Southern Italy in the 1970’s was an interesting place to be for a car aficionado. I was fortunate enough to live there during this time, and to have had the sounds and images of these cars burned into my soul as a teenager; an experience that has influenced my auto tastes to this day.
Sadly many of these cars fell victim over time to an ever changing set of government restrictions. “Luxury” taxes based on engine displacement, insane fuel costs, increasing emissions regulations on exports to the USA (remember the ridiculous overhanging bumpers on US versions? The exhaust choking catalytic converters?), and most of all the sub-standard sheet metal sourced from Turkey and elsewhere that sadly sent all but a very few of these cars to the scrapyard before their time.
Naples, Italy is to this day considered one of the planet’s premier destinations for those in search of traffic that absolutely makes no sense. During the time I spent there I watched them finally paint lane markers on their roads, which prior to this were simply black asphalt tracks with no clues telling the driver which part of the road to drive on. In the following months the city’s drivers naturally took to straddling the freshly painted white lines – seriously – until the powers that be were finally forced to make a televised PSA to let everyone know that you’re meant to actually drive between them.
This is the scenario that I grew up in, and this is where I learned to drive. Watching these cars being expertly maneuvered through the crowded maelström that is Naples, Italy every day, with not a single automatic transmission to be found in the bunch.
To these people driving was, and is, a very serious business. Virtually no one drives impaired in any way, still don’t, and any trip to the market or the beach is taken as seriously as being on the starting grid at Monza. Fuel was at such a premium that most of the people I hung around would simply shut their ignitions off at the top of hills, coast down the hill sometimes for miles and miles, and then pop the clutch at the bottom to get it going again. Try that with an automatic!
So here, instead of talking about the Ferraris, Maseratis, and Lamborghinis that are in the forefront of consciousness to anyone who thinks of Italian cars these days, I’d like to focus on the cars that real people drove, loved, and lived with on a daily basis.
From a city and country with some of the narrowest streets, the most impossible parking situations, brutal hill climbs and descents, and incredibly expensive gas.
Here is my Top 5 list of Italian Cars of the Seventies.
All the fun was had 2nd and 3rd gear, and between 30 and 70 mph. – and not a V8 in the bunch!
Traffic in Naples. The scenario:
1. Alfa Romeo Tipo 105/115 (1963-1977) – Plenty of greatness has been said about this jewel, but I’ll leave that to the better informed. For me this is the older brother of my first car and the first and most exciting car I’ve ever had the pleasure to drive. It was all downhill from there. The last true Alfa Romeo of the seventies, before they began producing variants such as Alfasud and Alfetta.
2. Fiat 131 Mirafiore Abarth Rally – Once again Fiat took it’s Mirafiori to Abarth who breathed new life into the family sedan and created a monster that would rule the global rally circuit for years. This one you could buy, complete with plexiglas windows!
3. Lancia Fulvia Tipo 818 – a driver’s car in every sense of the word. It takes a while to get used to esthetically, but once you do, you’re stuck.
4. Fiat 850 Abarth Coupe – With the spider version already having been designed by Bertone, Fiat eschewed the popular designers of the time in favor of keeping things in-house. Signore Boano from Fiat’s design department was also recognized for having designed another classic, the Karmann Ghia.
5. Alfa Romeo GT Junior Zagato -If you had one of these, you got all the chicks. ‘Nuff said.
All manual transmission….and not one with an engine displacement over 2000 cc!
If you have any cars you think should be on this list, feel free to let us know what your favorite is, and why.