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Alfa 33 Mechanical History

During the late 1960's, Alfa Romeo wanted to extend their range downwards and employed Rudolf Hruska to design a new car and factory. The project was part financed by the Italian Government with a mixture of a subsidy and a low interest loan. In exchange the factory was to be built in Southern Italy, and this concept donated its name to the car, resulting in the Alfasud.

The car was designed from a virtually clean sheet of paper. It used a front mounted liquid cooled horizontally opposed 4 cylinder engine varying from 1086cc up to 1490c.The engine employed was an all new with a one piece cast iron block with cross bolted big ends. This resulted in a strong engine block but without loosing the possibility of servicing the pistons and crankshaft with the engine in place. The cylinder heads were two piece cast alloy each with a separate single overhead camshaft driven by toothed belt. The camshafts act in a separate carrier cast in alloy and using two camshaft lobes per valve. Each camshaft follower was fitted with a screw adjuster for the valve clearances, operated with an allen key passed through a hole in the camshaft between the two lobes. The main cylinder head castings were identical, with the camshaft carriers being different between each bank. Cast alloy inlet manifolds were fitted, which were heated by the engines cooling system. The water pump was a cast alloy item bolted to the front of the engine and driven by the same belt as the alternator. Water was taken from the bottom of the front mounted radiator and into the water pump. From there it passed into each bank of cylinders and out through the cooling passages in the inlet manifolds. From there the liquid passed to the thermostat and on either back to the radiator or back to the water pump. Water for the heater was taken from the thermostat and passed back to the water pump. The engine was mounted in line with the gearbox and clutch directly behind.

Front suspension employed struts with two horizontal links on each side and an anti role bar. The steering rack was mounted high on the bulkhead between the engine and passenger compartment. The car employed a double bulkhead, with the front one acting as a brace between the top strut mounts. The space between the bulkheads held the battery, brake master cylinder, heater, fusebox and the windscreen wiper motor and mechanism.

Rear suspension employed a beam axle with a pair of leading and trailing links. To provide lateral location a very long panhard rod was used. The petrol tank was position in front of the back axle, with the filler mounted high on the left hand side.The braking system employed disks on both the front and the back. The front disks were mounted inboard with the callipers mounted on the gearbox casing. The handbrake acted on the front brakes.Initially the car was released as a 4 door saloon, although the car had the appearance of a hatchback. The flat four engine allowed a low bonnet line and a large glass area. Soon after introduction a 2 door bodyshell for sporting variants. Basic model 2 door cars were homologated bet never released. Later a 2 door coupe was produced and also an estate version. In the cars final years both 3 and 5 door hatchback variants were launched.

The Alfasuds Replacement

By the 1980's the Alfasud was becoming dated, with road tests becoming more damning. A new design was needed and Alfa Romeo wanted to move the vehicle up market. This resulted in the Alfa 33 which was intended be positioned above the Alfasud and below the Guilietta.

To pad out the lower end of the range they entered into a joint venture with Nissan to build a variant of the Nissan Cherry. This car employed Nissan bodyshell with rear suspension and brakes and an Alfa engine, gearbox and front suspension. It was sold as either the Alfa Arna or the Nissan Cherry Europe. Nissan design and Alfa build quality combined to kill this car early in its career.

And So Entered The 33

The 33 was initially launched as a normal small car, with the performance versions arriving a year later. UK models used either the 1351 or the 1490 engine (although a 1.2 version was available in some markets), using single or twin carburettor engines and a standard 5 speed gearbox. Initially all cars used a 4 door hatchback bodyshell, but later an estate version (called Giardinetta) was produced by Pininfarina. Cosmetically, early versions used an instrument panel that moved up and down with the steering wheel.

There were substantial mechanical changes for the 33 over the Sud, although they both shared a very similar basic architecture. Most obvious was the change to outboard front disk brakes (tiny little 239mm items) and the rear disks being dropped in favour of drums, with the handbrake moving to operate on the rear. The rear axle changed from a fabricated steel item to a steel tube, and the rear Panhard rod shrank to a fraction of the size used on the Sud. Although the front suspension was very similar to the Sud, most components are different (front drive shafts secured to the hubs using nuts instead of bolts, no front anti roll bar, different struts, different pattern of strut to hub bolts), and many complained that the handling was not as good. One thing they shared with the Sud that could have been happily changed was they use of metric wheels which gave owners a very limited choice of tyres (basically Michelin TRX's) at a high price. Fortunately, imperial size wheels of the same style are available but if you buy a car watch out. A set of TRX tyres in the correct size will cost almost as much as some aftermarket wheels and a set of tyres. To make life difficult for those wanting to use a 33 gearbox as a replacement for that in a Sud, the Speedo changed from mechanical to electronic operation.

As the car was developed Alfa launched a 4wd version (which in the UK was only available as an estate, and the only estate model) and the sporting Green Cloverleaf versions. The 4wd version was short lived in the UK, and at its local demise, Alfa launched an updated car (commonly known as the series 2). The UK was treated to 2 engine options (either a 105hp 1.5 TI version or a 118hp 1.7 Green cloverleaf version), with the option if a body styling kit fitted by the importers to destroy the rust protection (the Veloce version). For the series 2 the UK also received a front wheel drive 1.7 estate (now called Sportwagon), again with the option of the Veloce kit. Happily, Alfa had stopped using the metric wheels which must have saved owners vast sums of money.

These series 2 cars were well made in comparison to the series 1 and to other cars of the same age (such as the ford Escort), and performed well. Handling was upset by the power the front wheels were now being asked to transmit and torque steer became part of the fun of owning one. The steering was also quite heavy with the 185 section front tyres, but fortunately for the 1.7 versions the brakes were improved by the fitment of vented front disks (although still of the same pathetically small size). Most (if not all) UK cars were fitted with small clear plastic deflectors around the front windows. The interior was heavily revised and the clocks no longer moved up and down with the steering wheel.

For some markets a 3 cylinder 1.8 diesel version was offered, along with the smaller engined and 4wd cars. There was also a injected and catalysed version available for those countries with strict emisions standards.

In 1990, Alfa launched the the final version of the 33. The styling was substantially changed, with the headlights sloping down from the bonnet and the bumper raised slightly to give the appearance than the nose was lower. The rear lights were updated to more closely resemble those of the 164, and the front and rear windows were flush mounted. The car lost its guttering to try and further smooth out the cars shape. The front suspension was revised for the 16v version and the rear suspension was heavily updated.

All UK version were fitted with fuel injection, using either 1.5 (100hp) or 1.7 (110hp) 8 valve engines or a 1.7 16v (137hp) engine. Shortly after launch a version was launched with a perminant 4wd system (called the P4) using the 16 valve engine. Although the 4wd system added a substantial amount of weight, the acceleration from rest was improved over the 2wd version due to the virtual impossibility of getting the wheels to spin.

Although an option in some markets, all UK cars were fitted with power steering, and from the end of 1992 a catalytic converter became standard.

In 1994 the 33 was phased out of production to be replaced with the 145 and 146, which initially also used the flat 4 engines (either the 1400, 1600 or 1700 16v). These were far more mainstream cars, and lost much of the 33's fun. It did not help that the engines lost power for the sake of emisions and that the 145/6 was a substantially heavier car.