Problem Areas Common to Contemporary Alfas
The primary worry with any steel-bodied Alfa is rust. Berlinas are as prone to this as any other Alfa from the 60's or 70's. The primary areas to worry about on Berlinas are: the perimeter of the windshield, especially on late cars with glued-in glass, the bottoms of the doors, the sills, the floors (due to wet carpets), the lower quarter panels near the front wheelwells, the rear wheel-well edges, the apron under the radiator, the battery box and the battery hold-down clamp attachment points, the spare tire well, the trunk floor and fuel tank mounting flange, and the extended edges of the tail below the trunk lid.
The running gear for a Berlina is largely interchangeable with other year Berlinas, Spiders, GTVs, and Giulia sedans. This includes the engine, gearbox, differential, suspension, steering, cooling system, and some parts of the electrical system. In addition, small items like handles, switches, fuses, and lights in some cases interchange. So these are not items to worry about if missing unless absolute originality is important.
However, missing trim and interior pieces are becoming very scarce for all Alfas of this period, so it's important that a car be complete in this area. Berlina body parts, glass, trim, and interior pieces are generally not interchangeable with other Alfas of the period. In addition, anything on the Berlina related to the length of the wheelbase, such as the driveshaft, exhaust system, parking brake cable, brake lines, and fuel lines, will be different from those items on a GTV, Spider, or Giulia.
As on any Alfa, there are several things to worry about on the engine. Head gaskets fail commonly. Evidence of this is oil in water, water in the oil, "mayonnaise" in the oil filler cap, radiator, dip stick, or coolant tank, or excessive oil leakage down the side of the block.
Oil pressure should be at least 55 lbs. when driving, but the gauge and sender are notorious, and readings may be unreliable. Zero oil pressure at idle is not necessarily a problem. 2000 engines can lose oil galley plugs from the crankshaft, resulting in low oil pressure readings, but apparently no real damage. Low oil pressure readings can indicate a bad gauge or sender, bad ground in the gauge circuit, worn main or rod bearings, worn oil pump or slack relief valve spring, or dropped crank plugs.
Overheating is not uncommon, and can be caused by many things, including a blown head gasket, cracked head, simple loss of water, bad water pump, broken fan blades, silted-up block, failed or nonexistent thermostat, air trapped in the top of the cooling system, blocked, silted, or holed radiator, or retarded ignition timing. Water gauges can also give unreliable readings when nothing is actually wrong.
Oil leaks from several locations are common. The front and rear crank seals leak, as can the head gasket from the six oil passages that feed oil to the cam bearings. Also the cam cover gasket can leak oil into the spark plug wells.
Loose upper timing chains can rattle and if loose, can rub on the inside of the timing cover and cam cover. Cam lobes can wear and become "sharp" (detectable by touch), which ruins the cam and the associated tappet.
On engines with high miles, piston slap may be present when the engine is cold. This is more annoying than harmful, and not too big a worry if the noise goes away as the engine heats up.
On Spica injected cars, many things can be out of adjustment on the injection system. The most common are the misadjustment or removal of the thermostatic actuator (a form of enrichment device), tampering with the reference screw that sets the "pump gap" (set at the factory and meant never to be touched), tampering with the bellcrank stops, and misadjustment of the throttle cable. However, if the car starts well (especially when cold), idles tolerably, seems to pull well, doesn't smoke too much, and gets decent gas mileage, the system is likely working OK.
If the thermostatic actuator has been replaced with a mechanical enrichment device (such as a Shankle Sure-Start), that item will likely have to be removed, and the thermostatic actuator reinstalled, if the car is to pass its smog inspection and test.
Many people are concerned that the lack of lead in modern gasoline will hurt the valve seats in Alfa engines. However, in talking with machinists in a very experienced Alfa racing and machine shop, I've found this is more of a worry than a reality. Because of the high quality of the materials used in Alfa valves and seats, valve seat damage does not seem to occur with the use of unleaded fuel. But a lead substitute is certainly a cheap form of insurance if you are worried. However, with RFG fuels coming into use, some knowledgeable sources recommend putting in a gas additive to assist lubrication of the fuel injection pump on Spica cars. Marvel Mystery Oil is the most often cited additive. In addition, RFG may attack older rubber components in the fuel system.
