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Ace Cafe Italian Night – July 2018

Having enjoyed the Italian Car Nights at the iconic Ace Cafe for the preceding couple of months, it was not a hard decision to head along again in July, especially since the forecast predicted a continuation of the glorious summer weather, meaning it would be more likely that owners of cars that are only taken out in good weather would feel encouraged to bring them out, and also because the distractions of the World Cup would not apply, as there was no game scheduled for the second Thursday of the month. My diary was such that I was able to arrive reasonably early – though nowhere near as early as the first cars had done, some taken up station mid-afternoon. The forecourt in front of the Cafe was well populated with Italian cars and bikes when I pulled onto site, as well as a few models from other countries, all of which were moved before the official 6pm start of this monthly gathering. There was then a steady stream of arrivals throughout the evening, and with some of those who had been on site before me heading off relatively early, there was ample space for everyone, though by mid evening the forecourt was more or less full. As always seems to be the case, there was a good mix of regular attendees and some cars which I had not seen here before. Combine that with the excellent food that the Cafe serves and the opportunity to catch up with a number of friends and fellow enthusiasts and this was a very agreeable evening indeed. Here are the cars that were present.

ABARTH

This is a popular event for Abarth owners, and attendee numbers have increased again during 2018, having fallen off somewhat in the preceding couple of years. For a while it did not look as if July 2018 was going to be one of the months when Abarth was the best represented marque, but gradually, cars arrived, so by the time the light was fading, once again there had been over 20 Scorpion badged cars on site, though not all of them were present at the same time. Early on, the ratio of Punto models to 500s was almost equal, which is a statistic you rarely get to report on these days, as there are vastly more 500s on the road than Punto models. Even when both were on sale, the smaller car outsold the larger in a ratio of about 10:1, and Abarth Punto production ceased at the end of 2014, just as 500/595 sales started to increase.  All the Punto cars here were the later Punto Evo version.

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There were, in the end, lots of 500 and 595 models, with many of the different colours and model versions that have been offered in the 9 years since the car went on sale all represented. Many have been personalised by their owners, as evidenced by Paul Hatton’s 500 Esseesse and Nico Vogli’s distinctive Record Grey car with a number of add-ons. Some of them are – or at least appear to be – more standard.

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Final Abarth was one that has been seen here many times before, this is Carlo Caccaviello’s car. Although this amazing machine has the form of a classic Nuova 500, don’t be too taken in by that. The car is actually built on a chassis that has its origins in the Abarth Osella 2000SP sports racing car, with double wishbone suspension and disc brakes front and rear. Sitting in the back is a fuel injected 1.5 litre Alfa Romeo “boxer” engine of the type originally found in the front of the Alfa Romeo ‘Sud, Sprint 33 and even the Nissan Arna GTi. It is coupled to an Alfa 5-speed gearbox.  Carlo’s coachwork company built the special extra wide body, which is all steel. The car was first registered in the UK on the 28th July 2000 and it has been seen at a great variety of events ever since. It never fails to pull the crowds wherever it its taken.

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ALFA ROMEO

There was a nice variety of Alfa Romeo models here, though the marque was outnumbered by Abarth and Maserati. Oldest of these were a couple of the long-lived 105 Series Spider. This was the perfect evening for bringing a car like this, roof down, out for a nice trip in the late spring sunshine. Alfa replaced the Giulia-based Spider model with an all-new design which finally made its debut in 1966 together with the Giulia Sprint GT Veloce at an event organised in Gardone Riviera. With its boat tailed styling, it quickly found favour, even before taking a starring role in the film “The Graduate”. The original 1600cc engine was replaced by a more powerful 1750cc unit at the same time as the change was made to the rest of the range, and the car continued like this until 1970, when the first significant change to the exterior styling was introduced on the 1750 Spider Veloce, with the original’s distinctive elongated round tail changed to a more conventional cut-off tail, called the “Kamm tail”, as well as improving the luggage space. Numerous other small changes took place both inside and out, such as a slightly different grille, new doorhandles, a more raked windscreen, top-hinged pedals and improved interior trim. 1971 saw the Spider Veloce get a new, larger powerplant—a 1962 cc, 132 hp unit—and consequently the name was changed from 1750 Spider Veloce to 2000 Spider Veloce. The 1600 Spider restarted production a year later as the Spider 1600 Junior, and was visually identical to the 1300. 1974 saw the introduction of the rare, factory request, Spider-Targa. Based upon the Spider, it featured a Porsche style solid rear window and lift out roof panels, all made out of black GRP type material. Less than 2,000 models of such type were ever made and was the only part solid roof Spider until the introduction of the factory crafted hard top. The 1300 and 2000 cars were modified in 1974 and 1975 respectively to include two small seats behind the front seats, becoming a “two plus two” four seater. The 1300 model was discontinued in 1977. Also, between 1974 and 1976, the early-style stainless-steel bumpers were discontinued and replaced with black, rubber-clad units to meet increasingly stringent North American crash requirements. 4,557 examples of the 1300 Junior were made and 4,848 of the 1600 Junior as well as 16,320 2000 Spider Veloces and 22,059 of 2000 Spider Veloce US version. There were also 4,027 1750 Spider Veloces produced.  There was a nice example of the Series 2 car here, the only version which was officially sold new in the UK.

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A version of the 105 Series which was sold here, and seen here in its final evolution was this, the 2000GTV. Introduced in 1971, together with the 2000 Berlina sedan and 2000 Spider, the 2 litre cars were replacements for the 1750 range. The engine displacement was increased to 1962 cc. The North American market cars had fuel injection, but everyone else retained carburettors.  Officially, both versions generated the same power, 130 hp at 5500 rpm. The interior trim was changed, with the most notable differences being the introduction of a separate instrument cluster, instead of the gauges installed in the dash panel in earlier cars. Externally the 2000 GTV is most easily distinguished by its grille with horizontal chrome bars, featuring protruding blocks forming the familiar Alfa heart in outline, smaller hubcaps with exposed wheel nuts, optional aluminium alloy wheels of the same size as the standard 5. 1/2J × 14 steel items, styled to the “turbina” design first seen on the alloy wheels of the Alfa Romeo Montreal, and the larger rear light clusters first fitted to United States market 1750 GTV’s were standard for all markets. From 1974 on, the 105 Series coupé models were rationalised and these external features became common to post-1974 GT 1300 Junior and GT 1600 Junior models, with only few distinguishing features marking the difference between models. 37,459 2000 GTVs were made before production ended and these days they are very sought after with prices having sky-rocketed in recent years.

