Is an "enthusiast car" pornography, or is it art? Don't answer just yet, because I'm not asking the question it sounds like I'm asking.
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Thanks for the reply Jack; I knew you'd have fun with that one. You are correct that I was thinking of the British view of Alfa rather than an American one. IMO there are two types of American Alfa Romeo owners. The first was the Graduate superfan as you mentioned. The second is a fellow who grew to love Italy through their boarding school education in Latin, and summer trips to Italy, but read enough Gramsci in college to performatively self-flagellate themselves for their wealth. Ergo they now drive a Giulia Quadrifoglio.
Unfortunately a first-gen Neon, or even an NA Miata, is out of the question for me as my father recently passed away, and I am my mother's only child. My mother might accept me dying for my country, but not death by F-250 King Ranch.
It seems worth noting that Alfa-Romeos were not British cars, so the US equivalent of an Alfa-Romeo could be any car available on the US market that was fun to drive on the rare days it worked properly. Therefore, I would say that the US equivalent of an Alfa would be something like a second generation Jetta GLI or any of a dozen other disposable diapers from Germany. Millions of Hondas are disqualified by being good cars.
I remember my engineering buddy making the quip that if you want o go fast at the 'Ring, get a Viper, but if you want to go fast at any local racetrack, buy a Neon.
Amusing little buggers for sure. My daily-driver Breeze (2.0L 5-speed) has been more fun to drive over the past 297,000 miles than I envisioned when I bought it primarily for its MPG. At this point I refer to it a a science experiment, as it's held up almost miraculously: only a worn-through corner of the driver's seat bolster. It's the playful buddy in a garage full of more serious and powerful vehicles.
You are right, I used to Autocross with some Neon guys that were amazing! Also I saw one die of electrical failure pulling into an event. My girlfriend drove her father's neon through college and it was the reason I always carried tools on my car, to this day it sits dead in the driveway where it was parked around the turn of the century. They were both wonderful and impossibly bad all at once.
"Only the almost nonexistent rear drum brakes threatened to put a stop to the fun." I just know there's a joke in there you didn't use. I never owned a Neon but my brother did. It served him well and was passed down to his 3 teenagers in sequence. The first used it to deliver pizzas and there was still enough of it left for the other two to use in turn. It eventually succumbed to rust, not teenagers, and to this day my brother says it's one of the best cars he ever owned (in its own way).
Jack: As usual, great article. Of course, I am a bit biased. By the way, we will be racing next week at Willow Springs under the new team name (NUCKINFUTZ). When are you going to join us again? Don’t forget to bring whatzername?
great article! I had a neon for. a long term rental one summer and flogged it mercilessly as did our entire production team. The Impromptu stoplight races from the venue to the housing every evening were an absolute hoot. I've always had the desire to be an alfa owner but perhaps not the "courage" to pay for something somewhat special in the US. I may reconsider a neon for weekend blasts....
While there were an untold number of Neons that did not pass the long-term reliability test with any colors let alone flying, there are a few good ones out there that have surpassed the 300k mile mark and beyond with nothing more than routine maintenance.
The last of my 4 Neons (yes, 4...I guess I had a thing for them) was a 2nd generation, 2001 ES 5-speed model w/ 4 wheels discs, f and r anti-sway bars and loads of comfort and convenience options (for a Neon). That car went 160k miles on the original clutch and many times I was not too kind to it. As the author said, the sohc 2.0 engine likes to rev and is very receptive to bolt-on modifications.
Yet I digress...it's been years since I sold that car and my current small car ya-yas can be had with my wife's '90 MX-5, but a 1st gen Neon with the dohc engine and 5 speed trans is a great platform to build a fun, fast and cheap albeit disposable 'American Alfa'.
I pretty much agree -- except a Neon can be good, reliable basic transportation. It's definitely bare-bones in most respects, but gets the job done. My daughter tried to kill hers (unintentionally) by running it down to about a quart of oil in the crankcase at least twice, put water in the oil and drove it a day (only about 100 miles) once, etc. It was still running strong when she sold it for $1000 (2002 model, sold it just last year -- she got it around 2012, used it mostly around town and back and forth to work). I was impressed with it drive-train wise, though maybe she is the exception. Except for checking oil between changes and forgetting to change a time or two early on, it was taken good care of (oh, and the water in the wrong place incident....). Just took her 2-3 years to figure out she'd better take care of it!!
I'm going to both agree and disagree with you about the Neon...at the 1994 (I believe) Philadelphia Auto Show my friend and I saw the Neon when it was introduced and fell in love. He bought a 95 Sport in June 1994 and I custom ordered a 95 Sport in June 1995. My car was ordered from the factory as a 4 door sport with a 5 speed manual. I believe that I paid $13k, which for me was a high price at the time. I learned to drive stick on that car and I have to say that it was an amazing car for me. My car did have power windows (which never broke), and a basic interior, but it always looked new and never fell apart. I had a sunroof installed and that was about it. I loved that car. I went 72k miles before I needed to replace my front brake pads and 77k before I needed to replace my back brake pads! When the car was totaled early in 2002, I still had the original clutch! I had often said that if they made a convertible Neon I would have been simply bought another one. On a side note, my friend's car didn't fare as well as mine, and was plagued with problems from day one. I guess I was one of the lucky ones....now if I could only stomach life with an old Alfa spyder!!