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South West Italian Performance Enthusiasts (SWIPE) Year End Meet – December 2018

For the last couple of years, a group of Italian car enthusiasts, brought together largely by the auspices of the South Wales section of the Alfa Romeo Owners Club, and known as SWIPE – the South West Italian Performance Enthusiasts – in recognition of the fact that not everyone has an Alfa, have marked the turn of the year with a driving day on some scenic roads, plenty of photos and a good meal. When gathered together in October for an event already written up, there was universal agreement that we should do something to see out 2018, and that the format and location of the 2017 event was so good that it should form the basis for this event. With the New Year holiday not lining up to a weekend, the decision was taken to do it on the last Sunday of the year, 30th December, and it proved to be one of those typical British wintery sort of days, with lots of grey and a bit of damp, but not as cold as you might fear for the time of year. Here is a summary of the cars that turned up and the day’s activities.

ASSEMBLING at WYEVALE GARDEN CENTRE

Once again, the meeting point was the Wyevale Garden Centre, just outside Cheddar. This has a large car park, and, equally importantly, a very welcoming cafe and coffee area where we could all start off with a tasty breakfast, knowing that “lunch” would be several hours away. Many, including me, had cleaned their cars in advance, but although it was dry here, some of the roads on the approach were wet, and in country mode, so cars arrived in various states of cleanliness. Given what was to come, this should have bothered no-one! Over the course of 30 minutes or so, a succession of lovely Italian cars pulled into the parking area, some arriving solo and others in convoy,  with this year’s total being 29 cars, not quite as many as in 2017 but still an impressive turnout for one of the shortest days of the year. Quite a long time was spent by the cars looking at them, photographing them and chatting before groups of people headed indoors for a warming hot drink. Here’s what came.

ABARTH

There were fewer Abarths here than in 2017, which was a bit of a disappointment, as all those who had come the previous year had really enjoyed their day out, but year end is a busy time for many people, so it was perhaps not a surprise to learn that some wanted to attend but were otherwise busy.

Tom Brown came in his 124 Spider bringing fellow Abarth owner, Lewis Webb, as a passenger. Eagerly awaited, the 124 Spider went on sale in September 2016. A quick reminder as to what this car is: The Abarth 124 Spider was developed in parallel with the Fiat model. It does cost a lot more, and there are those who think you don’t get enough extra for your money, but those who have driven it will tell you otherwise. You certainly get more power. The 1.4 MultiAir turbo unit jumps up from 138bhp to 168bhp, while torque also increases by a modest 10Nm to 250Nm, which gives it a  0-62mph time of  6.8 seconds, which is half a second quicker than the 2.0-litre Mazda MX-5. The top speed is 143mph. It weighs just 1060kg meaning a power-to-weight ratio of 158bhp-per-tonne, and with the new Record Monza exhaust system it sounds great even at idle. The Abarth version gets a stiffer suspension setup than the regular Fiat 124 Spider, with Bilstein dampers and beefed-up anti-roll bars. Bigger Brembo brakes also feature, with aluminium calipers. It can be had with a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission with paddles, and the latter gets a Sport mode for quicker shifts. Many of the UK cars sport the ‘Heritage Look’ pack, which is a no-cost option. It brings a matt black bonnet and bootlid, plus red exterior trim detailing and has proved popular. The £29,565 starting price gets you standard equipment such as cruise control, climate control, Bluetooth, a DAB radio and satnav, plus Alcantara black and red (or pure black) seat trim. The automatic gearbox is a £2,035 extra, while an optional visibility pack brings LED DRLs, auto lights and wipers and rear parking sensors. Even a couple of years after the first cars reached the UK, this is a rare sighting, with only around 1500 of them on UK roads.

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There were a number of examples of the 500-based cars, of course, all of them 595 cars, and in different colours, from the palette that has been offered over the past 9 years that the car has been on sale.