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Arriving on site whilst I was enjoying a burger were a pair of Alfa models, which were for me the stars of the evening. Both were immaculate. First of these was an AlfaSud Ti, dating from 1978. These characterful small cars evoke a very positive reaction, with many people wistfully recollecting one that they, or their parents, owned back in the 1970s, but observing that the car, whilst divine to drive, simply rusted away almost before your very eyes. There are a lot more of these cars left in the UK than you might imagine, but most of them are on SORN, needing massive restorations that may or may not ever happen. Alfa Romeo had explored building a smaller front wheel drive car in the 1950s but it was not until 1967 that firm plans were laid down for an all-new model to fit in below the existing Alfa Romeo range. It was developed by Austrian Rudolf Hruska, who created a unique engineering package, clothed in a body styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro of ItalDesign. The car was built at a new factory at Pomigliano d’Arco in southern Italy, hence the car’s name, Alfa Sud (Alfa South). January 18, 1968, saw the registration at Naples of a new company named “Industria Napoletana Costruzioni Autoveicoli Alfa Romeo-Alfasud S.p.A.”. 90% of the share capital was subscribed by Alfa Romeo and 10% by Finmeccanica, at that time the financial arm of the government controlled IRI. Construction work on the company’s new state sponsored plant at nearby Pomigliano d’Arco began in April 1968, on the site of an aircraft engine factory used by Alfa Romeo during the war. The Alfasud was shown at the Turin Motor Show three years later in 1971 and was immediately praised by journalists for its styling. The four-door saloon featured an 1,186 cc Boxer water-cooled engine with a belt-driven overhead camshaft on each cylinder head. It also featured an elaborate suspension setup for a car in its class (MacPherson struts at the front and a beam axle with Watt’s linkage at the rear). Other unusual features for this size of car were four-wheel disc brakes (with the front ones being inboard) and rack and pinion steering. The engine design allowed the Alfasud a low bonnet line, making it very aerodynamic (for its day), and in addition gave it a low centre of gravity. As a result of these design features, the car had excellent performance for its engine size, and levels of roadholding and handling that would not be equaled in its class for another ten years. Despite its two-box shape, the Alfasud did not initially have a hatchback. Some of the controls were unorthodox, the lights, turn indicators, horn, wipers and heater fan all being operated by pulling, turning or pushing the two column stalks. In November 1973 the first sport model joined the range, the two-door Alfasud ti—(Turismo Internazionale, or Touring International).Along with a 5-speed gearbox, it featured a more powerful version of the 1.2 engine, brought to 67 hp by adopting a Weber twin-choke carburettor; the small saloon could reach 160 km/h. Quad round halogen headlamps, special wheels, a front body-colour spoiler beneath the bumper and rear black one around the tail distinguished the “ti”, while inside there were a three-spoke steering wheel, auxiliary gauges, leatherette/cloth seats, and carpets in place of rubber mats. In 1974, Alfa Romeo launched a more upscale model, the Alfasud SE. The SE was replaced by the Alfasud L (Lusso) model introduced at the Bruxelles Motor Show in January 1975. Recognisable by its bumper overriders and chrome strips on the door sills and on the tail, the Lusso was better appointed than the standard Alfasud (now known as “normale”), with such features as cloth upholstery, headrests, padded dashboard with glove compartment and optional tachometer. A three-door estate model called the Alfasud Giardinetta was introduced in May 1975. It had the same equipment of the Alfasud “L”. It was never sold in the UK and these models are particularly rare now. The Lusso model was produced until 1976, by then it was replaced with the new Alfasud 5m (5 marce, five speed) model, the first four-door Alfasud with a five-speed gearbox. Presented at the March 1976 Geneva Motor Show, it was equipped like the Lusso it replaced.  In late 1977 the Alfasud Super replaced the range topping four-door “5m”; it was available with both the 1.2- and 1.3-litre engines from the “ti”, though both equipped with a single-choke carburettor.The Super introduced improvements both outside, with new bumpers including large plastic strips, and inside, with a revised dashboard, new door cards and two-tone cloth seats. Similar upgrades were applied to the Giardinetta. In May 1978 the Sprint and “ti” got new engines, a 78 hp 1.3 (1,350 cc) and a 84 hp 1.5 (1,490 cc), both with a twin-choke carburettor.  At the same time the Alfasud ti received cosmetic updates (bumpers from the Super, new rear spoiler on the boot lid, black wheel arch extensions and black front spoiler) and was upgraded to the revised interior of the Super. The 1.3 and 1.5 engines were soon made available alongside the 1.2 on the Giardinetta and Super, with a slightly lower output compared to the sport models due to a single-choke carburettor. All Alfasuds were upgraded in 1980 with plastic bumpers, new instrument panel, headlamps and rear lights as well as other revisions. The Ti version was now fitted with a twin-carburettor version of the 1490 cc engine that had been fitted to the Sprint the previous year, developing 95 bhp A three-door hatchback was added to the range in 1981 in either SC or Ti trim and the two-door Ti and Giardinetta were deleted from most markets around this time. Belatedly in 1982 the four-door cars were replaced by five-door versions as by now, most of its competitors were producing a hatchback of this size, although some also produced a saloon alternative. The range was topped by the five-door Gold Cloverleaf, featuring the 94 hp engine from the Ti and enhanced interior trim. In 1983 an attempt to keep pace with the hot hatchback market, the final version of the Alfasud Ti received a tuned 1490 cc engine developing 105 PS Now named Quadrifoglio Verde (Green Cloverleaf) this model was also fitted with Michelin low profile TRX tyres on metric rims as well as an enhanced level of equipment. The five-door Alfasud saloons were replaced by the 33 models in 1983. The 33 was an evolution of the AlfaSud’s floorpan and running gear, including minor suspension changes and a change from four-wheel disc brakes to front disc and rear drum brakes to reduce costs. The three-door versions continued for a further year before being replaced by the unsuccessful Alfa Romeo Arna a joint venture between Alfa Romeo and Nissan.

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Arriving with it was a Sprint model. There was a much longer wait for a Coupe version of the AlfaSud than there had been for the larger Alfetta, the Alfasud Sprint being presented to the press in September 1976 in Baia Domizia and shown at the Turin Motor Show in November some five years after the launch of the saloon. Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro like the AlfaSud, whose mechanicals it was based on, it had a lower, more angular design, featuring a hatchback, although there were no folding rear seats. The AlfaSud Sprint was assembled together with the AlfaSud in the Pomigliano d’Arco plant, located in southern Italy—hence the original “Sud” moniker. Under the Alfasud Sprint’s bonnet there was a new version of the AlfaSud’s 1186 cc four-cylinder boxer engine, stroked to displace 1,286 cc, fed by a twin-choke carburettor and developing 75 hp at 6,000 rpm. Mated to the flat-four was a five-speed, all-synchromesh gearbox. The interior was upholstered in dark brown Texalfa leatherette and tartan cloth. Options were limited to alloy wheels, a quartz clock and metallic paint. In May 1978 the AlfaSud Sprint underwent its first updates, both cosmetic and technical. Engine choice was enlarged to two boxers, shared with the renewed AlfaSud ti, a 78 hp 1.3 (1,350 cc) and a 84 hp 1.5 (1,490 cc); the earlier 1286 cc unit was not offered anymore, remaining exclusive to the AlfaSud. Outside many exterior details were changed from chrome to matte black stainless steel or plastic, such as the wing mirrors, window surrounds and C-pillar ornaments; the B-pillar also received a black finish, the side repeaters changed position and became square, and the front turn signals switched from white to amber lenses. In the cabin the seats had more pronounced bolsters and were upholstered in a new camel-coloured fabric. Just one year later, in June 1979, another engine update arrived and the AlfaSud Sprint became the AlfaSud Sprint Veloce. Thanks to double twin-choke carburettors (each choke feeding a single cylinder) and a higher compression ratio engine output increased to 85 hp and 94 hp, respectively for the 1.3 and 1.5. In February 1983 Alfa Romeo updated all of its sports cars; the Sprint received a major facelift. Thereafter the AlfaSud prefix and Veloce suffix were abandoned, and the car was known as Alfa Romeo Sprint; this also in view of the release of the Alfa Romeo 33, which a few months later replaced the AlfaSud family hatchback. The Sprint also received a platform upgrade, which was now the same as that of the Alfa Romeo 33; this entailed modified front suspension, brakes mounted in the wheels instead of inboard like on the AlfaSud, and drum brakes at the rear end. Three models made up the Sprint range: 1.3 and 1.5, with engines and performance unchanged from the AlfaSud Sprint Veloce, and the new 1.5 Quadrifoglio Verde—1.5 Cloverleaf in the UK. A multitude of changes were involved in the stylistic refresh; there were a new grille, headlamps, wing mirrors, window surrounds and C-pillar ornaments. Bumpers went from chrome to plastic, and large plastic protective strips were added to the body sides; both sported coloured piping, which was grey for 1.3 cars, red for the 1.5 and green for the 1.5 Quadrifoglio. At the rear new trapezoidal tail light assemblies were pieced together with the license plate holder by a black plastic fascia, topped by an Alfa Romeo badge—never present on the AlfaSud Sprint. In the cabin there were new seats with cloth seating surfaces and Texalfa backs, a new steering wheel and changes to elements of the dashboard and door panels. Sprint 1.3 and 1.5 came with steel wheels with black hubcaps from the AlfaSud ti. The newly introduced 1.5 Quadrifoglio Verde sport variant was shown at the March 1983 Geneva Motor Show. Its engine was the 1,490 cc boxer, revised to put out 104 hp at 6,000 rpm; front brake discs were vented and the gearing shorter. In addition to the green bumper piping, also specific to the Quadrifoglio were a green instead of chrome scudetto in the front grille, a rear spoiler and 8-hole grey painted alloy wheels with metric Michelin TRX 190/55 tyres. Inside a three-spoke leather-covered steering wheel, green carpets and sport seats in black cloth with green embroidery. In November 1987 the Sprint was updated for the last time; the 1.3 variant was carried over, while the 1.5 engine was phased out and the 1.5 QV was superseded by the 116 hp Sprint 1.7 Quadrifoglio Verde. The 1,286 cc engine was directly derived from the 33 1.7 Quadrifoglio Verde, and could propel the Sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in 9.3 seconds; to cope with the increased engine power, the 1.7 QV adopted vented brake discs upfront. the coloured piping and side plastic strips were deleted, and the Quadrifoglio had alloy wheels of a new design. A fuel injected and 3-way Catalytic converter-equipped 1.7 variant, with an engine again derived from a 33, was added later for sale in specific markets. There were a total of 116,552 Sprints produced during its lifespan, which lasted from 1976 to 1989. 15 of these formed the basis of the Australian-built Giocattolo sports car, which used a mid-mounted Holden 5.0 group A V8 engine. The Sprint had no direct predecessor or successor. The car seen here was from the first years of production, with the chrome bumpers.

