The Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione Is An Experience That’s Worth The Flaws
Photography by Will Broadhead
A car company that looks to its history to inform its future is nothing new, and we see manufacturers in all kinds of industries giving nods to the past by resurrecting the best parts of it in hopes that the shine will rub off on the current lineup—see the modern Mustang and Camaro, which do this well, or the PT Cruiser of the recent past, which did it horribly.
Taking an iconic name and pasting it onto a new car has a different rubric depending on what’s written on the badge. If it spells out “Alfa Romeo” then there’s a very lush backstory that must be done justice, and one needs to be pretty damn sure that whatever sports cars carry the name are worthy. To be the hero car of a brand like requires the filling of very large shoes, and just recently I had the opportunity to go and find out if a ten-year-old sports car wearing the cross and serpent was up to the task.
Of course, it wasn’t simply just the famous crest of Alfa Romeo that this car was carrying forward; there are plenty of those. This car carries an additional designation that symbolizes the history and success of the company in the way that the letters D and B might for Aston Martin. This badge reads: 8C. The original 8C-engined cars were powered the Vittorio Jano’s straight-eight design that powered the marque to wins throughout the 1930s in various cars—from Grand Prix machines to endurance racers—while also becoming a power plant for road going models housed in bodywork from some of the era’s finest coachbuilders.
The most recent Alfa to take up the 8C name is an entirely different affair—it’s got a V8 in it for starters, and has just as many styling cues from the 33 Stradale—but it still carries plenty of legacy in its soul. The 8C Competizione was first revealed to the world as a concept back in 2003, and such was the admiration for the design that when it was announced it would go into production, Alfa received 1,500 orders for the car, although only 500 versions of the coupe and 500 of the later Spider versions were ever built.
Love and romance, of course, have large parts to play when it comes to a marque like Alfa, and the brand has always relied on a certain amount of starry-eyed affection to help its road cars brush over whatever shortcomings may have been sprinkled into the otherwise genius sauce. The Competizione is no different, as I was to find out when I got behind the wheel of one that the Classic Motor Hub has in stock. This particular example, finished in black as opposed to the more common and typical red, has had some surgery in its life to iron out some of the kinks in its design. Namely the suspension, which has undergone a major overhaul to make the rigid ride of the factory offering a bit more bearable in the real world, particularly on the pockmarked and potholed roads in Britain.
But how does it go when you aren’t dodging craters? With a bang. the dry-sumped Ferrari-assembled 4.7L V8 makes a tremendous noise as it sends 450 horses to the wheels scrabbling against the tarmac. Alfa quotes a 0-60 time of 4.2 seconds, although with the Pirelli boots struggling with the cold surface of the asphalt on our test day, I was never going to match that, and instead found myself feathering the pedal to find the sweet spot of grip in a bout of manual traction control fun that beats any dry and to-the-point sprint in my opinion.
Despite the lack of friction at our disposal, it’s still not something you’d call slow, and the car moves its way up through the gears with gusto and a soundtrack that is befitting of a machine with “8C” on the back of it. It sounds great on the way back down to earth as well, and a quick flick of the flappy paddle on the left drops a gear, accompanied by the four trumpets at the back to pop and bang just the right amount on the overrun.
But engine note and performance aside, you start to uncover some of the shortcomings of the car in the process of having a blast with it. The gearbox isn’t the best, and while it has no trouble selecting and does it as fast as you’d expect a high-perf machine from the recent past to, the process can feel a little cumbersome, and there are certainly sweeter boxes out there—too bad there weren’t any manuals. The handling too, whilst reasonably precise at the point of input, is a touch skittish for a car that otherwise seems very “GT.” At speed the stability of the taut chassis can become easily displaced, particularly at the rear, although I’m willing to admit that the rubber this model was running wasn’t helping on a cold March day, so take all of this with a few grains of lingering winter road salt.
And then again, what does one want from a car like this? Is a little jiggle and oversteer and the occasional bout of butt-clench so bad? Working hard for its affections, to tame it, is all part of the experience, and it is an experience worth pursuing. From the moment that you clap eyes on the thing, you can’t fail to appreciate that it is a piece of art; the squat and exotically rounded rear of the car paired with the long nose echoing the design of some of the coolest cab-rearward creations. The way that its voice burbles and shouts, the joy of slipping into the sculpted seats that prepare you for a special drive, just seeing that famous crest adorning the wheel in your hands. Even the brake pedal looks good, which means you can forgive it for being completely in the way when you try to take your foot off the accelerator.
Forgiveness kind of sums up this car to me, and if to own an Alfa Romeo is to be in love, then perhaps forgiveness is the greatest expression of the emotion. For all of its flaws, for all of the things that other cars at this price point do better, faster, easier, I still emerged from the cockpit of the machine with a massive smile and a heart full of warmth that those cars just couldn’t give me. They impress in measurable ways, while this one works in the realm of the subjective. And it’s numbers are nothing to sneeze at either. The cynics will pick at it and offer critiques that don’t bear weight to those who just enjoy cars like this. I’m quite happy over here with the lovers.