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Perhaps the furthest travelled from within the UK to get here was Neil Rollinson, and his friend Colin, who live in the West Midlands. Neil has a 695 XSR, one of a limited edition of cars that were sold in the UK (mostly) in 2017.  Created in recognition of the fact that for the third year running, Abarth was the Official Sponsor and Official Car Supplier of the Yamaha Factory Racing Team in the 2017 FIM MotoGP World Championship. In the wake of the Abarth 595 Yamaha Factory Racing and the 695 biposto Yamaha Factory Racing Edition, the 695 XSR Yamaha Limited Edition special series was available exclusively with a Pista Grey livery: only 695 sedans and 695 convertibles were made. The car was created to celebrate the Yamaha XSR900 Abarth, the first exclusive motorcycle to spring from the collaboration between the two brands and which sports the same grey livery with red trim as the 695 XSR, as well as sharing many of its features. The special series made extensive use of carbon fibre to demonstrate its affinity with the front fairing, front mudguard and saddle cover of the two-wheel Yamaha. The Abarth 695 XSR and the Yamaha XSR900 Abarth also share Akrapovič ultralight exhaust developed in the racing world to boost the personality, sound and performance of both vehicles. On the Abarth car, the carbon fibre tailpipes enhance the looks and technology of the exhaust system. The XSR logo on the tailgate distinguishes the Abarth 695 XSR, while an aluminium badge identifies the sequential number of 695 units for each body type. Other carbon fibre details, in addition to the mirror caps and Akrapovič tailpipes, are available as optional equipment, such as dashboard fascia, pedal covers, gear knob and kick plate. A 1.4 T-Jet engine delivering 165 HP sits beneath the bonnet. Equipment on this special series includes Koni rear suspension and Eibach springs, 17” Supersport alloy rims with Matt Black finish, Satin Chrome accents on handles and badge supports, red details on bumpers and mirrors, red brake callipers and a braking system with perforated discs. This version could be customised even further using the tuning kit to increase the power to 180 HP, improve handling by fitting a Koni front suspension with FSD (Frequency Selective Damping) valve and make braking even prompter with 305x28mm perforated and self-ventilating Brembo floating front discs with high-performance Ferodo HP 1000/1 front brake pads. It also features the new UconnectTM 7″ HD LIVE system integrated with Apple CarPlay allows iPhone users to access contents such as Apple Maps, Messages, telephone calls, Apple Music, also with Siri voice assistance.

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Completing the Abarth family was one example of the Punto, this one an Evo the revised version of what had been the first of the modern Abarth models. The Punto Evo was launched at the 2010 Geneva Show, with the cars reaching UK buyers in the summer of that year, and it incorporated many of the changes which had been seen a few months earlier on the associated Fiat models, the visual alterations being the most obvious, with the car taking on the nose of the associated Fiat, but adapted to make it distinctively Abarth, new rear lights and new badging. There was more to it than this, though, as under the bonnet, the T-Jet unit was swapped for the 1.4 litre Multi-Air, coupled to a 6 speed gearbox, which meant that the car now had 165 bhp at its disposal. Eventually, Abarth offered an Esseesse kit for these cars, though these are exceedingly rare. For those in the know – which never seemed to be that many people – this was a really capable and desirable car, and the owners love them, lamenting the fact that the model had quite a short production life and has not been replaced.

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ALFA ROMEO

Not surprisingly, there were far more Alfa Romeo here than other Italian marques, with a nice cross-section of cars present. Oldest of these was a 105 Series S4 Spider. The S4, the final major change to the long running Spider came in 1990, and mechanically, the biggest different was the use of Bosch Motronic electronic fuel injection with an electric fan. Externally, the Spider lost its front under-bumper spoiler and the rather ungainly rear boot spoiler of the S3, and picked up 164-style rear lights stretching across the width of the car as well as plastic bumpers the same colour as the car. This also marked the first generation of the car with automatic transmission, as well as on-board diagnostics capabilities. The car had remained in production largely thanks to continued demand in North America, though this market had to wait until 1991 for the changes to appear on their cars. European markets were offered a car with a 1600cc engine and carburettors as well as the 2 litre injected unit.  Production finally ended in 1993, with an all new model, the 916 Series Spider appearing a year later. The S4 car was not officially sold in the UK, but plenty have found their way to our shores since then.

