappointed, or some of them, another 500 cars were commissioned, this time of an 8C Spider. That sold swiftly too.
To unearth the next sell-out Alfa Romeo, you have to travel back another decade to 1997, when the supremely handsome 156 was released. A genuinely competitive car, it was good enough to actually prise BMW and Audi drivers out of the seats of their 3 Series and A4s. For a while, Alfa enjoyed a proper renaissance. But only for a while, because a couple of years later, the 156’s trajectory was derailed not so much by reliability issues (and there was a modest handful) as the inability of the factory to supply parts and the dealer network’s patchy commitment. And that did serious damage to the brand’s prospects.
So did subsequent models that fell short, ranging from the pretty Mito supermini, whose dynamics were an insult to the brand, to the overweight 159 and Brera, the shortfalling 4C and the Giulietta hatchback, this last one Alfa Romeo’s most competitive model until the Giulia arrived.
Developed at vast cost on an all-new platform called Giorgio, the Giulia is one of the few genuine compact sports sedans on sale – and its Stelvio SUV sister is also a pleasingly beguiling drive. These two are the most rounded, complete and competitive Alfa Romeos since the 1972 Alfasud, with the added advantage that they don’t dissolve in water.
But sales of both have been dismal. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Alfa Romeo has pretty much tested to destruction the strategy of trying to compete with the premium brands, just like Jaguar has. Next year’s Jeep-based Tonale SUV is unlikely to change that any more than a yet-smaller SUV will. They will be also-rans. But six-digit-priced cars? Now those Turin can sell.
The Tonale launch is too close to stop, and the dealers need something new. But beyond this, Alfa should become an even lower-volume brand than it inadvertently is now (yikes) and sell high-end, limited-edition sports and sports luxury models.
It has a world-class, part-Ferrari-developed platform. It has a Formula 1 racing team. It has backing for the next decade from Stellantis, whose electric platforms will turn it totally electric from 2027. But in the meantime, how about a part-carbonfibre bodied GTV or Spider, or a limited-edition series of these cars not only from Alfa’s designers (how many never-seen coupés and convertibles must they have in their desktops?) but also coachbuilders like Pininfarina and Touring Superleggera?
Cars like these could pave the way to still more adventurous design highs powered by volts and quite possibly on platforms that allow more design diversity than today’s ICE-base structures.
Semi-bespoke, low-volume, high-end sports cars and tourers are what Alfa Romeo made before WW2 and what made Alfa Romeo. Returning to that pool might yield a more promising future than the choppy seas that it’s swimming in now.