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Next up was an example of the 916 Series GTV, a car which whose values are now increasing, and which looks like it will achieve the full classic status that everyone thought it would even when the car was new. The 916 Series cars were conceived to replace two very different models in the Alfa range. First of these was the open topped 105 Series Spider which had been in production since 1966 and by the 1990s was long overdue a replacement. Alfa decided to combine a follow on to the Alfetta GTV, long out of production, with a new Spider model, and first work started in the late 1980s. The task was handed to Pininfarina, and Enrico Fumia’s initial renderings were produced in September 1987, with the first clay models to complete 1:1 scale model made in July 1988. Fumia produced something rather special. Clearly an Italian design, with the Alfa Romeo grille with dual round headlights, recalling the Audi-based Pininfarina Quartz, another design produced by Enrico Fumia back in 1981, the proposal was for a car that was low-slung, wedge-shaped with a low nose and high kicked up tail. The back of the car is “cut-off” with a “Kamm tail” giving improved aerodynamics. The Spider would share these traits with the GTV except that the rear is rounded, and would feature a folding soft-top with five hoop frame, which would completely disappear from sight under a flush fitting cover. An electric folding mechanism would be fitted as an option. Details included a one-piece rear lamp/foglamp/indicator strip across the rear of the body, the minor instruments in the centre console angled towards the driver. The exterior design was finished in July 1988. After Vittorio Ghidella, Fiat’s CEO, accepted the design, Alfa Romeo Centro Stile under Walter de Silva was made responsible for the completion of the detail work and also for the design of the interiors, as Pininfarina’s proposal was not accepted. The Spider and GTV were to be based on the then-current Fiat Group platform, called Tipo Due, in this case a heavily modified version with an all new multilink rear suspension. The front suspension and drivetrain was based on the 1992 Alfa Romeo 155 saloon. Chief engineer at that time was Bruno Cena. Drag coefficient was 0.33 for the GTV and 0.38 for the Spider. Production began in late 1993 with four cars, all 3.0 V6 Spiders, assembled at the Alfa Romeo Arese Plant in Milan. In early 1994 the first GTV was produced, with 2.0 Twin Spark engine. The first premiere was then held at the Paris Motor Show in 1994. The GTV and Spider were officially launched at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1995 and sales began the same year. The cars were well received. At launch, many journalists commented that Alfa had improved overall build quality considerably and that it came very close to equalling its German rivals. I can vouch for that, as I owned an early GTV for eighteen months, and it was a well built and reliable car. In 1997 a new engine, a 24-valve 3.0 litre V6, was available for the GTV along with bigger, 12.0 inch brakes and red four-pot calipers from Brembo. The console knobs were changed from round central to rectangle ones and to a three-spoke steering wheel. Some versions were upgraded with different front bumper mesh to bring the wind noise down to 74 dBA. In May 1998 the cars were revamped for the first time, creating the Phase 2 models. Most of the alterations were inside. The interior was changed with new centre console, painted letters on skirt seals, changed controls and switches arrangement and different instrument cluster. Outside, the main changes included chrome frame around the grille and colour-coded side skirts and bumpers. A new engine was introduced, the 142 hp 1.8 Twin Spark, and others were changed: the 2.0 Twin Spark was updated with a modular intake manifold with different length intakes and a different plastic cover. Power output of the 2.0 TS was raised to 153 hp. Engines changed engine management units and have a nomenclature of CF2. The dashboard was available in two new colours in addition to the standard black: Red Style and Blue Style, and with it new colour-coded upholstery and carpets. The 3.0 24V got a six-speed manual gearbox as standard and the 2.0 V6 TB engine was now also available for the Spider. August 2000 saw the revamp of engines to comply with new emission regulations, Euro3. The new engines were slightly detuned, and have a new identification code: CF3. 3.0 V6 12V was discontinued for the Spider and replaced with 24V Euro3 version from the GTV. 2.0 V6 Turbo and 1.8 T.Spark were discontinued as they did not comply with Euro3 emissions. By the 2001-2002 model year, only 2 engines were left, the  2.0 Twin.Spark and 3.0 V6 24V, until the Phase 3 engine range arrived. The Arese plant, where the cars had been built,  was closing and, in October 2000, the production of GTV/Spider was transferred to Pininfarina Plant in San Giorgio Canavese in Turin. In 2003 there was another and final revamp, creating the Phase 3, also designed in Pininfarina but not by Enrico Fumia. The main changes were focused on the front with new 147-style grille and different front bumpers with offset numberplate holder. Change to the interior was minimal with different centre console and upholstery pattern and colours available. Instrument illumination colour was changed from green to red. Main specification change is an ASR traction control, not available for 2.0 TS Base model. New engines were introduced: 163  hp 2.0 JTS with direct petrol injection and 237 hp 3.2 V6 24V allowing a 158 mph top speed. Production ceased in late 2004, though some cars were still available for purchase till 2006. A total of 80,747 cars were made, and sales of the GTV and Spider were roughly equal. More V6 engined GTVs than Spiders were made, but in 2.0 guise, it was the other way round with the open model proving marginally more popular.

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It is quite sobering to realise that the little MiTo has been on sale for 10 years. Whilst sales have been steady rather than spectacular in that time, the smallest Alfa currently made has found plenty of fans and there is now an enthusiastic MiTo Owners Club, so where Italian cars are gathered together, it is quite common to get a whole line of the smallest current Alfa assembled, and indeed there were several of them here on this occasion.  Known internally as the Tipo 955, the MiTo (the name allegedly standing for Mi-lano and To-rino, where it was designed and is built, respectively,  and a pun on the Italian word for “myth”), the smallest Alfa ever made is a three-door only supermini, which was officially introduced on June 19, 2008, at Castello Sforzesco in Milan,, going on sale a few weeks later, with UK supplies reaching the country after the British Motor Show in 2008. Built on the Fiat Small platform used on the Grande Punto, and also employed by the Opel/Vauxhall Corsa, the MiTo was intended to compete with the MINI and the newer Audi A1. Designed by Centro Stile Alfa Romeo, the design is believed to be inspired by the 8C Competizione. A range of engines has been offered since launch, though sadly the GTA Concept that was shown at the 2009 Geneva Show never made it to production.