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When it came to replacing the 33, Alfa decided that they needed not just a five door hatch, but a three door as well, just as had been offered with the AlfaSud. The three door model, the Alfa Romeo 145 (Tipo 930A) was first to appear, making its debut on static display at the April 1994 Turin Motor Show and then at the Paris Motor Show in July. A simultaneous European commercial launch was planned for 9 September, but it was delayed until October. It was only in April 1992 that work had begun on a second car, the 146 or Tipo 930B, derived from and to be sold alongside the 145; with its more traditionally Alfa Romeo style it was aimed at a different clientele, that of the outgoing Alfa Romeo 33. The 146 premiéred in November 1994 at the Bologna Motor Show and went on sale in May 1995. The two cars shared design plans and interior components from the B-pillar forwards, but with very different looking rear ends. Based, as they were, on the Fiat Group’s Tipo Due (Type Two) platform, the 145 and 146 had a unibody structure, front MacPherson strut and rear trailing arm suspensions. A peculiarity of these cars is that they were designed to be fitted with both longitudinal engines (the older Boxers) and with transverse engines (the diesels and the Twin Spark). The former were mounted in the same configuration as on the 33 or Alfasud, that is longitudinally overhanging the front axle with the gearbox towards the cabin; the latter in the conventional transverse position with the gearbox to the left side. All engines were coupled to 5-speed manual transmissions. Steering was rack and pinion, with standard hydraulic power assistance. At launch the engine line-up for both cars comprised a 1.9-litre inline-four turbo diesel and the boxer petrol engines from the 33, in 1.3 8-valve, 1.6 8-valve and range topping 1.7 16-valve flat four forms. Depending on the market, the engines were available in either or both base and better equipped L (for “Lusso”) trim levels; L trim standard equipment was richer on larger engined cars. Flagship sport models with the two-litre 16-valve Twin Spark inline-four engine from the Alfa Romeo 155 arrived a year after the début: the 145 Quadrifoglio and 146 ti. Each of the two-litre versions had a unique trim level; both included richer standard equipment than L trims, like ABS, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter knob and available Recaro sport seats. The 145 Quadrifoglio (145 Cloverleaf in the UK), launched at the September 1995 Frankfurt Motor Show and on sale from October,had deep body-colour side skirts with “green cloverleaf” badges and 5-hole alloy wheels. The 146 ti went on sale in February 1996. It came with painted side skirts, a boot spoiler and 12-hole alloy wheels. Two-litre cars were equipped with stiffer suspension, uprated all-disk braking system, ABS, wider, lower-profile tires and ‘quick-rack’ direct steering (also seen on the 155, GTV and Spider) which improved responsiveness, but also compromised the turning circle. The sporty suspension set-up was harsher than many others in its category at the time, but this was in line with the Fiat Group’s marketing of Alfa Romeo as a sporting brand and it is said to have resulted in class leading handling. From January 1997 all the boxer engines were phased out in favour of 1.4, 1.6 and 1.8 versions of the Twin Spark 16-valve engine.1.8-litre cars adopted the sport chassis, steering and brakes of the Quadrifoglio/ti, and also offered some of their optional equipment such as the sport seats. At the same time the interior was updated: a new air conditioning system, a redesigned dashboard an upholstered insert were fitted. Outside changes were minor: new wheel covers and alloy wheels and a wider choice of paint colours. In late 1997 Alfa Romeo introduced the Junior, a trim level targeted at young buyers that combined the sport styling and chassis setup of the range topping models with the affordable entry-level 1.4 powertrain, later with 1.6 engine too. Based on the 1.4 L, Junior cars were distinguished by the Quadrifoglio’s side skirts with “Junior” badges, specific 15 inch alloy wheels, and by the stainless steel exhaust tip (as well as, on the 146, the boot spoiler) from the ti. A year later 1.8 and 2.0 Twin Spark engines received the updates first introduced on the Alfa Romeo 156; thanks to variable length intake manifolds the two powertrains gained 4-5 PS and reached peak torque at engine speeds some 500 rpm lower. At the Geneva Motor Show in March 1999 Alfa Romeo introduced the restyled ’99 line-up for both models. The new common rail direct injection 1.9 JTD turbo diesel replaced the 1.9 TD. The main changes outside were new, body-colour bumpers with round fog lights and narrow protection strips; the interior got new upholstery and detail trim changes such as chrome vent surrounds. Optional side airbags complemented the already available passenger and standard driver airbags. The Junior trim level was discontinued, in favour of “pack sport” option package that included side skirts, rear spoiler, alloy wheels, leather-wrapped steering wheel and sport seats, all standard features on the two-litre models. A second “pack lusso” package offered leather steering wheel, velour upholstery and mahogany wood trim. In September of the next year, at the Paris Motor Show the all-new Alfa Romeo 147 was presented Eventually, in 2000, the 145/146 cars were superseded by the all-new 147, which was a far bigger commercial success, with its acclaimed styling front end and improved quality. Still, many enthusiasts feel that it lost a little of the special feel and Alfa Romeo that the 145 had. 221,037 145s and 233,295 146s were built, There are depressingly few survivors of either model in the UK, so it was nice to see Amanda Davies Cross’ much loved 146 Ti here.

