1983 was the final year of my schooling in a large country town. It was a year with highs and lows. I can remember watching Australia winning the America's Cup at school while we all sung the new national anthem Down Under by Men at Work in unison.
In 1983, I asked the new girl out to the flashy twin cinema in my father’s old car, a 1966 220S Mercedes. I had two choices – Gandhi or Scarface. Both possibly the worst date movies ever made. I’m sure Pacino shouting “Say hello to my little friend” would not have ranked highly on the date-o-meter. We saw Gandhi. The movie went for about 100 hours. My father’s car broke down on the way back home. That car always broke down. We walked. It rained. A low.
In 1983, very few of us had computers. I had a mate with a Tandy TSR-80 with an incredible 48kB of pure power. Mobile phones and of course the internet didn’t exist. V8s ruled, although none of us could afford one. Turbos only existed in Saabs. No such things as all the modern niceties. No information displays, cupholders, head-up displays, sat-nav or Apple CarPlay.
All we cared about was how the car drove.
In 1983, the best driver at school was a mate who used to do perfect handbrake turns in the teachers' carpark in his bright-red Ford Capri every morning before exiting in a cloud of smoke. The quiet bloke with the Capri, Anthony, had been honing his hoon skills on the family paddock in an old Mini probably since he was old enough to walk.
I lost contact with Anthony long ago. Since then I’ve been an absolute car tragic. Due to a very short attention span, I’ve had some zillion different cars over the years.
In fact, at last count I’ve had five BMWs, three Audis, three Porsches, two Skodas, two Lexuses, three Nissans, a Merc’, a Ford, a Holden, a VW and a Volvo. I’ve probably missed something. And the Volvo doesn’t really count, I gave that to my daughter.
Little things that bug me in a car become big things – I’d eventually get annoyed and sell the car. I recently sold a car because the start/stop fuel-saving defeat thing was too far from the ignition button. (I’m looking at you Audi A4 Allroad with your fancy dual flashy screens). I once sold an M3 because it bottomed out on a local speed hump.
Sold a Lexus after a few weeks – because well – it was a Lexus.
I’ve still got two Porsches. Wife’s got a Macan S petrol and I’ve got a manual 987.2 Cayman that I only drive occasionally. Love that car – raw driver's car. The cupholders suck. Not much of an infotainment system on that one. Why would you need anything other than the soundtrack of a screaming mid-engine straight six?
I don’t know how many cars my hoon mate from school, Anthony, had. I know he had a WRX. He rolled it out of his garage in 2004 and entered it in the Targa Tasmania. The quiet bloke was unknown down there.
Porsche 911s had won the Targa nine years straight. Jim Richards won eight of those. Jim finished second in 2004. Anthony won in his WRX.
Anthony (now Tony), a battler who couldn’t afford to race the Targa again till 2007. Yep, won that one too. I think Tony Sullens is now a factory rally driver for Citroen. Like me, he must be getting old.
Getting old indeed. I started to look around for an SUV as the next daily driver. I hated SUVs. But I had two kids, one an L-plater and one on red Ps. I needed a safe car they could also drive. I needed one that they could battle other SUVs with. I needed one that my son could go on surfing trips with that was not ‘P plate’ prohibited. I needed one that drives really well, as I like driving.
That last part was going to be difficult – one that’s good to drive.
I drove all the usual suspects. They all drove as expected – compromised. Like SUVs. But they all had plenty of cupholders and fancy infotainment systems that could tell me the temperature in Paris and London. No good to me, I live in Newcastle.
Unlike the mate's TSR-80 computer in 1983, modern cars now all contain supercomputers. Seemed to me that few are about driving first and foremost. In the main, over time, the emphasis seems more about dulling the driving experience while ‘entertaining’ you with the latest gadgets.
I stumbled over a lonely Alfa Stelvio at the local mixed-bag FCA dealer. They specialised in every brand that nobody else wants. I asked the Mensa-trained salesperson whether the solitary Alfa was the petrol or diesel version. He couldn’t tell me. Well that’s a great start. Start it up mate – yep, a diesel.
Test-drove the thing. Hey, great steering, handles really, really well. Goes well. Stops well. A driver’s SUV – is that possible?
I picked up a cheap demo Stelvio diesel from a dealer who was far more passionate about the marque than the last. I purchased a white one. Apparently that was why it was cheap. Yep, "White ones won’t have the resale value of a red Alfa" he proceeded to tell me after I finalised the deal. Great.
He then continued with: "97 per cent of Alfas he sold were red, two per cent white, and the other three per cent everything else".
Geez I’d struck another Mensa candidate. But he was passionate. A driver I suspect. More concerned about handling than cupholders. More concerned about steering than how many things the iPad thingy on the dash could do.
I arrived home after driving 1100km from the dealer with my newish Alfa, only to see my Italian-heritage wife in the driveway. With a look of dismissive surprise, she proceeded to ask me, "Why isn’t it red?". My son then proceeded to mock me about getting an SUV.
Fast-forward 10,000km and I’m still surprised how good this thing drives. Even my son likes it. Not a single rattle, no bugs or hiccups – none of the infamous unreliability of Alfa’s past. Five years' warranty and three years' free servicing. Not a bad deal.
Recently, CarAdvice’s own Rob Margeit reviewed the Stelvio.
Compared with the diesel BMW X3 2.0d, the Alfa is faster (6.6 v 8.0). It handles better. Steering is better. So is economy (4.8 v 5.7). It crash-tested better. It looks better. But somehow Rob gave the Alfa lower scores on most of those categories when compared with the BMW X3 2.0d, which I found rather confusing.
Rob just didn’t get it. He gave it a rather unremarkable 7.3. The soccer mums won’t get it either.
Drivers get it. Tony Sullens would get it. I think Tony wouldn’t care less how many cupholders it has. He would give it a 9.0.
Alfa deserves better. I think I’ll sell it. I should have got a red one. Long live 1983.