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The current Giulietta arrived in 2010 as a much awaited replacement for the 147. Spy photos had suggested that the car was going to look very like Fiat’s ill-fated Bravo, but the reality was that it had a style all of its own. A range of very efficient petrol and diesel engines were among the most emissions-efficient in their class at the time, and a 250 bhp Quadrifoglio version at the top of the range made sure there was something for the man who wanted a rapid, but quite subtle hatch. The car has enjoyed reasonable success in the UK, and the car has certainly found favour among Alfa enthusiasts, so it was no surprise to find this model present here, too.

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Final Alfa here was the one that everyone really loved, a Giulia Quadrifoglio. The owner acquired it earlier in the year, swapping out of an Abarth, and needless to say he loves it too. Having now driven one, I can confirm that it really is as good as the press and everyone else says. A truly special car.

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FERRARI

The first Ferrari here was a 550, A very elegant car, and one of the firm’s finest big GTs, the 550 Maranello’s combination of stylish Pininfarina lines and front mounted 12-cylinder engine meant this car had the potential to become an instant classic, following in the footsteps of its forebear, the 365 GTB/4 ‘Daytona’, and if you look at the way the prices are steading to go, it’s clear that the potential is being realised. Launched in 1996, and with modern styling cues, a 5.5 litre V12 engine producing around 485bhp and a reported top speed of 199mph, the 550 Maranello was a serious motor car. A less frenetic power delivery, the six speed manual box and excellent weight distribution were all factors in the 550 becoming the perfect European Grand Tourer. Ferrari updated the car in 2002 to create the 575M.

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Sole open-topped Ferrari of the evening was this rather splendid Mondial Convertible. Produced by Ferrari from 1980 through 1993, the Mondial replaced the 208/308 GT4. The “Mondial” name came from Ferrari’s history — the 500 Mondial race car of the early 1950s. Despite its predecessor being Bertone styled, the Mondial saw Ferrari return to Pininfarina for styling. Sold as a mid-sized coupe and, eventually a cabriolet, it was conceived as a ‘usable’ model, offering the practicality of four seats and the performance of a Ferrari. The car had a slightly higher roofline than its stablemates, with a single long door either side, offering easy access and good interior space, reasonable rear legroom while all-round visibility was excellent. The cabriolets also hold the distinction of being the only production automobile in history that has four seats, is rear mid-engined, and is a full convertible. The car body was not built as a monocoque in the same way as a conventional car. The steel outer body produced by the famous Italian coachbuilder Carrozzeria Scaglietti, in nearby Modena, was  built over a lightweight steel box-section space frame. The engine cover and rear luggage compartment lids are in light alloy. The seats and interior were trimmed in Connolly hide, contrasting with the body colour. Most cars were painted rosso red, but some were black or silver, and a few were dark blue. The Mondial was the first Ferrari car where the entire engine/gearbox/rear suspension assembly is on a detachable steel subframe. This design made engine removal for a major rebuild or cylinder head removal much easier than it was on previous models. Unusually, the handbrake is situated between the driver’s seat and the inner sill. Once the handbrake is set it drops down so as, not to impede egress and ingress. Instead of the conventional “H” shift pattern, the gearbox has 1st gear situated in a “dog leg” to the left and back, behind reverse. This pattern, otherwise known as a “reverse h-gate”, allows quicker gear shifts between 2nd and 3rd gear, and also between 4th and 5th. The Mondial underwent many updates throughout production. There were four distinct iterations (8, QV, 3.2, and t), with the latter 3 having two variations each. (coupe and cabriolet). The first car was introduced as the Mondial 8 at the 1980 Geneva Auto Salon. It was the first Ferrari to depart from the company’s simple 3-digit naming scheme, and some reviews found it relatively mild, compared to other Ferraris, regarding performance, drawing criticism from some in the motoring press. It used a mid/rear-mounted Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection V8, shared with the 308 GTBi/GTSi, mounted transversely. The engine used in the 1973 Dino 308 GT4. The K-Jetronic system is mechanical, with a high-pressure pump which streams fuel continuously to the injectors; it does not have a computer, just a few relays to handle the cold start sequence etc. The chassis was also based on the 308 GT4, but with a 100mm (3.9 inch) longer wheelbase at 2,650 mm (104.3 in). The suspension was the classic layout of unequal-length double wishbones and Koni dampers all around. Today, the Mondial 8 is considered one of the marque’s most “practical” vehicles, due to its 214 hp, proven drivetrain, four seats, and relatively low cost of maintenance (major services can be performed without removing the entire engine/transmission subframe). 703 examples were made. The first Mondial engine, although a DOHC design, used just two valves per cylinder. The 1982 Quattrovalvole or QV introduced a new four-valve head; the combustion chamber design purportedly based on the early eighties Formula 1 engine. Again, the engine was shared with the contemporary 308 GTB/GTS QV, and produced a much more respectable 240 hp. Appearance was largely as per the Mondial 8, although with red engine heads and prominent “quattrovalvole” script at the rear. 1,145 coupés built between 1982 and 1985. A new Cabriolet body style added for 1983. Body styling remained the same as the coupé variant, with the roof maintaining the ‘buttress’ design of the roof, though the Cabriolet required the rear seats to be mounted closer together laterally. The introduction of the Cabriolet saw the popularity of the Mondial rise, particularly in the American market, where the convertible body style was highly desirable. The Cabriolet has the added distinction of being the only four-seat, mid-rear engine, convertible automobile ever manufactured in regular production. 629 units were produced between 1983 and 1985, making this the rarest version of the Mondial. Like the Ferrari 328, the Mondial’s engine grew in both bore and stroke to 3,185 cc in 1985. Output was now 270 PS.  The Mondial 3.2 was first presented at the 1985 Frankfurt Auto Show in September that year.  Available in both Coupé and Cabriolet forms, styling refreshed with restyled and body-coloured bumpers, similar to the 328 with more integrated indicators and driving lamps, and new alloy wheels with a more rounded face. The 3.2 also boasted a major interior update, with a more ergonomic layout and a more rounded instrument binnacle. Later cars, from 1987 onwards, also sported ABS brakes. Fuel injection remained the primarily mechanical Bosch K-Jetronic (CIS) with an O2 sensor in the exhaust providing feedback to a simple computer for mixture trimming via a pulse modulated frequency valve that regulated control fuel pressure. The ignition system was Marelli Microplex, with electronic advance control and one distributor per bank of the V8. The 1988 Mondial 3.2 would be the final model year that retained the relatively low maintenance costs of the 308/328 drivetrain, allowing major service items like timing belt and clutch replacement performed with the engine/transmission package still in the car. The final Mondial evolution was 1989’s Mondial t, which was a substantially changed model. It was visually different from preceding Mondial models, the most recognizable being the redesign of the air intakes to a smaller rectangular shape. Additionally, the door-handles were of a visually different design, as were the front and rear bumpers which became body coloured. New front and rear wings cover wider tracks and are re-profiled to a fuller shape compared to previous models, which feature a rolled lip. The ‘t’ called attention to the car’s new engine/transmission layout: the previously-transverse engine mounted longitudinally while the gearbox remained transverse, thus forming a ‘t’. By adopting this layout, a longer engine could be mounted lower in the chassis, improving handling dramatically. The ‘t’ configuration was used by Ferrari’s Formula One cars of the 1980s, and would be the standard for the marque’s future mid-engined V8 cars, beginning with the 348, introduced later in the year. The transverse manual gearbox fitted with a Limited Slip Differential with a twin-plate clutch design with bevel gears driving the wheels. Later in production, a Semi-automatic transmission termed “Valeo” was available as an option; while shifting was using a traditional gear lever, the clutch was actuated automatically without a clutch pedal. The engine was up to 3405 cc and 300 hp, controlled by Bosch Motronic DME 2.5 (later DME 2.7) electronic engine management that integrated EFI and ignition control into a single computer unit. Two of these used in the car: one for each bank of the engine. Engine lubrication upgraded to a dry-sump system. The Mondial’s chassis would underpin a new generation of 2-seat Ferraris, right up to the 360, but the 2+2 Mondial would end production just four and a half years later in 1993. However, the “t” layout of the engine and transaxle, adapted from Ferrari’s Formula One cars, continues to be used in mid-engined V8 model Ferraris to date, albeit with a more sophisticated chassis. The new layout saw the engine and transmission mounted on a removable subframe; the assembly removed from the underside of the vehicle for maintenance. This process is necessary for timing belt replacement, making this a costly procedure for the owner who does not have a lift. On the other hand, the clutch was now located at the very rear of the drive train. This arrangement makes clutch replacement and service a simple, inexpensive, and readily owner-doable proposition. The “t” was home to other Ferrari firsts: It used power assisted steering for the first time and had a 3-position electronically controlled suspension for a variable tradeoff between ride quality and road holding. It also had standard ABS. Total production of the t Coupe was 858 (45 Right Hand Drive), and the t Cabriolet of 1,017 (51 Right Hand Drive, meaning that around 6000 Mondial cars were produced over those 13 years, making it one of the most commercially significant Ferraris to date. The owner of this car said he has had it for around 15 years, during which time he has only covered 8000 miles, 3000 of which were when he drove it all the way down to Scilly. You could certainly imagine a long drive, roof down in this machine.

