Subjective Impressions and Comparisons
Berlinas are fun fast cars with plenty of character. They are a great compromise car for the Alfa lover, because they combine the driving pleasure of the GTV and Spider with the utility and anonymity of a dull four-door sedan. They have excellent mechanical components (identical to the contemporary GTV and Spider), a pleasing body style full of character with interesting details and trim, and a comfortable, usable, and fairly luxurious interior. I use mine everyday and enjoy it a lot.
The Berlina's main problem is that it has suffered in comparison to the best sedan Alfa (or anyone else) ever made, the Giulia Super. The Super was a little shorter, a little lighter, and had a carbureted 1600 engine. These qualities combined to give the Super a very lively feel that is somewhat absent in a Berlina. The Giulia Super could be tossed around more easily like a sports car, while a Berlina is just enough bigger and heavier to have slightly slower responses. In my experience, though, a Berlina is a better all-around daily use car, especially as the value of Giulia sedans has escalated to the point where owners feel they cannot use them on the street anymore.
When properly set up, a Spica-injected engine more than matches a comparable Weber-equipped car. The Spica engine starts well, generally does not foul plugs, and has instant response and good torque at all engine speeds. A Spica engine is definitely less temperamental than a Weber engine, and idles much better. And it is likely to get significantly better gas mileage, while providing more power. In states where smog inspections are a concern, Spica injection is much more likely to easily pass a smog test than Webers. The 1750 and 2000 chassis enjoy some developments compared to the Giulia chassis, such as revised front suspension geometry and the addition of a rear sway bar. The 2000 has a limited slip rear end. 1750 and 2000 brakes are also bigger than 1600 brakes.
There is plenty to be said about the relative aesthetic merits of each of the Giulia and Berlina body styles. Most people seem to think the Giulia is either charming or ugly, and that the Berlina is either cleaned-up or simply plain. The Giulia is certainly more flamboyant, with very curved front and rear glass, a very low and short nose, and scalloped body and roof edges. The Giulia grille emphasizes the larger outer headlights, making the car appear to be glaring. On the other hand, the Berlina is shaped very like the Giulia, but the flamboyant features have all been cleaned up and sanitized. For example, the Berlina rear glass is much less radically curved, the scalloped edges have been smoothed out, the nose is lengthened and raised slightly with the chrome strip removed, the grille still retains the large outer lights, but the design of the grille does not emphasize it, and the car does not appear to sneer as does the Giulia. In addition, the indented portion of the top of the trunk lid was smoothed out, although the Berlina countered here by receiving a much more sharply indented tail than the Giulia.
The interior is a bit of a toss-up, as the Giulia Super dash is very sporting with the two large instruments in the binnacle, coupled with nice wood facing and a vinyl top piece. However, many consider the early Berlina dash with the two large pods for the tachometer and speedometer to be the best dash Alfa has done. In addition, the Berlina has a console, with four extra instruments there, compared to the Giulia. Berlina seats are very comfortable, although Giulia Super seats seem to wrap around a little more, holding the occupant in place better.
The character of the Berlina changed significantly over its nine-year lifespan. Early cars are very similar to Giulias. They originally had carburetors, the Giulia intake system, single-circuit brakes, floor pedals, hubcaps, chrome exterior trim, a Giulia-style headliner, seats without headrests that resemble Giulia seats, wool carpets, a similar dashboard, very similar taillights, and the same 7 inch outer headlights with 5 3/4 inch inner headlights. Early Berlinas could easily have been badged as a new Giulia.
At right is an alleged Giulia sedan prototype in an ad I found in Italy on the Internet in 2006. Looks kinda like a Berlina, doesn't it? I have no idea if this car is for real or not.
By the time the series ended in 1976, the car had become quite different. The engine had either a Spica injection system or non-Giulia-style carburetor intake, hanging pedals with new master cylinders replaced the old floor pedal assembly, the dashboard, carpets, and seats had been updated, the exterior trim had become more complicated and modern, including a black plastic grille with four 5 3/4 inch headlights. The wheels had lost their distinctive hubcaps, and 1974 and later US cars had large rubber bumpers. In a similar progression as from the Giulia to the Berlina, the late Berlina had a lot of stylistic similarities with the early Alfetta sedans (though the Alfetta is built on an entirely different structure). Which car appeals to you is purely a matter of personal preference.
Copyright © 1997 by Andrew D. Watry
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