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The most numerous model here was the 916 series GTV and Spider, which is often the case at gatherings of Alfa models these days. 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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Sue and Marcus Fuller had driven all the way up from Devon in their rather lovely 156 GTA. The 156 GTA cars were launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 2001. Named after the Alfa Romeo GTA from the 1960s, the letters GTA meaning Gran Turismo Alleggerita (English: lightened Grand Tourer). 2,973 berlinas and 1,678 Sportwagons were built until the GTA production stopped in October 2005 as the 156 gave way to the Alfa Romeo 159. The GTA came with the 3.2 litre Bussone V6 engine (The big Busso, so called after legendary Ferrari engineer Giuseppe Busso), the largest capacity version of the much loved V6 engine. With a 93 mm bore and a 78 mm stroke giving it a capacity of 3,179 cc, it generated  250 PS (247 hp) and 220 lb/ft of torque. After market Alfa Romeo specialist Autodelta produced performance versions up to 3.7 litres and 400 PS. The European Touring Car Championship winning 156 GTA was however running a 2.0 litre 4-cylinder 300 PS engine due to class regulations. The GTA variants were equipped with either a six-speed manual transmission or six-speed Selespeed (paddles in steering wheel, hydraulically operated robotised) gearbox, had a lowered and stiffened suspension, a distinctive body kit, wider rear arches and leather interior. The suspension was specifically made for the GTA by Fiat Research Centre and Fiat Auto Design and Development Department. Steering was also made faster, only 1.7 turns from lock to lock compared to 2.1 in normal models. The GTA had also larger brakes (Brembo), with 12″ front discs and 10.8″ at the rear. The front discs were later upgraded to 13 ” to cope with the performance potential. Even though the name suggests a light car, the GTA isn’t any lighter than other 156s, as it was actually 91 kilograms (201 lb) heavier than the 2.5 litre V6 engined version. The GTA did not get the Giugiaro designed facelift introduced to the 156 in 2002, but continued with the acclaimed Walter de Silva design to the very end of production.

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Complementing this was another GTA, Michael Woolford’s rather nice 147GTA, a lovely example of what was the most potent hot hatch in its class when it was on sale. Having a rather short production life, the GTA version of the 147 was launched in  2002. conceived to compete with the most sporting Golf and Focus models of the day. as well as injecting more potency into a range which always seemed like it needed more power. Fitted with a 3.2 V6 engine which produced 247 bhp, the 147GTA was the most powerful hot hatch available at the time, and the modifications to the body, including lower sills and wider wheel arches, if anything, made it look even better rather than endowing it with the sort of “after market look” that can afflict some high end performance versions of regular family cars. Performance figures were impressive, with the car able to achieve a top speed of 153 mph. It had a widened body by 15 mm at each side to accommodate the 225/45R17 tyres. Most models had a 6-speed manual transmissions; whilst a smaller number of other models used the semi automatic Selespeed system. Production ran through to 2004 and in total 5,029 147 GTAs were built, 1004 of which were Selespeeds. Only around 300 came to the UK, so this was never a common sighting on British roads.

