Friday, 15 February 2008

Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione

Italians know how to have a good time. Not in a raucous ‘life and soul of the party’ kind of a way, but in that their whole philosophy and outlook is fundamentally both relaxed and focused. They live 'la dolce vita', the sweet life, and this is enormously admirable. Why charge through your days in a state of perpetual stress and agitation when you can simply relax, enjoy yourself, spend some time with friends and family, cherish the very act of existing? You only get to try it once, after all.

The core of this satisfying and fulfilling way of life, inevitably, is to enjoy the best of everything to the fullest extent possible. Shun fast food and savour a tender, juicy sirloin or a bowl of fresh linguine with a gloriously robust Negroamaro. Wear a well cut double-breasted suit every day. Help your mother tend the family olive grove. Read the works of Alighieri on the Ferrovia Circumetnea. And, of course, keep a glorious Italian thoroughbred machina in the garage for those early morning Alpine blasts.

It is for this reason that so many fabulous cars have emerged from Italian coachbuilders over the years; sumptuously elegant yet ferociously potent icons such as the Lamborghini Miura, Ferrari 250GTO, Maserati Ghibli, Lancia Fulvia… a grand tradition of heartstoppingly alluring automobiles with rorty, sonorous engines and passion dripping from every vent and louvre.

Alfa Romeo have always endeavoured to encapsulate this ethos of fine living. Whilst their cars are almost deliberately badly made to add verve and character to the ownership experience, they are never less than devastatingly striking in appearance (as long as we forget the shocking Arna); from the chromed inlet pipes of the 166 to the flared arches of the widebody 155, the wraparound screen of the SS Ghia to the cheeky stance of the GT Junior, an Alfa is always a riot of curious detail.

…and just look what they’re up to this time. Behold, what was by far and away the most jaw-dropping car to emerge in 2007: the 8C Competizione. Standing near to it for too long is genuinely dangerous; your eyes become overwhelmed by insatiable lust, they pucker and wrinkle through dryness as you find yourself unable to blink for minutes on end. Every nanometre screams taut purpose and sensuous invitation in equal measure, the silhouette offering both futuristic styling cues and elements that evoke the race-bred Mille Miglia-dominating Competiziones that precede it. It is, without the merest hint of exaggeration, one of the most beautiful cars in existence.

Oh, but it’s not just about the looks. Sure, you could sell your television, park it in your lounge and just look at it in the evenings (which, let’s be honest, would never get dull), but that would be a great disservice to the masterpiece that lurks beneath that swooping carbon-fibre bonnet. There’s a howler of a V8 under there – and not just any V8. Derived from the latest-generation Ferrari/Maserati family, it’s a 4.7 litre work of art assembled by secret Alfisti within Ferrari’s walls. Now that is special. It snarls out a faintly arousing 450bhp – enough to give your embarrassed 911-owning neighbour the jitters – and will happily knock on the door of 190mph. 60mph? It’ll hurl itself there in just 4.2 seconds.

The fact that it’s happened at all is somewhat incongruous. Yes, Alfa have an almost unparalleled competition history, but it takes a lot of grit for a manufacturer of runaround hatchbacks and luxobarges, no matter how stylish, to offer a £110,000 supercar to the marketplace. It works in their favour that this is basically a showcase (or, for the more gossip-inclined, a homologation special), limited as it is to just 500 units, with a further 500 Spyders forthcoming. A guarantee of exclusivity then – just 41 of them are headed for UK customers… although for real, genuine uniqueness, move to New Zealand and buy theirs. They were only allowed to have one.

La dolce vita, then, in the purest form. It’s based on a Maserati platform, has a Ferrari-built engine, and the achingly attractive lines of the Alfas of yore. There are very few of them about, and you’d be hard pressed to find a single sane person who doesn’t absolutely adore it. Still, £110,000…? Sod it, you only live once.

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