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What looked like it would be the most captivating Ferrari of the evening was this 458 Speciale, one of a a now long line of specially engineered cars added to complement the “regular” V8 models that started  with the 100 units of the 348 Speciale produced in 1992, and followed up by the 360 Challenge Stradale, the 430 Scuderia and the 16M. In essence they are all about adding power and shedding weight. In simplistic terms, the road to the Speciale can be summed up in four words: more power, less weight. There are other, more detailed changes, too, obviously, but those are the cornerstones around which everything else is shaped. The normally aspirated, flat-plane crank V8 retains its 4497cc swept capacity but receives new cam geometry with higher valve lift, shorter inlet manifolds and different pistons providing a higher compression ratio. Internal friction is reduced, through the use of uprated materials and the upshot is 597bhp (up from 562bhp) generated at the engine’s 9000rpm limit. Torque is the same, at 398lb ft, still delivered at 6000rpm. The engine is mated to a seven-speed, dual-clutch gearbox whose upshifts, we were told at the launch of such gearboxes, are all but instant. That’s still true, but Ferrari has improved the response time to a pull on the lever and made the engine rev-match more quickly on downshifts to reduce the time that those take. The engine’s changes shave 8kg from the car’s overall weight – the exhaust is all aluminium and the intake is carbonfibre. Those 8kg form part of a claimed 90kg total saving at 1395kg now, versus 1485kg for a 458 Italia. Of this 90kg, 12kg is contributed by lighter, forged wheels, 13kg comes from bodywork and window changes (lighter glass all round and Lexan for the engine cover), and 20kg comes from the cabin. There are two flaps on the Speciale’s front valance, one either side of the prancing horse badge in its centre. Below 106mph these flaps remain closed, which diverts air towards the radiators. Above that speed, the radiators get quite enough cool air, thanks very much, so the flaps open, which reduces drag. Then, above 137mph, they move again, lowering to shift downforce to the rear of the car, in turn adjusting the balance 20 per cent rearward in order to promote high-speed cornering stability.  At the rear, meanwhile, there is a new diffuser (the exhausts have been rerouted to make the most of its central section). Movable flaps in the diffuser adjust, but this time they are dependent not only on speed but also on steering angle and throttle or brake position. When lowered, the flaps stall the path of air into the diffuser and improve the Cd by 0.03. When raised, the diffuser adds downforce as it should. Bodywork changes, though, also bring some aerodynamic improvements, you’ll not be surprised to hear, with lessons applied from the LaFerrari and FXX programmes. In the front valance and under the rear diffuser, there are flaps that open at speed to reduce drag and improve downforce. Finally, there are new Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres in a unique compound – rather a sticky one, we suspect – plus new calibration for the adaptive dampers. The carbon-ceramic brake discs also use a new compound.  499 of them were built and they sold out very quickly.

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One of the later cars to arrive was also one of the most special, and it is fair to say that it turned almost every head on site when it pulled in. This is an F12 TdF, a variant that Ferrari unveiled in October 2015, as a faster, lighter and more powerful special edition of the regular F12 Berlinetta. The accompanying press releases informed us that the the car was created in homage to the legendary Tour de France road races, which it dominated in the 1950s and 1960s with the likes of the 1956 250 GT Berlinetta. However, the full Tour de France name cannot be used, as this is registered to the famous annual cycle race held in France, and even the might of Ferrari’s often belligerent and bullying legal department clearly had not managed to get past that obstacle. The F12 TdF,  described by its maker as “the ultimate expression of the concept of an extreme road car that is equally at home on the track”, keeps the same 6.3-litre naturally aspirated V12 engine as the regular F12 Berlinetta, but power has been boosted from 730bhp to 770bhp at 8500rpm, while torque has increased from 509lb ft to 520lb ft at 6750rpm. Ferrari says 80% of the car’s torque is available from 2500rpm. By comparison, McLaren’s 675LT features a 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine and produces 660bhp and 516lb ft – enough to give it a 0-62mph sprint time of 2.9 seconds. The older Ferrari 458 Speciale, meanwhile, made 597bhp from its 4.5-litre naturally aspirated V8. The car  is capable of reaching 62mph in 2.9sec and has a top speed of more than 211mph. Official fuel consumption is rated at 18.3mpg, with CO2 emissions of 360g/km. Ferrari says it has has used various modifications derived from its F1 cars to boost the engine’s efficiency. The F12 TdF uses a new version of the firm’s dual-clutch automatic transmission, which features shorter gear ratios. New one-piece brake calipers – the same as those used on the LaFerrari supercar – are said to provide “outstanding” stopping distances, allowing the F12 TdF to brake from 62-0mph in 30.5 metres. Ferrari says the car’s performance is “second to none”, but that it has also been conceived to be “an extremely agile and powerful car which could also be driven by less expert drivers”. The F12 TdF  has lapped Ferrari’s Fiorano test track in 1min 21sec. The regular F12 Berlinetta completed the lap in 1min 23sec – the same as the new 488. The LaFerrari currently holds the fastest time on the course, with a time of 1min 19.70sec. Among the other changes made to the F12 TdF are larger front tyres, allowing greater lateral acceleration through corners. Ferrari says the car’s “natural tendency” to oversteer has been compensated for by the use of a new rear-wheel steering system. Dubbed Virtual Short Wheelbase, the system – which automatically adjusts the rear wheels for the optimum steering angle – is said to increase stability at high speeds while guaranteeing “the steering wheel response times and turn-in of a competition car”. The F12 TdF’s aggressive bodywork includes a longer and higher rear spoiler, larger air vents to channel air flow along the sides of the car, a redesigned rear diffuser and new wheel arch louvres. It sits on 20in alloy wheels. Overall, the changes combine to give the F12 TdF 30% more downforce compared to the F12. Ferrari says the redesigned bodywork has almost doubled the aerodynamic efficiency of the car compared to the standard F12, while the use of lightweight carbonfibre inside and out has reduced the F12 TdFf’s kerb weight by 110kg over the standard car, which weighs 1630kg. The cabin is deliberately stripped out. The door panels feature carbonfibre trim, while knee padding replaces the traditional glovebox. The majority of the cabin is trimmed with Alcantara instead of real leather. Aluminium plates feature on the floor instead of mats, again hinting at the car’s track-focused nature. Just 799 examples were built, around 20 of which came to the UK, with an asking price of  £339,000, around £100,000 more than the regular F12 Berlinetta.