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Replacement for the much loved 156 was the 159. The Alfa Romeo 159 had a troubled development, being designed in the midst of the Fiat-General Motors joint venture which was terminated in 2005. Originally, the 159 was intended to use GM’s Epsilon platform; however, late during its development it was changed to the GM/Fiat Premium platform. The Premium platform was more refined and expensive, being intended for E-segment executive cars such as an Alfa Romeo 166 successor but that never materialised, so Alfa Romeo attempted to recoup some of the platform development costs with the 159. General Motors originally planned Cadillac, Buick and Saab models for this platform but ending up discarded them over cost concerns. Unfortunately, the 159’s late transition to what was fundamentally made as an E-segment platform resulted in the 159 having excessive weight, a problem shared by its sisters, the Alfa Romeo Brera coupe and Spider convertible. The 159 was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro in collaboration with the Centro Stile Alfa Romeo. The nose featured a traditional Alfa Romeo V-shaped grille and bonnet, and cylindrical head light clusters. Similar to its coupé counterpart, front of the car was influenced by the Giugiaro designed 2002 Brera Concept. Several exterior design cues were intended to make the car appear larger, supposedly to appeal to potential buyers in the United States; however, the 159 was never exported to that region. The interior featured styling treatments familiar from earlier cars, including the 156, such as deeply recessed instruments which are angled towards the driver. Alfa Romeo intended for the 159 to compete more directly with BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi by using higher quality interior materials; however, it has been said that Alfa Romeo misjudged their brand’s positioning relative to the more well-known German luxury automakers. Several levels of trim were available, depending on market. Four trim levels: Progression, Distinctive, Exclusive and Turismo Internazionale (TI) featured across Europe. In the UK there were three levels of trim: Turismo, Lusso and Turismo Internazionale (TI). A Sportwagon variant was introduced at the Geneva Motor Show in 2006. The 159’s size made it considerably more comfortable than the 156 due to its larger, roomy interior. However, the considerable growth in dimensions deterred many 156 owners from considering the 159 as a direct replacement model, and something seemed to be lost in the character of the new car. Initially offered with a choice of 1.9 and 2,2 litre 4 cylinder and 3.2 litre V6 petrol engines and 1.9 and 2.4 litre diesel units, and an optional four wheel drive system.  An automatic gearbox option for the 2.4 JTDM diesel model was also launched in late 2006, and later extended to other versions. In 2007 a four-wheel drive diesel model was released and the 2.4-litre diesel engines’ power output increased to 210 hp, with a newly reintroduced TI trim level also available as an option. For model year 2008 the mechanics and interiors of the 159 were further developed. The 3.2 litre V6 model was offered in front wheel drive configuration, achieving a top speed of 160 mph. All model variants came with Alfa’s electronic “Q2” limited slip differential. As a result of newly introduced aluminium components, a 45 kilograms (99 lb) weight reduction was achieved. For 2009,  Alfa introduced a new turbocharged petrol engine badged as “TBi”. This 1742 cc unit had direct injection and variable valve timing in both inlet and exhaust cams. This new engine had 200 PS (197 hp) and would eventually replace the GM-derived 2.2 and 1.9 JTS units.In 2010, all petrol engines except for the 1750 TBi were retired, ending the use of General Motors-based engines in the 159. The only remaining diesel engines were the 136 PS and 170 PS 2.0 JTDm engines. In 2011, the 159 was powered only by diesel engines. In the UK,  Alfa Romeo stopped taking orders for the 159 on 8 July 2011. Production for all markets ceased at the end of 2011, after 240,000 had been built.

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Closely related to the 159 were the Brera and Spider models, with organiser, Pete Edmunds’ much loved and much travelled Brera here.  Visually similar to the 159 models at the front, the Brera and Spider boasted unique styling from the A pillars rearwards. They were offered with the same range of engines as the 159, and thanks to that strong, but rather heavy platform on which they were built, even the 3.2 litre V6 cars were more Grand Tourer than rapid sports car. Pininfarina was responsible for both models. The Brera was first to market, in 2005, with the Spider following in 2006. Production of both ceased in late 2010, by which time 12,488 units of the Spider and 21,786 units of the Brera had been built. It will be very surprising if these do not attain classic status, and the consequent rise in values, though that has not quite happened yet.

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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 a couple of them here. 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 the model among our number at this event.

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Also from the current range was the voluptuous 4C Competizione. First seen as a concept at the 2011 Geneva Show, the production model did not debut for a further 2 years. Production got underway later that year at the Maserati plant in Modena, and the first deliveries were late in 2013. Production was originally pegged at 1000 cars a year and a total of just 3500, which encouraged many speculators to put their name down in the hope of making a sizeable profit on selling their cars on. That plan backfired, and in the early months, there were lots of cars for sale for greater than list price. Press reaction to the car has been mixed, with everyone loving the looks, but most of them feeling that the driving experience is not as they would want. Owners generally disagree – as is so often the case! For sure, it has no radio, and no carpets and no luggage space to speak of, but you know that when you buy it. It won’t be the car everyone, but if you can live with these limitations, you are sure to enjoy it. Indeed, all owners I have ever spoke to do  love their car. I know I would if I could find space (and funds!) for one in my garage!

