Beauty In An Alfa Romeo: The 8C Competizione

 

{Courtesy of Alfa Romeo}

Jan. 21 (Bloomberg) — Got a quarter of a million dollars in your pocket? It doesn’t matter — you still can’t score the latest dream machine.

The Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione is the Angelina Jolie of sports cars: drop-dead gorgeous and completely out of reach.

Just like Jolie, all of the 8Cs are already spoken for. Only 84 of a very limited run of 500 of these grand touring coupes have washed up on our shores from Italy, and if one isn’t parked in your garage, you’re already too late. Even high rollers can only dream.

Americans haven’t been able to buy new Alfa Romeos since the company packed up in 1995, a fact that saddened only style aesthetes, since the cars were about as dependable as the old Italian train system.

The company has shaped up and released a number of attractive models in Europe, including the small, sexy MiTo, which should get about 40 miles per gallon in diesel form. Alfa intends to re-enter the U.S. market, though it now says a full return is unlikely before 2011. (Chrysler LLC of the U.S. is negotiating to trade a 35 percent stake to Alfa owner Fiat SpA for access to small-car technology and a global sales network.)

The $265,000 8C is a shot over the bow. First introduced as a concept car in 2003, production models were shown to customers in 2007 at the Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance in Michigan, and most were snapped up by early 2008. Deliveries began in October, and the final few are on their way now.

I’d lost hope of ever driving the 8C and only recently saw one in the flesh at the Beverly Hills Ferrari-Maserati dealership in California. (All three brands are owned by Fiat, and the 8C uses a Maserati platform and a V-8 engine built by Ferrari.) This specimen was already long sold and on its way to the customer, but I was instantly obsessed. Stalker obsessed.

Voluptuous Fenders

The lineage from the original 1936 8C is clear, from its expressive face and voluptuous front fenders to the breeze-blown lines.

The 8C’s front is especially distinctive with the upside- down triangle grill bisecting an elongated oval. The rear haunches swell suggestively and are capped by a high and flat rear deck. The overall impression is less of raw power and flagrant testosterone than a feminized roundness, an effect accentuated by the gorgeous teardrop side windows encircled by chrome trim.

The front windshield also is curved, while the back glass, which opens like a clam for scant storage, is oval and blends perfectly into the raised rear lip. You’ll find circles throughout the design.

Back to School

Beautiful, sure, but I was desperate to drive one. Then World Class Driving, which offers clients a chance to drive a host of exotics in a single day, got one and extended an offer.

So I finally got a chance to slip inside the cockpit and find an interior of intricately worked red leather, naked carbon fiber and aluminum.

The shells of the seats are made of carbon fiber to save weight and are designed like leather-wrapped art pieces. They’re also well bolstered if a bit too firm. Likewise the steering wheel is pleasing to both hand and eye.

The domed roof offers lots of headroom, though there’s no trunk. Buyers can opt for fitted luggage that goes behind the seats, but you better pack extremely light or use FedEx.

As befitting a cousin of Ferrari and Maserati, the 8C is not just pretty to look at. The 4.7-liter V-8 has 450 horsepower and the carbon-fiber body keeps weight down to 3,500 pounds.

Push-Button Reverse

Gears are controlled by a six-speed automated manual transmission that can be manipulated with wheel paddles or left in automatic mode. The park and reverse settings are operated by buttons on the center console. To reverse, you hold down the button until it beeps — a clumsy operation.

Still, forward motion was what I was interested in, so I immediately put my foot into it, sending the engine to the 7,500 redline. It’s got decent kick, but even better is the motor’s burble — throatier and fuller than even a Maserati GT. At 4,000 revs, the exhaust system suddenly goes symphonic.

There’s a ton of torque, and I have a feeling you could do some serious power sliding on a race track or a wide-open parking lot. The big brakes easily bring the car sailing back down to sanity, and the steering is crisp and taut.

One thing I didn’t like was the placement of the gas pedal and brake, which to my feet felt oversized and too close together.

The wide fenders also make it seem like you’re piloting a sizable vehicle, and while it’s well planted at speed, the coupe is not up to the insane cornering abilities of a Ferrari F430. Rather it’s meant to thunder down the autostrada in grandeur.

Again, so sorry that you’re not able to actually buy one. But I have a suggestion for that $250,000 burning a hole in your pocket: Alfa plans to make an equally rare convertible version soon. That cash will make a nice down payment, though you better hurry.

The 2009 Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione at a Glance

Engine: 4.7-liter V-8 with 450 horsepower.

Transmission: Six-speed automated manual.

Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds.

Gas mileage per gallon: 13 combined (estimated).

Price as tested: $265,000.

Best features: Stunning good looks inside and out.

Worst feature: Minimal luggage space; cramped gas and brake pedals.

Target buyer: The aesthete who’s got big bucks and was smart enough to put in an order very early.

(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this column: Jason H. Harper at Jason@JasonHharper.com.