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FIAT

Always popular whenever they appear are examples of the Nuova 500, Dante Giacosa’s much loved tiny city car, and there were a couple of these present during the evening. As always, there were lots of people declaring just how cute and appealing this tiny cars are. Known as project 110, the brief for the Nuova 500 was to create a micro-car that would not only carry on the tradition of the earlier Topolino, but which would also take sales away from the ever popular Lambretta and Vespa scooters of the day. It clearly needed to be smaller than the 600 which had been released with a conventional 4 cylinder engine. Not an easy task, but development started in 1953 and by August 1954, two designs were ready to be shown to Fiat management. They selected one, and serious development began. At first the car was referred to as the 400, as it was going to have a 400cc engine, but it was soon realised that this was just too small, so a larger 500cc air-cooled engine was developed. It was signed off in January 1956, with production starting in March 1957 in advance of a June launch. Fiat’s marketing department got busy, with hundreds of the new car taking to the streets of Turin, each with a pretty girl standing through the open sunroof that was a feature of all the early cars. The press loved it. 50 units were shipped to Britain, where the car made its debut at Brands Hatch, and again the reception was enthusiastic. But the orders just did not come in. Fiat went for a hasty rethink, relaunching the car at the Turin Show later that year. power was increased from 13 to 15 bhp, and the poverty spec was lessened a little, with headlight bezels, brightwork on the side and chrome hubcaps, a Nuova500 badge on the engine cover, winding side windows (the launch cars just had opening quarterlights) and the option of a heater fan. It was enough to get sales moving. The original car was still offered, at a lower price, called the Economy. In the first year of production, 28,452 Fiat 500s were made. Over the next 19 years, the car changed little in overall appearance, but there were a number of updates with more power and equipment added. A 500 Sport was launched in August 1958, with a more powerful version of the 499cc engine. It lost the soft top, having a ridged steel roof, to increase strength of the body. It was only available in grey with a red side flash. The first major changes came in 1960 with the 500D. This looks very similar to the Nuova, but with two key differences. One is the engine size: the D features an uprated 499 cc engine producing 17 bhp as standard, an engine which would be used right through until the end of the L in 1973; and the other is the roof: the standard D roof does not fold back as far as the roof on the Nuova, though it was also available as the “Transformable” with the same roof as the Nuova. The D still featured “suicide doors”. There were larger rear light clusters, more space in the front boot thanks to a redesign of the fuel tank and new indicators under the headlights. A year later, Fiat added a light on the rear-view mirrors and a windscreen washer, but the car still lacked a fuel gauge. Sales increased from 20,900 in 1960 to 87.000 in 1961, 132,000 in 1962 and by 1964, the last year of production, they hit 194,000 units.  The D was replaced in 1965 by the 500F, which finally moved the door hinges from back to the front, owing to changes in Italian safety laws. There was a deeper windscreen and thinner door pillars, which increased the height of the car by 10mm, improving visibility for the driver. The 500F ran through to 1975, from 1968 alongside the more luxurious 500L which was added to the range in 1968. The L is easy to tell apart, with its bumper overriders. The final updates created the 500R, which incorporated many changes from the 126 under the skin of the classic shape, and in this form production continued alongside the newer 126 until 1976.

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Next Fiat to present is the Coupe. Often there are several of these, many times, the cars arriving later in the evening, but on this occasion, there were just a couple. Developed as the Tipo 175, the Coupe was introduced at the Brussels Motor Show in 1993. It is perhaps best remembered for its distinctive, angular design, with unique scalloped side panels. The body was designed by Chris Bangle from Centro Stile Fiat, while the interior was designed by Pininfarina, and the car media headlines in auto magazines during 1992 after several spy shots were taken revealing the car on test. On its launch in 1993, the Coupé was available with a four-cylinder, 2.0 litre 16V engine, in both turbo (190 PS) and normally aspirated (139 PS) versions. Both engines were later versions of Fiat’s twin-cam design and inherited from the Lancia Delta Integrale. 1996 brought in a 1.8 litre 131 PS 16V engine (not available in the UK), along with a 2.0-litre 5-cylinder 20V (147 PS), and a 5-cylinder 2.0-litre 20V turbo (220 PS). The turbocharged 16 and 20 valve versions were equipped with a very efficient Viscodrive limited-slip differential to counter the understeer that plagues most powerful front wheel drive cars. Additionally, the coupe featured independent suspension all round: at the front MacPherson struts and lower wishbones anchored to an auxiliary crossbeam, offset coil springs and anti-roll bar; at the rear, trailing arms mounted on an auxiliary subframe, coil springs and an anti-roll bar. The car was well received at launch, and the 5 cylinder engines just made it even better, with sales increasing slightly for a couple of years, but then they started to drop off, as Coupe models in general fell from favour. 1998 saw the release of the Limited Edition which featured red Brembo brake calipers at the front and standard red calipers at the back, a body kit, push-button start, six-speed gearbox, strut brace to make the chassis more rigid and Recaro seats with red leather inserts which offered better support than the standard 20VT seats. The LE was produced in Black, Red, Vinci Grey (metallic), Crono Grey and Steel Grey (metallic). The bodywork of the LE also benefited from titanium coloured insert around the light bezels and the wing mirrors. Each Limited Edition (‘LE’) Coupé was manufactured with a badge located by the rear-view mirror which contained that car’s unique number (it is rumoured that Michael Schumacher was the original owner of LE No. 0001, however when the question was raised to him personally he confirmed he had owned one, but a red one, while LE No. 0001 is a Crono Grey one). Originally a spokesman from Fiat stated only approximately 300 Limited Editions would be built. The final number  was much higher, perhaps as many as 1400. This angered many of the owners of the original 300 cars and almost certainly impacted residual values. The original number however was quoted by a Fiat UK spokesman, so probably that number only applied to the UK market. The numbered plaque on every Coupe features enough space for 4 numbers. In 1998 the 2.0-litre 5-cylinder 20V got a Variable Inlet System which brought the power to 154 PS. The 2.0-litre 5-cylinder 20V Turbo received a 6-speed gearbox and a large, satin gloss push starter button. In addition, the sills of the Turbo version were colour matched with the body paintwork. Fiat also released the 2.0 litre  5 cylinder Turbo ‘Plus’. This model came with an option kit that made it virtually identical to the LE, except for minor interior design changes and without the unique identification badge of the LE. In 2000 Fiat released another special version of the Fiat Coupé. Featuring the 1.8-litre engine, it was only available throughout mainland Europe and marketed as an elegant and affordable edition. Fiat also made changes throughout the rest of the range: new seats, side skirts and wheels for the 2.0-litre 20V model, ‘Plus’ edition wheels on turbo models and Fiat manufactured seats on the ‘Plus’ that were virtually identical to the original Plus Recaro seats with the addition of extra airbags. The 2.0-litre 20V Turbo model is capable of accelerating from 0–100 km/h (0 to 62 mph) in 6.5 seconds and 6.3 seconds for the 20v Turbo Plus, with a top speed of 240 km/h (149 mph) or 250 km/h (155 mph) with later 6-speed gearbox. When production finally stopped in September 2000, a total number of 72,762 units had been produced. There are still well over 1000 units in the UK, so this is a Fiat which has proved durable as well as good to drive, and to look at.

