The following article first appeared in AutoWeek (and later in the Alfa Owner) more years ago than I care to remember. This is probably one of the (if not the funniest) things that I have ever read. Ever wonder what the term 'Italian Tune Up' means? Read on to find out. I have posted this with the permission of the Author.

Satch Carlson

Life in the Fast Lane

Thanks to the fine folks at AUTO WEEK we are able to reprint this most interesting of Mr. Carlson’s weekly columns. P.S.  the names have not been changed to protect the innocent. ED

So my friend Frank Bebey calls me up and says, "How come you never write about Alfas?" I know immediately this is a put-up job, because Frank Bebey Is what you call your basic exile, your sports-car junkie faced with Deep Withdrawal, having moved to Alaska some time ago in a roached-out Ford van, his Sunbeam Alpine left to rot In the flatlands.

"What's with you and Alfas?" I ask. "I didn't know you were a Alfa freak." For all I know Frank Bebey may be an Alfa freak; mostly he mourns generically an entire race of sports cars.

"Well," says Frank, "It Isn't just me. It's Black Bart. I've been getting these letters from Black Bart, and he knows you're a friend of mine, and so he has assigned me to use a little muscle if you don't write something about Alfas."

Since I work for Bebey now and then as a theater techie - well, you can't play with cars ALL the time - and occasionally pick up the tab for a sixer of Heineken so he won't fire me just because I dropped an ellipsoidal reflector spotlight off the second pipe one time and nearly crushed a minor actress, I take his suggestions very seriously. I decide to tell you everything I know about Alfas.

Besides, there's Black Bart.

Black Bart is the guy who lives in Fort Wayne, Ind., and although his real name is Bob Bartel, he owns something called Black Bart's Auto Emporium, and what he does is collect Alfa Romeos. He Is a Alfa junkie the way I am a hopeless Lotus addict, so I can understand his frustration at never having me say anything about Alfas, especially when I have even written entire columns devoted to Fiats, for heaven's sake. Therefore I will tell you the one and only thing I truly know about Alfas:

Every Alfa ever built is a race car.

I got this bit of wisdom when I was but a wee tad, serving my apprenticeship in some surly garage or other. You know the place: A two-staIl wooden garage, some crusty hombre who's decided to chuck it all and become a foreign-car mechanic.

My job, as I recall, was to change the oil In the drip pans, sweep the dirt floor and hold the flashlight so Marcel (he called himself Marcel, but he had a semi-Oklahoma accent that led me to believe he'd taken his name from a French-sounding hair tonic) could see into the innards of some exotic engine bay. Anyway, I did learn a lot from working with Marcel, who inexplicably seemed really to know stuff about foreign cars. And one day a lady brought in an Alfa roadster.

Nice enough lady, as I recall. I wasn't into such things at that time, of course, being held in the thrall of motorcycles. She was blond and willowy, sort of an early Joni Mitchell type, and she had brought in the Alfa for a tune-up because, as she put it, "It simply Isn't running as It ought."

Marcel didn't say much until she left, then he pulled the spark plugs, laid them in a row on the greasy flannel fender cover.

"Dumb broad," he muttered.

"Dudden know the first THENG about drivin' a Nalfa." That's what it sounded like, anyway. "Gotta DRIVE them cars." He squinted at the engine again. "Y'baby a Alfa, the damn thing's liable t'DIE. She'll jes' go BELLY UP ownya."

"An Alfa’s DIFFern't," he said. "Looka them Webers. Looka that head. You got yer hemispherekle comBUStion chambers, boy; that car's designed to be flat-out RUN,

And he showed me what he meant, after he had changed the plugs and tweaked the Webers and muttered incantations over the timing. It was my first ride in an Alfa, and I don't think he ever let the revs drop under 5,000, and when we returned from maybe half an hour of driving like we were carrying the typhoid serum to the desperate villagers, he parked the red Alfa in front of Marcel's Motor Massage, where It made little pinging noises as it cooled down and I tried to get my body back into Its pre-paralysis mode so I could open the passenger door. It had been some ride.

"Car like that," muttered Marcel, "y'spose to DRIVE It."

And then there was Sammy's roadster.

Samuel Baron Stevens Ill was Sammy's moniker, and he was one of my heroes because he had Indeed owned a '32 Ford roadster with 30 coats of '56 Cadillac Eldorado green paint on It and a loaded-up flathead engine to push It down the road. Sammy had also owned a Corvair Spyder, a nifty white shingle with red Interior that he took through a fence backward off the Crow Canyon road one night, and then he bought the Alfa.

It was a white roadster, and I think was called a Julia, or a Julietta, or something. Marcel would have approved of Sammy, I think, because he never drove the car in such a way as to foul the plugs or lug the engine. He drove like he was at LeMans about half a lap down, is how he drove.

And I suppose that's why I always hold a special awe for Alfas; you might say they were an important part of my education, although I never got to drive one.

Satch Carlson

Home