The Alfa five-speed is very strong, but has a few quirks. It does not like to work well when cold; it needs warming up before hard use. The synchronizers, especially on second gear, wear out quickly, and can cause grinding on upshifts or downshifts. Knowing how to double-clutch is pretty much required to own an old Alfa. Also, the pinch bolt that holds the shifter on can become loose, allowing the shifter to twist annoyingly, though not dangerously. The shifter boots can crack or come loose, allowing gear oil and bad smells into the passenger compartment. The ball bearings supporting the gear shafts can become noisy, even when there is no real problem, especially when in neutral. It is hard to check and fill the transmission oil, so it often gets neglected.
Driveshafts are a big headache on all 105/115 cars. The driveshaft is a complex multi-piece item, with several pitfalls. The most common problem is that the front rubber flex joint ("donut" or "guibo") tends to wear out and crack, eventually breaking. It is difficult to replace. Also, the two universal joints wear, and should be replaced only with genuine Alfa joint kits. The sliding spline is reasonably robust, as is the center bearing, but the rubber bearing carrier wears out and sags.
The other big driveshaft headache is straightness and balance. Problems in this area exhibit themselves as vibrations and booms (more felt than heard), ranging from mild to severe, and can occur at all speeds or very specific speeds. If the driveshaft is ever removed or disassembled, it must first be marked to be reassembled and installed in the same orientation. When any items are replaced, the shaft should be check for straightness and balance by a good shop that knows how to work on two-piece shafts. Truck driveshaft shops are usually good.
A final problem area is the large bushing in the front of the driveshaft that runs on the ball at the end of the transmission output shaft. These can wear or crack, allowing wobbling, which will destroy the driveshaft and the transmission.
Note that 1750 driveshafts use standard 8 mm attachment bolts for the universal joint yokes, and 2000 cars use unique 9 mm nuts and bolt, available only from Alfa.
Rear ends are pretty strong. However, outer wheel bearings wear out, as do the outer seals, allowing differential oil onto the wheels, tires, and brakes. Also, the pinion seal at the front of the rear axle can leak, and is difficult to replace. With age, the limited slip feature of 2000 cars tends to work less well, but presents no hazard to operation. Checking and changing the rear end oil is easy.
Brakes are generally not a problem. Problems can occur with overheated, warped brake disks, pistons stuck in their bores, and leaking cylinders and boosters. Also, the vacuum hose and one-way valve for the booster can fail. If the booster leaks excessive fluid into the vacuum chamber, this can get sucked into the engine and burned, producing white or grey smoke.
Dual circuit brakes on 1969 cars are more complex because of the dual boosters and extra plumbing associated with them. Also, 1969 master cylinders are no longer available new; only rebuild kits are available. Single circuit 1967 systems can relatively easily be retrofitted, with a little replumbing, and a little less safety due to the single circuit. In addition, the later hanging-pedal system can be installed in 1969 cars, but this involves significant cutting, welding, replumbing, and moving of components.
The parking brake is a small drum brake within the rear disk, so the shoes need periodic inspection and adjustment. The locking ratchet mechanism on the hand brake handle sometimes wears out, meaning you cannot get the hand brake to catch. The solution is usually to replace the toothed plunger or the ratchet rack, or to file sharp new teeth on whichever part is worn.
The steering box is supposed to contain 90W oil, but it is common for the bottom seal to fail, allowing all the oil out. Replacing the seal is not really feasible with the steering box in the car. One fix is to put light grease in the box until the seal can be replaced. The ZF box is adjustable for wear, but the Burman box is superior in every way, having a lighter and more precise feel.
Tie rod ends wear out easily and cause very sloppy and dangerous steering. Only genuine Alfa replacements with castellated nuts and cotter pins, not nylock nuts, should be used.
When getting an Alfa aligned, an experienced Alfa mechanic should be consulted, as the two outer tie rods must be of equal length, and the toe-in is then set by adjusting the center track rod. The caster must also be set. Alfa shop manuals specify particular weights that must be placed in the car for a correct alignment, but I don't think anyone actually does that.
105 series Alfa front suspension works well, but many of the components wear out, causing creaks and groans and unreliable handling. The front suspension can become very stiff if the bushings harden up too much. Wear items include upper and lower ball joints, A-arm bushings, inner control rod bushings, and caster arm bushings. In extreme cases, the lower A-arm can break away from the cross member. Sway bar bushings also wear out easily. Adjustable upper control arms are recommended for cars that have been wrecked and cannot be brought into alignment with stock components.