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Follow on to Fiat’s 1991 Cinquecento was the Seicento, and that was represented here by the Sporting version, debuting in 1997. It did not differ much from its predecessor, retaining the same engines, chassis and general dimensions, although it did gain a minor 9 cm in length (total length of 3.34 m). At launch, the Seicento was available with three trim levels; a basic ‘S’ with black bumpers and spartan equipment and initially the 899 cc 39 PS FIAT 100 series engine; an ‘SX’ model, a slight upgrade over the ‘S’ with colour-coded bumpers, electric windows, central locking and a sunroof – which was also available as a ‘Citymatic’ with a clutchless manual gearchange – and a ‘Sporting’ with the larger FIAT FIRE series 1108 cc 55 PS engine, 20 mm (0.8 in) lower suspension and anti-roll bars added. Cosmetically, this version gained 13″ alloy wheels, sports seats. An Abarth styling kit was also available with a body kit with optional Abarth 14″ wheels a close-ratio gearbox, sill kick plates, embroidered headrests, leather gear stick and steering wheel, colour highlighted trim in the bumpers, side skirts and a spoiler also available. Both the sporting and the Abarths were available with ABS, air-conditioning and power steering but due to cost not very many owners took up the options. In 1999, the FIRE engine was used in the special ‘Suite’ version, which came with air-conditioning. A special edition ‘Soleil’ model was available in some markets, which was based on the ‘SX’ model but came with a full-length electrically-folding fabric roof. In 2001, after the update, all cars were given clear indicator lenses, with the Sporting model getting a restyled bodykit. Power steering was still an option, in lower end Seicentos. A ‘Michael Schumacher’ edition of the Sporting, with ABS and the Abarth styling kit, was also launched at this time to celebrate the Ferrari driver’s Formula One success, This model was almost identical to the Abarth kit with the exception of chrome gear stick surrounds and Michael’s signature on the boot lid and side skirt. A limited edition plate and number was also on the passenger door. In 2004, the model was withdrawn from the UK market, and production of RHD models ceased, following the arrival of the new and more practical Panda. The LHD model was facelifted, gaining a new design for the wheel rims and the introduction of the new Fiat logo to the rear. In 2005, the name Seicento was replaced by 600 (on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the first edition, in 1955) together with some changes in the front and in versions donations: now the name Fiat is written on the seats. The new versions now were named “Class” and “50 anniversary”, thus reminding the strict relationship between this model and the previous one. Production continued until 2010 by which time over 1.33 million units had been built.

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Following its 2003 launch, the Panda grew into a wider range than had been the case with its predecessor, and the car proved to be a huge sales success. Some of that came from the Panda 100HP, a fun yet still affordable sporting version of Fiat’s diminutive city car, which it is widely rumoured was going to bear Abarth badges until a last minute declaration (unbroken for now, but rumours suggest it may well be rescinded) that Abarth models do not have 4 or 5 doors. The 4WD models also found their own niche, proving particularly popular for those who wanted a small and country runabout, but the reality is that the volume selling cars were the regular 1.1 and 1.2 hatches. These helped the Panda to become the best selling car in Italy, taking the mantle over from the Punto, a position which it has held ever since, as the model morphed into a third generation.

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MASERATI

Just as Abarth Owners often (used to ) come in quantity to this event, so do Maserati owners, so it I’ve found in the past that you either get one or two examples of the marque or in excess of  twenty, with the brand being the best represented of all Italian cars on some occasions. In June, there were only a couple of Maserati all evening, in contrast to the May event. And this time, there were once again a large number of cars with the Trident badge on them, already parked up when I arrived, with the owners sitting at the outdoor tables enjoying food, drink and a catch up. Most of them did leave relatively early on, though, but that was OK, as it created space for some more cars to use. Most numerous models were the range of 3200GT, and later 4200GT and Spider cars. After producing BiTurbo based cars for 17 years, Maserati replaced their entire range with a new model in July 1998. Known internally as the Tipo 338, and christened the Maserati 3200 GT, this very elegant 2+2 grand tourer was styled by Italdesign, whose founder and head Giorgetto Giugiaro had previously designed, among others, the Ghibli, Bora and Merak. The interior design was commissioned to Enrico Fumia. Its name honoured the Maserati 3500 GT, the Trident’s first series production grand tourer. Sold mainly in Europe, the 3200 GT was powered by the twin-turbo, 32-valve, dual overhead cam 3.2-litre V8 engine featured in the Quattroporte Evoluzione, set up to develop 370 PS (365 hp). The car was praised for its styling, with the distinctive array of tail-lights, consisting of LEDs, arranged in the shape of boomerang being particularly worthy of comment. The outer layer of the ‘boomerang’ provided the brake light, with the inner layer providing the directional indicator. The car was also reviewed quite well by the press when they got to drive it in early 1999, though it was clear that they expected more power and excitement. That came after  4,795 cars had been produced, in 2001, with the launch of the 4200 models. Officially called the Coupé and joined by an open-topped  Spyder (Tipo M138 in Maserati speak), these models had larger 4.2 litre engines, and a gearbox at the back of the car which gave near-perfect weight distribution. They were engineered so the cars could be sold in America, marking the return to that market for Maserati after an 11 year gap. There were some detailed styling changes, most notable of which were the replacement of the boomerang rear lights with conventional rectangular units. Few felt that this was an improvement. The cars proved popular, though, selling strongly up until 2007 when they were replaced by the next generation of Maserati. Minor changes were made to the model during its six year production, but more significant was the launch at the 2004 Geneva Show of the GranSport which sported aerodynamic body cladding, a chrome mesh grille, carbon fibre interior trim, and special 19-inch wheels. It used the Skyhook active suspension, with a 0.4 inch lower ride height, and the Cambiocorsa transmission recalibrated for quicker shifts. The exhaust was specially tuned to “growl” on start-up and full throttle. The GranSport was powered by the same 4244 cc, 90° V8 petrol engine used on the Coupé and Spyder, but developing 400 PS (395 hp) at 7000 rpm due primarily to a different exhaust system and improvements on the intake manifolds and valve seats. A six-speed paddle shift transmission came as standard. The GranSport has a claimed top speed of 180 mph and a 0–62 mph (0–100 km/h) time of 4.8 seconds. All versions to be seen here were Coupe models, with the 3200GT, 4200, and GranSport all present.

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There were also a number of the current GranTurismo cars. Seeing these next to the 3200GT, you can appreciate just how much bigger the current car is. The car has been in production for over 10 years now, during which time it has changed remarkably little. Certainly from a design point of view, it did not really need to, as the model is supremely elegant. Sales, however, had dwindled to small numbers, and the model is likely to cease production soon, probably leaving a gap before a replacement arrives.

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Once again, I came in my Ghibli, and it ended up as the only example of the model present. Although less sporting than the models presented above, it still attracted its fair share of interest, and not just from the other Maserati owners.