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There were a couple of the latest Giulia models here. As well as Mark and Sacha Dartons’ lovely bright red car, one of three Alfas that they own, there was also a Polish-plated one, and yes, this really had been driven over from Poland for the festive season!

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Final Alfa present was the recently released Quadrifoglio version of the Stelvio. Compared to its German rivals, this one sports relatively subtle visual changes over the less potent models, but with the same 503 bhp engine from the Giulia under the bonnet, it is considerably brisker than they are.

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MASERATI

There were just two Maserati here. Anthony Baddeley brought along the “Masbo”, a 4200 Spider with a particularly loud exhaust system which means he can usually be heard long before he is seen. This is from the Tipo 338 range, better known by the production name of 3200GT and 4200GT and Spider. After producing BiTurbo based cars for 17 years, Maserati replaced their entire range with a new model in July 1998, the 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 had been 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 (290 km/h) and a 0–62 mph (0–100 km/h) time of 4.8 seconds.

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And then there was my Ghibli. I even cleaned it before setting off for this event, but during the day, like most of the cars, it got grubbier and grubbier again.

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CHEDDAR GORGE

From Wyevale, it is a short drive back into Cheddar village and then to take the turning which heads up the Gorge. In 2017 we had been lucky and the large parking areas only a few hundred yards from the start of the Gorge had been pretty much deserted. This time there were several cars on the left hand side of the Gorge, and on the right, where we wanted to park, there was a coach at one end, but plenty of space to get many of the cars in. The coach driver looked a little bemused as more and more cars arrived and turned in, but remained where he was. Some ended up parking on the other side of the road, and although it was obvious that we were a group, busy with cameras and phones, it was surprising how many other people saw the tiniest of spaces between our cars and tried, sometimes in vain, to squeeze between us even though there was far more space a couple of hundred yards further on. What goes through the brains of some of the general public never ceases to surprise me! Several of the group made sorties up the Gorge, with those with the louder cars and exhaust systems returning with grins on their faces which were at least as evident as those who had been watching and listening to them whilst they did it.

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BREAN SEA FRONT… or NOT

The next declared meeting point was to be the Sea Front at Brean. Cars set off in convoy, heading up the Gorge, and taking a circuitous route around some nice country roads, crossing the A38 and then heading in towards Weston and Brean. Inevitably, the group got separated somewhat. Unlike the previous year, I did not end up as a lead car with no idea where I was supposed to be going this time, so was mid=pack, and eventually a group of around half a dozen of us ended up in the dead end at he south end of Brean, expecting to find a whole load more Italian cars who had set off before us. Except when we got there, we appeared to be the first to arrive.

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Having paused to take a few pictures, we set off again, knowing that there was another area to the north of town. With a confident leader, we headed off, and then, to my surprise, and that of others rather than reaching the sea front again, the lead car signalled right, which would have take us back inland. Except the rather nimble Alfa 105 Series Spider was actually making a U Turn, and he clearly wanted us all to do the same. Easier said than done for many of the cars, whose steering locks are such that 3-point turns require a lot more road way than was available here. Duly reassembled, the group headed back almost to where we had come from, but this time, turning into a large car park behind the back of a supermarket which we had passed en route to the first stop And there were the rest of the group. They had decided that with so many of us, this would be a more viable assembly point than the actual sea front. Reunited as a group, it was time for a few more photos.

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DINNER

From here it was a relatively short drive to the final destination, the Brent House Carvery, which we had in fact passed earlier in the day, and at which we had seen two large coaches unloading a lot of prospective diners. That was some time earlier, so it was something of a relief when we arrived to find that the car park did have sufficient spaces for us, and that there were not unduly long queues for people to place their orders for the carvery and drinks. The food here is excellent and great value for money, which is one reason why it was selected for a return visit. Everyone returned to the two long tables we had reserved with plates groaning under the weight of meats and vegetables. The deserts looked tempting too, and indeed some other diners were ordering them on a take-home basis, which was tempting, but most of this group resisted.

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And so, with the light more or less gone. it was time for each of us to head home. The motoring year of 2018 ending in a most agreeable way with a large group of friends and Italian car fans having had an enjoyable day. It is a safe bet to guess that this will be repeated at the end of 2019.

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