As with the front suspension, the rear suspension works well for a live axle, but all the rubber bushings are prone to wear, especially on the trailing arms. Also, the limiting straps for the rear axle commonly tear, and then allow the axle to fall too far in rebound. The straps can be difficult to change if the mounting hardware is very rusted. The rubber axle stops can also become damaged or missing, allowing the axle to travel too high and hit the body on compression. This can hurt the axle and the body, producing kinks in the chassis members. Cars that have been driven very hard or raced may have cracks in the flanges on the axle housing that attach to the trailing arm, and the trailing arm attachment points on the body can rust out or tear away.
The vinyl upholstery of Alfas is not especially long-wearing, so tears can be expected in the seats, especially along seams. The tops of the rear seats are likely to be burned from the sun. Many seats will either have been reupholstered in poor quality vinyl, or covered with cheap seat covers such as sheepskins. The sheet-metal Berlina front seat frames often crack and tear near the seat back pivot area, requiring welding to repair. The black plastic in early steering wheels will often be cracked, especially near the spokes, and wooden steering wheels may delaminate or have very poor varnish. The plastic of the dashboard will inevitably be cracked, especially in sunny climates, usually radiating from the defroster vents. The wood on the dash may also be faded, cracked, or marked in some way. Sunshades help slow this deterioration process.
The wool rugs on early cars mildew and rot from perpetual wetness due to leaks around the door seals, door windows, and front and rear windows. The wet rugs also contribute to the rusting out of the floors. If the doors leak, the door panels are likely to sag and buckle.
Alfa instruments frequently do not give very useful information. Common problems include: The speedometer is likely to click, the odometer may fail, the clock probably won't work, the fuel gauge will likely register acceleration forces more than fuel quantity, and the oil pressure gauge is usually suspect.
The heater controls may be very stiff, or disconnected, and the heater valve may be stuck, or may leak.
Alfa electrical systems are somewhat notorious, though the causes of the problems tend to be common. The major cause of any electrical problem is a bad ground or a bad connection. When in doubt, check the integrity of the ground connection, and check that all wires are connected together properly and solidly. In addition, another common electrical system problem stems from Alfas' tendency to leak. Water getting into certain components, especially switches, connections, and instruments in the dashboard, can cause intermittent problems that are difficult to diagnose.
Fuses on Alfas tend to corrode and then fail, especially on cars with the fuse box in the engine compartment. Periodic cleaning and use of a conductive grease can prevent problems.
Alfa windshield wipers are notoriously slow (the standard joke says they have two speeds: slow and slower), and if the wiper motor needs servicing, it is difficult to get at. The same is true of heater fan motor. The tend not to work for all that long, and the bearings make screeching noises to alert you that the motor needs attention. Getting at the fan motor requires removing the console, and probably the dashboard, in addition to the heater unit itself.
Alfa gauges, especially fuel and oil pressure gauges, can be inaccurate and unreliable. For some of these problems, there is no easy cure.
Problem Areas That Are Likely to Come Up Only for a Berlinas
Only a few problems seem unique to the Berlina. The first is that Berlinas, being everyday sedans, may have very high mileage compared to comparable Alfa sports cars. This simply means components may wear out sooner.
Related to their mundane use is that Berlinas are more likely to have spent their whole lives outside, rather than in a garage, than GTVs and Spiders. Hence, the body, paint, upholstery, and dashboard condition are all likely to have suffered more.
In addition, because they are used as daily runabouts, Berlinas may not have been driven very hard, and may not have been warmed up fully when used on short errands. This can lead to seizing of some components, such as rear brake calipers from under-use, and more wear on the engine and gearbox from not having the oil warmed up to get rid of acids and condensation. This same situation can cause premature rust within the exhaust system.
Another consequence of Berlinas' treatment as just an everyday car is that they may not have received as regular maintenance as a cherished GTV or Spider.
Berlinas may have more driveshaft problems than other Alfas, probably because the shaft is longer due to the longer wheelbase.
Berlinas with floor-pivot pedals (whether RHD or LHD) were built with Lockheed brake boosters. Lockheed boosters are no longer available new, rebuild kits are difficult to find, and these boosters are complex and difficult to rebuild. Benditalia and Bonaldi boosters (based on a Dunlop design) used in Giulia sedans, Duettos, and GTVs through 1969 will fit in place of the Lockheed boosters with just mild bending of the brake pipes. These boosters are still available new, and are also easy and relatively cheap to rebuild. If booster problems are encountered, a switch to this type of booster may be warranted. As far as I know, GTVs and Spiders did not use Lockheed boosters.
Rumor has it that the later Berlina steering boxes are unique, and are easily broken. I have no verification of this though.
Copyright © 1997 by Andrew D. Watry
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