One of the greatest joys my automotive passion has given me literally is an instant family. Throughout my journey, I have met many enthusiasts who have become lifelong friends, including one that I spent three years on the phone with before actually meeting and becoming one of my dearest and most treasured friends. As we progress through our journey we begin to seek out individual tribes that share similar passions.
I almost died laughing when I received this story aptly titled “On repairs and relationships”, as it describes perfectly what defines a true enthusiast, a cycle of misery and ecstasy. And for certain brands , even more so.
I completely understand where the author who only wants to be referred as the “Filipino Alfisti” is coming from, as I love Land Rover Defenders. We both learn to shrug our shoulders , smile on the outside as we rain curses on the inside. Many see our shared misery and shake their heads and cannot understand why we subject ourselves to this torture.
The best answer are stories like the one below, written by a very young enthusiast who has also become one of my dearest friends. I think both of us agree why we do it, why we subject ourselves to long hours of misery to experience the symphony of sound, motion , smell and sensation….
Because It’s Amore!
On Repairs and Relationships
Whenever people see my Alfa Romeo they always ask me either one of these two questions:
1. Is that a Ferrari?
2. How do you maintain it?
For the longest time, Alfa Romeo had no presence in the country, making the car I drive a unicorn of sorts. It’s from an awkward era; it's too new to have the ease of mechanical maintenance and charm of an old GTA, yet too old to run with the more common performance cars and current Alfas of today. What it does have going for it, though, is the beautiful exterior design penned by none other than the Bertone design studio. They’ve aged gracefully, and look contemporary.
My story with the Alfa Romeo GT began in 2005, when my grandfather called from overseas to tell me he had just bought the car. I was a young boy, and was going through a very heavy muscle car phase. All I could think of was a Shelby GT350… But that’s a story for another day. A few weeks later, he arrived home with the dealership’s brochure of the car. These were pre-internet days for me. The brochure served as my reading material for several months, I had even memorized all of the color codes and wheel options available for the car.
A few years later, the car had finally arrived on our shores. My grandfather came to visit, and we took the car out for a spin. At this point, the most exhilarating automotive experience I’ve had was sitting shotgun in a family friend’s 2004 Subaru STI. While the Alfa Romeo didn’t have the pull that the STI did, the experience was equally enthralling. There’s something about the way Italian cars are built, that just exudes performance. Perhaps it’s the seating position, the bolstering on the seats, or the way the interior door handles are shown prominently- giving you visual cues where to grab when spirited driving takes place. That exhilarating drive would be the last time I’d experience the car for a very long time.
It’s beyond my knowledge as to what happened, but shortly after, I learned that the car was not running. The electrical gremlins from Milan had made their appearance. The car was shuttled from shop to shop, with some problems continually worsening. I was in college at this point. My grandfather asked me to get involved with the repair of the sleeping snake.
At this point, the car was being repaired in a shop close to where I lived, so I was able to supervise the work as often as I could. It was an interesting journey tracking down the parts and programs needed to get the car up and running. Finally, the car was starting and driving. I took the car home, and put it through its paces as an everyday driver. Its slumber of many years hadn’t been kind to the car, however. The interior had started to age. The plastic pieces were baked under the tropical sun, causing the cracking commonly seen in European cars in our part of the world.
It was at this point, where I’m very fortunate to have been handed the keys to the car. It was now my project. Miraculously, the car ran strong. With fresh fluids in the system, and a surprisingly cold air conditioning system, the Alfa made countless runs through EDSA traffic, Skyway buildups, and Makati gridlocks. The gremlins were slowly being appeased.
The car was not without its faults, though. I recall one time, while driving home from an errand, I was tailed by the village guards, who frantically showed me I was leaking fuel. Its years in storage had corroded the fuel pump assembly, and eaten through the seals on the pump. It was a ticking time bomb.
Thankfully, this time around, I had met people who could help me repair the car. Alfredo Roa of Garage 2233 helped me source the part, and did the installation. Knowing these guys has been an immeasurable factor in the drivability of this aging beauty.
