From grand operas to Michelangelo’s David to a goblet of fine Brunello, nearly everything Italian stirs the human soul. And that goes double for the cars, especially Alfa Romeo. For over a century, this storied marque has thrilled drivers, riders and spectators on street and track with raw power, spirited handling and a motoring sensuality that’s hard to put into words.
Now, Long Island’s Alfisti are rejoicing con molto brio over the decision by FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) to return their beloved brand to America after an almost two-decade hiatus. Two new Alfa dealerships in Patchogue and Westbury, and a third in Manhattan, are among just five in New York and over 100 throughout the U.S.. In limited numbers, they’re already meting out the newest models – the sinuous 4C Coupe and Spider – which start, well-optioned, at around $70,000. Dealers anticipate this summer’s arrival of the Giulia sport sedan, a fluid and lusty BMW-killer boasting 505 horsepower in top-of-the-line Quadrifoglio trim.
Zeal for Things Italian
What makes Long Island ground zero for a fruitful Alfa Romeo launch? High incomes, strong luxury car interest and a zeal for things Italian. Plus, the dealers are already successful at selling other FCA brands, including Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram and Fiat, so Alfa gives them a chance to move up-market.
“We’re trying to capture the customers who are getting the Maseratis or the BMWs,” says Mike Mineo, general sales manager for Alfa Romeo Fiat of Westbury, New York. “Alfa is an up-and-coming brand once again. They have a huge lineup of cars in Italy and we’ll eventually see them come out here,” including an expected SUV and hatchback.
A BMW Alternative
“Whether it’s BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Infiniti or Lexus, those brands do very well on Long Island,” adds Gary Brown, owner of Brown’s Alfa Romeo Fiat in Patchogue, New York. “I thought, ‘Why not have access to those customers and also offer them an alternative?’”
“Alternative” is an apt description of the cars among Alfa buffs. “It’s advanced engineering, beautiful design and just not being part of the pack,” says Dr. Dino Pappous, a Great Neck, New York prosthodontist and president of the New York Alfa Romeo Owners Club.
Art Forms on Wheels
“Most of the Alfas are really art forms on wheels,” adds longtime Alfista and Stony Brook University professor emeritus Dr. Robert D. Cess, whose name graces the school’s annual Concorso d’Eleganza, Long Island’s most prominent Italian car show. “Italians have a capacity for really designing a good-looking car. They also typically handle very, very nicely. Those things put together are what get most people turned on by Alfas: the visual effect and the handling effect.”
The 4C already draws rave reviews from auto writers and club members alike. ““A lot of members feel that it is true to Alfa’s heritage of being a lightweight, small car that is fast and that handles,” says Pappous. At last year’s Alfa Club national convention in Rhode Island, Cess adds, “people were just drooling over the 4Cs.”
‘Mechanics of Emotion’
What’s everyone drooling about? It’s likely the combination of modern technology and Alfa’s legendary driving DNA. Alfa calls this la meccanica delle emozione, or “the mechanics of emotion.”
The 4C’s mass is limited to around 2,500 lbs. thanks to a strong, light carbon fiber frame unusual for cars at this price. Aluminum mechanicals and a fiberglass body also keep weight down. Thus, the Alfa’s 1.7-liter turbocharged engine -- smaller than the average Toyota Corolla’s – wrings out every one of its 237 horses to rocket the 4C to 60 miles an hour in just 4.1 seconds, faster than your basic Porsche 911.
A Car that ‘Hugs the Turns’
Push past the speed limit and the precise steering, taut suspension and huge Brembo brakes will keep you planted firmly on the North Shore’s twisty back roads. “This is a car that hugs the turns and just wants to keep going,” says Brown.
The 4C’s modern package still overflows with gobs of Italian authenticity, including robust exhaust notes, aromatic leather seats and the signature shield grille and “side whiskers,” known as the Trilobo. A single ride in the Spider will transport you back to Italy. You may be cruising the Atlantic coast, but you’re thinking Amalfi Coast. And that’s not Lake Ronkonkoma up ahead. It’s Lake Como.
All you’ll need to complete your fantastic journey is a cool pair of shades and a dashing scarf. In your new Alfa Romeo, la dolce vita awaits.
This column first appeared in Luxury Living magazine's Spring 2016 issue.