I had only had my Mondeo for 10 months and I knew my parents wouldn’t be pleased if I told them I was looking at a new car again (especially as this time the only reason I was looking was for my own satisfaction).
I went down to see the Alfa at an independent car dealership in Warrington and was completely unsure about what I was going to do. I had drooled over the pictures of the car online but my head was telling me that maybe I should just keep the Mondeo and save some money.
When I saw the car parked up, the lustrous deep red paint made my heart skip a beat. I had a look around the car and a small test drive. My heart was saying ‘yes’ but my head was saying ‘no’. After my test drive and flick through the service history (as with every car I’ve ever bought I did a quick google search of common problems and made sure these had been addressed) I left the car there, telling the salesman I had another one to go and look at.
Over the next few days I mulled over my decision to walk away and regretted it more and more each day. On my next day off I went and bought it and took it home on the same day. I had dropped my mum off at work in my Mondeo and picked her up in my Alfa Romeo Giulietta.
There were many factors that influenced my decision to through caution to the wind and buy the Alfa. The main one being that as an avid Top Gear and Jeremy Clarkson fan I had had it drilled into me that you can’t be a true petrolhead until you have owned an Alfa Romeo. Having owned 2 I truly believe in this statement. The cars have personality, something I had never experienced in any of the cars I had owned previously.
Every time I got out of my Alfa I’d look back. Every time I walked up to it I felt a sense of pride. The Alfa I had was a 2.0 diesel Lusso model with optional Bose stereo and heated seats. Even though this car had 108,000 on the clock it was as tight as a drum. I had read online that the interior plastic can rattle as you drive but I didn’t have this problem. This car had only 1 previous owner who had had everything done to it. The service history was spectacular!
Everyone I showed the car to lusted over it and that’s why I bought it. The car was worth about £5,000 when I bought it but people who had cars worth 3 or 4 times as much were envious of me. I had the least valuable car in my work car park but the car that everyone complimented. Alfa Romeo is a sexy brand. “What are you driving these days?” “An Alfa Romeo” has a much better ring to it than “A Vauxhall Insignia”.
I have always driven for pleasure, gone on days out to random places just to drive on a B road but now I had a car that lived up to my passion for cars. The car was substantially more powerful than the Mondeo and handled a lot better. Alfa Romeo fitted the Giulietta with their DNA system. Dynamic, Normal and All-weather. Each driving mode making the car behave differently. There is a toggle switch in front of the gear stick which you use to switch between the modes. All-weather seems to help the car set off in slippy conditions, I’ll come back to ‘normal’ and Dynamic sharpens the car up. When driving in ‘normal’ mode (which I NEVER do) the car feels somewhat held back. The throttle response isn’t sharp, the steering is a little light for my preference and the car just lacks performance. I personally think the DNA system is a gimmick. Who buys an Alfa Romeo to drive it in ‘normal’ mode. Normal mode isn’t even good. If the car only had normal mode and I drove it I would have left it at the dealership. When you switch from ‘normal’ to ‘dynamic’ you feel a surge of power. The car almost leaps forward. The steering is weighted up and the car feels more responsive.
May 2018, it’s a bank holiday and it’s sunny, 2 things that seldom go together in the UK so I decide to go for a little trip up to Rivington Pike. It is a lovely place to walk and has some glorious roads. I plan to make a day of it, drive and walk and drive some more. I set my route to get to Rivington Pike and then after my walk choose to drive around the local area without any satnav, I’ll just follow the roads and see where I end up.
After my lovely walk up the Pike I climb into my car and make my way home. The roads around Rivington, Bolton and Chorley are lovely and there are some really scenic routes past reservoirs and rolling hills. It’s a hot day and I have the A/C on rather than windows open as I blast along the B roads (at no more than 60mph). I’m nearing Chorley on a long but narrow B road when I notice the temperature gauge start creeping up. I pull back off the throttle slightly and turn the A/C off which seems to work as the gauge descends back to normal. At this point I start following the satnav home rather than continuing further and make sure the AC stays off for now. As I get halfway down this long (and seemingly never ending) B road which I need to turn around at the end of and then go back down, the temperature shoots up and the car lights up like a Christmas tree. Warning! Stop! Flashing lights, beeping galore and then the car goes into limp mode.
I feel myself losing power. My foot is pressed hard down but the car keeps slowing. I’m on a road that has solid white lines in the centre and at the side and where there is nowhere to pull in. If I break down here not only am I a sitting duck but I will cause chaos to other motorists. I start panicking but then in the distance, I don’t know if it’s a mirage or if it’s real but I think I can see small lay by. As I get nearer to it I realise just how small it is but it’s better than the alternative so I dive into it. The temperature is through the roof. As I lift the bonnet I can hear the coolant boiling away like a kettle. I sat and wait for half an hour, turning the ignition on and off to see if the temperature has come down at all. At this point in my life I wasn’t with and breakdown recovery and I thought if I can let the car cool I should be able to make it at least half way home before stopping again.
After a total of 40 minutes the temperature has almost returned to normal so I get the satnav on and make a U-turn to head in the right direction. After 10 minutes of driving the temperature seems to be staying at a normal level. As extra precaution I turn the fans onto max heat and have them blow into the car in the hope of dissipating some of the heat away from the engine. Picture it, it’s 24 degrees celsius outside the car and about 32 inside. As I approach the motorway for the 18 mile stint I have the fans on max and all 4 windows open. It is categorically the worst drive home I have ever had. EVER. I remain in the left hand lane crawling along at a speed where even a bin lorry overtook me, my eyes glued to the temperature gauge, ready to ditch it at any moment if it starts to stall. The gauge seems to go up and down but the car stays out of limp mode. It is the longest 18 miles ever. As I approach the ‘fly over’ of the M60 at junction 10 near the Trafford Centre and start to ascend the bridge the temperature rockets up and the car goes into limp mode. I am in the left hand lane climbing the fly over. There is no hard shoulder at this point and I can’t coast because I’m climbing. I pray with every fibre of my being that I make it over the till and miraculously I do. As I exit the motorway (wishing I had got off one junction earlier preparing to do the rest of my journey on normal roads) I dart into a nearby car park.
I’m covered in sweat, the car is hotter than hell and I still have a few miles to go to get home. When I get home I phone our family mechanic and go about getting temporary insurance on my dad’s Renault Kangoo to get me to work for the next few days. As Jeremy Clarkson said “Alfa builds a car to be as good as a car can be…briefly”.
This wasn’t the reason I got rid of the Alfa, I got her fixed and kept her for another 5 months (a whole 12 months this time) before my eye started wandering again. This time I would have my mid-life crisis. This time I wanted a roadster, specifically a BMW Z4.