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It was not the only Maserati saloon during the evening, though, as some time after I arrived, a fifth generation Quattroporte pulled in.  Around 25,000 of these cars were made between 2004 and 2012, making it the second best selling Maserati of all time, beaten only by the cheaper BiTurbo of the 1980s. The Tipo M139 was unveiled to the world at the Frankfurt Motor Show on 9 September 2003, with production starting in 2004. Exterior and interior design was done by Pininfarina, and the result was widely acclaimed to be one of the best looking saloons not just of its time, but ever, an opinion many would not disagree with even now. Built on an entirely new platform, it was 50 cm (19.7 in) longer than its predecessor and sat on a 40 cm (15.7 in) longer wheelbase. The same architecture would later underpin the GranTurismo and GranCabrio coupés and convertibles. Initially it was powered by an evolution of the naturally aspirated dry sump 4.2-litre V8 engine, mounted on the Maserati Coupé, with an improved output of 400 PS . Due to its greater weight compared to the Coupé and Spyder, the 0-62 mph (0–100 km/h) time for the Quattroporte was 5.2 seconds and the top speed 171 mph (275 km/h). Initially offered in only one configuration, equipped with the DuoSelect transmission, the gearbox was the weak point of the car, receiving most of the criticism from the press reviews. Maserati increased the range at the 2005 Frankfurt Motor Show, with the launch of the Executive GT and Sport GT trim levels. The Executive GT came equipped with a wood-rimmed steering wheel, an alcantara suede interior roof lining, ventilated, adaptive, massaging rear seats, rear air conditioning controls, veneered retractable rear tables, and curtain shades on the rear windows. The exterior was distinguished by 19 inch eight-spoke ball-polished wheels and chrome mesh front and side grilles. The Quattroporte Sport GT variant offered several performance upgrades: faster shifting transmission and firmer Skyhook suspensions thanks to new software calibrations, seven-spoke 20 inch wheels with low-profile tyres, cross-drilled brake rotors and braided brake lines. Model-specific exterior trim included dark mesh front and side grilles and red accents to the Trident badges, as on vintage racing Maseratis. Inside there were aluminium pedals, a sport steering wheel and carbon fibre in place of the standard wood inserts. A new automatic transmission was presented at the 2007 Detroit Motor Show, marketed as the Maserati Quattroporte Automatica.  As all three trim levels were offered in both DuoSelect and Automatica versions, the lineup grew to six models. The Quattroporte Sport GT S was introduced at the 2007 Frankfurt Motor Show. Taking further the Sport GT’s focus on handling, this version employed Bilstein single-rate dampers in place of the Skyhook adaptive system. Other changes from the Sport GT comprised a lowered ride height and 10 mm wider 295/30 rear tyres, front Brembo iron/aluminium dual-cast brake rotors and red-painted six piston callipers. The cabin was upholstered in mixed alcantara and leather, with carbon fibre accents; outside the door handles were painted in body colour, while the exterior trim, the 20 inch wheels and the exhaust pipes were finished in a “dark chrome” shade. After Images of a facelifted Quattroporte appeared on the Internet in January 2008; the car made its official début at the 2008 Geneva Motor Show. Overseen by Pininfarina, the facelift brought redesigned bumpers, side sills and side mirrors, a convex front grille with vertical bars instead of horizontal, new headlights and tail lights with directional bi-xenon main beams and LED turn signals. Inside there was a new navigation and entertainment system. All Quattroporte models now used the ZF automatic transmission, the DuoSelect being discontinued. The 4.2-litre Quattroporte now came equipped with single-rate damping comfort-tuned suspension and 18 inch wheels. Debuting alongside it was the Quattroporte S, powered by a wet-sump 4.7-litre V8, the same engine of the Maserati GranTurismo S, with a maximum power of 430 PS (424 hp) and maximum torque of 490 N·m (361 lb/ft). In conjunction with the engine, the braking system was upgraded to cross-drilled discs on both axles and dual-cast 360 mm rotors with six piston callipers at the front. Skyhook active damping suspension and 19 inch V-spoke wheels were standard. Trim differences from the 4.2-litre cars were limited to a chrome instead of titanium-coloured front grille. The Quattroporte Sport GT S was premièred at the North American International Auto Show in January 2009. Its 4.7-litre V8 produced 440 PS (434 hp), ten more than the Quattroporte S, thanks to revised intake and to a sport exhaust system with electronically actuated bypass valves. Other mechanical changes were to the suspensions, where as on the first Sport GT S single-rate dampers took place of the Skyhook system, ride height was further lowered and stiffer springs were adopted. The exterior was distinguished by a specific front grille with convex vertical bars, black headlight bezels, red accents to the Trident badges, the absence of chrome window trim, body colour door handles and black double oval exhaust pipes instead of the four round ones found on other Quattroporte models. Inside veneers were replaced by “Titan Tex” composite material and the cabin was upholstered in mixed Alcantara and leather. This means that there are quite a number of different versions among the 25,256 units produced, with the early DuoSelect cars being the most numerous.

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Arriving a bit later than the other Maserati models was this Kyalami, the same car as had attended the previous month and been my “star” of the evening. It was good to see it again, and this time the car was parked in a different place on site, where the combination of light and shadows was better, so I could readily get some more photos of what is a very rare car indeed. Not a well known car these days, what was developed under the code of Tipo 129, the Kyalami is a four-seat GT coupé produced from 1976 to 1983. which was named after the Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit in South Africa, where a Maserati-powered Cooper T81 had won the 1967 South African Grand Prix. The Kyalami was the first new model developed under the Alejandro de Tomaso ownership. It was derived from, and mechanically virtually identical (except for some body panels) to the Longchamp, a three-box grand tourer made by De Tomaso Automobili. Pietro Frua was commissioned from De Tomaso to undertake the restyling of the Tom Tjaarda-designed Longchamp, to give the new car a distinctive Maserati feel. The interior was also upgraded to incorporate classic Maserati elements such the steering wheel and instrumentation. A Maserati four overhead camshaft 90° V8 was utilised to power the car, as opposed to the American-sourced Ford V8 which was used in the Longchamp. The Kyalami was launched at the 1976 Geneva Motor Show and was initially powered by a 265 PS 4.2-litre engine. Starting in 1978, an enlarged version of 4.9-litre displacement delivering 290 PS was also available. Both engines were coupled with a ZF five-speed manual transmission or upon request a three-speed Borg Warner automatic. Mechanically the Kyalami was closely related to its contemporary Quattroporte, which was also offered with the same engines and gearboxes. 210 Kyalamis were built between 1976 and 1983. Due to its rarity very little in the way of performance tests were published in the various international magazines when the car was new, and it features at events very seldom these days.

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VIGNALE

In many ways, the best is left til last. I’ve now seen this fabulous little car three times, as the owner, Mike Kason – well known for being someone who roots out interesting Italian machinery, and then who uses the cars he has found – brought his latest acquisition to Brooklands in May and to the Abarth BBQ event only a few days prior to this. Few people would recognise this car from a distance, though if you get up close, there are badges which at east indicate the coachbuilder. It is a Vignale 750 Coupe, which was based on Fiat’s 600 model, but with a completely different body, styled by Vignale, and an enlarged four cylinder air-cooled engine of 747cc  mounted at the back. Mike told me that he thinks this particular car was presented on Vignale’s stand at the 1962 Milan Motor Show, though he is still trying to verify if this is truly the case or not. A small number of these cars were built between 1960 and 1964.

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AND AN INTERLOPER

Once, again, there was a non-Italian car among the displays. This is an Aston Martin V12 Vantage, and is owned by one of the SportMaserati guys, so it departed when most of them headed off. Although not theme-compliant, and there were a few comments I heard to this effect, this is a stunning car and I doubt anyone would really have an issue in it being on display.

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AND FINALLY……..

Although Italian cars were very much the focus of the evening, there was a brief moment when eyes went towards the sky. This was the evening when President Trump was in the UK and needed to get from the US Embassy in central London to a dinner at Blenheim Palace. So the dominant noise was suddenly in the sky as a number of helicopters passed overheard. And not your conventional looking helicopters, either………..

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I enjoyed this evening very much. There were cars here which I’d not seen before, and which were rather droolsome – the Sud and Sud Sprint – as well as lots of other equally lovely machinery that I have seen both here and elsewhere. That’s now three consecutive months where Ace Cafe’s Italian Night has had a great turnout, and which I have been pleased to be able to attend. The long range forecast suggests that the summer weather is here for some time to come, so let’s hope it extends as far as the second Thursday in August and that will result in another good turnout. I will be trying to keep my diary clear so I can attend.

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