Cars have an amazing ability to bring people together. I believe Alfas have this too, but magnified tenfold.
Let me tell you about that time on Estrella St… I was driving home from a visit to my father. It was actually quite a nice drive on EDSA that day. That is, until I was passing Guadalupe bridge, and I got a Christmas Tree’s worth of warning lights.
BRAKE CONTROL FAILURE.
ABS SYSTEM FAILURE.
MOTOR CONTROL SYSTEM FAILURE.
The amount of expletives I spewed at that moment is still a record in my book. And yes, I watch the news.
The car was driving normally, though admittedly, I held a white-knuckled grip on the handbrake until I could pull to a side road. I found my way to Estrella Street, and the car stalled at the stoplight. I am forever indebted to the very kind guards of Rockwell, for helping me push my car to a closed side street, next to a carinderia. What a sight! A red Italian car by a carinderia, with the owner eating sisig and drinking coke. The battery had died, and I needed to get home to prepare for a trip the next day. Luckily, we live in a time wherein batteries can be delivered on-demand.
As I was sitting by the side of the road, waiting for a fresh battery to be delivered so I could get my Alfa up and running again, I heard the roar of a loud motorcycle. I turned around, and saw a nice retro tracker/ cafe racer themed Honda. The owner of the bike introduced himself as a fellow Alfa Romeo fanatic, and how he's currently restoring several of them. It goes without saying that our conversation went on and on from there. He even stayed with me until the battery arrived, just to be able to hear the engine of the GT roar to life. Not to mention, he was wearing a vintage Rolex Coke GMT (Instant friend.)
Moments like these make the maintenance heartaches worth it.
I know up to this point, the story of an Alfa Romeo GT seems like reading a car’s service history. Trust me, it’s more than that. Kevin Limjoco, a family friend, and publisher of C! magazine once told me: “Alfa Romeo… You have to love that car to own one of those!” Truer words have never been spoken.
Driving the Alfa GT Type 937 feels special. It’s comfortable yet exciting; powerful yet predictable. It doesn’t scream for attention, but to those who know, they know. You can drive past a car meet, and no one will notice. On the same day, a stranger might wave and give you a thumbs up.
I once encountered an elderly lady in the parking lot of a grocery, and told me about her college sweetheart who would pick her up in an old Giulietta. If only we could track that car down now…
How does one keep from falling in love with an Alfa Romeo? It’s difficult. In the case of this GT Type 937, the moment you see the bodywork, you’re stunned. It’s a strange, but beautiful shape. Bertone did their job extremely well here. Then, you hear the engine. It’s a modest 2.0 liter four-cylinder, but sounds and acts like a much larger, thirstier power plant. And then… you sit inside. You feel the support of the beautifully sewn leather seats, and the beautiful metal shift knob with a gate pattern etched on top. It’s a petrol headed dream.
Despite all the endless repairs, and constant maintenance, the GT makes up for the worry with a beautiful driving experience. The manual gearbox feels precise- I can liken the feeling to a bracelet on a Swiss watch. It moves as it was designed to move, and nothing more. No shaky play, and the relatively short throw makes gear shifts feel intuitive and deliberate. The engine, once at speed, wakes you up, and encourages you to step harder and go faster.
Driving an Alfa GT in the Philippines is a lot easier now than it used to be. Since the Alfa Romeo showroom opened in Greenhills recently, parts have been easier to source than ever. An oil filter and sump plug set arrived at my doorstep in around a week, and they can order any part I need. It’s ironic that I haven’t been able to pay them a visit just yet, but I’m saving that for a day I can take the Alfa to get there. Maintenance is done by my friends at Eurospec Auto and Garage 2233.
I have been extremely fortunate in the case of this Alfa- despite its reputation for unreliability, it has served me as well as any car could. It has taken me back and forth to my classes, helped me earn my degree, get me to and from work, but most importantly, it has introduced me to people who share the same passion when it comes to automobiles. The places this car has taken me have introduced me to countless experiences I would never have gone through otherwise.
What’s next in the story of the Alfa? Racing it is not out of the realm of possibility. Alfa Romeo did compete in the DTM after all.