Alfa Romeo 33
The Alfasud had taken Alfa Romeo into new territory - small front wheel drive cars, but by the early 1980's it was getting old and needed to be replaced. The replacement, the 33, used almost identical mechanical parts with a new, more modern body designed by Pininfarina. Available only with five doors, the only body variant was the SportWagon, a 'lifestyle' estate body, no three door 33 or coupe ever being built.
Introduced in 1983, initially the engines available in the 33 were as in the Alfasud, 1351cc (with either a single carburettor (79bhp) or twin units (86bhp)) and 1490cc (85bhp or 95bhp with a single and twin carburettors respectively), the latter also in Quadrifoglio form (or Cloverleaf). Next came the above mentioned estate, with a body built by Pininfarina and finished by Alfa, it also featured a selectable four wheel drive system developed by Subaru. 1985 saw minor modifications to the range, such as the fitment of the twin carburettors on the Gold Cloverleaf too.
A mild facelift, both inside and out was carried out in 1987, including the introduction of a 1712cc engine (118bhp) and the discontinuation of the 4WD system. The estate, now with front wheel drive only, was renamed the 'Sportwagon'.
The third series, released in 1990, featured a heavily revised exterior styling, with new front and rear end treatments designed to follow the new 'corporate' look from the 164. The interior was also revised, and a 16V version of the 1712cc unit, with 137bhp, arrived. In the Permanent 4 this engine was coupled with an intelligent four wheel drive system which normally put 95% of the drive to the front wheels, but could, when needed, put up to 65% through the rear. Fuel injection also replaced carburettors on the 1700 8V (110bhp) and 1500 (95bhp) engines and catalytic converters were fitted.
A diesel engine was also offered in the 33, this being a 1779cc turbocharged and intercooled unit from VM with a power output of 83bhp.
Driveline longitudinal engine at front with front wheel drive or four wheel drive Suspension front : MacPherson strut with telescopic dampers and coil springs plus anti-roll bar
rear : dead beam axle with telescopic dampers and coil springs, located by Watts linkages and a panhard rod
wheelbase : 2450mm (Estate versions : 2455mm)
front track : 1364mm to 1392mm (depending on model)
rear track : 1359mm to 1364mm (depending on model)
Brakes front : discs (ventilated on some models)
rear : drums or discs
handbrake operating on the rear via cable
dual hydraulic circuit with servo assistance
Gearbox 4 and 5 speed manual Steering Rack and pinion
power assistance on some models
Kerb weight 1986 models : 1.3 : 890kg; Green Cloverleaf : 890kg; 1.5 4x4 : 970kg
1990 models : 1.3 : 910kg; Green Cloverleaf : 910kg; 1.5 4x4 Sportwagon : 990kg
Click here for a cutaway of a 33 Permanent 4
model max speed 0-100km/h standing km braking dist from 100km/h 33 Sportwagon 1.3S (1988) 176 km/h 11.3 sec 33 sec 50.2 m Sportwagon 1.7 QV (1988) 196 km/h 9.2 sec 30.6 sec 46.1 m 1.7ie (1988) 187 km/h 9.9 sec 31.4 sec 48.7 m QV 16V (1990) 209 km/h 8.5 sec 29.4 sec 48.6 m
There are three main areas to concentrate on, the engine (and transmission), the brakes and the suspension and then various other details. These three should be done together since they complement each other, not all of one and none of another !
1. The engine.
Before modifying the engine it is worthwhile filling it with a good quality synthetic oil and fitting new spark plugs. An engine oil additive may also be used.
The first improvements are relatively simple. The air filters can be replaced for aftermarket items which will help the engine breathe more freely, the type which completely replace the original airbox are best (one on each carburettor), and the exhaust can be replaced for one which will restrict the exit of the gases less. The manifold from the 1700 can be used on earlier cars to give a larger bore manifold.
If it is a single carburettor model, then fitting twin carburettors will improve things, on those models with twin carburettors as standard (36 IDFs were the factory fitted units, from Weber or Dellorto) then the replacement of the standard 36 carburettors with 40 or 44 units is simple - only the inlet manifolds need opening out slightly. An electric fuel pump is advisable with these carburettors, if used with a pressure regulator the return line can be deleted.
On fuel injected cars you can either buy an off-the-shelf module (if you can find one) or buy a general one and program it to suit.
Other things to do should include fitting a cold air intake, two large diameter pipes (minimum 5cm) to provide air from outside the engine bay to the air filters. The exhaust manifold can also be lagged with thermal cloth or tape to keep the exhaust gases hotter (and thus reduce back pressure). This may also help reduce the temperature of some components nearby (eg brakes).
The high tension leads can also be replaced with performance ones.
Further modifications require the machining of the cylinder headand/or cylinder block (which will not be dealt with here since it is not normally a DIY job) after which it may be worth fitting an oil cooler. If overheating is a problem due to the increased power output then a small hole can also be drilled through the plate in the thermostat.
Regarding the transmission the main requirement is to uprate the clutch to handle the increase in power and torque achieved though the engine modifications. Friction plates can be purchased with improved materials and heavier duty pressure plates are also available. Whilst doing this it is worthwhile lightening the flywheel.
2. The brakes.
It is relatively easy to replace the brake discs with drilled and grooved items, and the pads for a harder compound. The latter should not be too hard (ie no race pads on the road) or they will not function effectively at the normal 'road' operating temperatures. Stainless steel braided flexible hoses will improve the pedal feel and reduce the chance of damage whilst DoT5 fluid (not silicon) will increase the temperature at which it can operate effectively. If the brakes are getting too hot the dustguards can be removed and/or ducts fitted, taking air from behind the front bumper.
For those cars with drums at the rear, it is possible to fit the discs fitted to the rear of some models.
If more serious braking is required the next modification would be to increase the disc size. It is possible to use larger discs with a bracket allowing use of the production callipers, or alloy four pot callipers can be fitted.
In order to improve the balance of the car under braking it is desireable to be able to adjust the balance of braking from front to rear (and vice versa). This can be accomplished by fitting a bias valve in the line to the rear brakes, usually in a position so that it can be reached from the drivers seat.
3. The suspension.
The easiest improvement,and the one which will probably bring the single most noticeable change, is to replace the dampers and springs. Fitting lowered springs will improve the cornering, but must be fitted together with shortened stroke dampers, or else the springs may unseat ! Top adjustable dampers are compromised, but are good for road and track day cars since it allows the suspension to be adjusted between these two, rather different, requirements. Coil over units add more adjustability and can be purchased outright, or can be made from standard dampers by welding a threaded sleeve to the standard tube.
There are then two other main suspension aims; to reduce the flexiblity in the suspension and to increase the stiffness of the car, both of which aim at more accurate control of the wheel movement. To reduce the flexibility it is possible to fit nylon bushes instead of the normal production rubber items, or if perfection is desired the suspension can be fitted with metallic bearings (rose joints / rod ends). Spherical bearing top mounts can also be used. To stiffen the car it is most popular to fit strut braces. These can be fitted to the front and rear, although given the design of the 33 it is questionable whether a front brace is neccessary. For more extreme cases a rollcage can be fitted.....
Into this category also fall the choice of wheels and tyres. With an increase in power it can be necessary to fit larger tyres (thus requiring larger wheels) but the temptation to fit the biggest possible should be resisted. Consideration should be given to fitting a wider tyre on the front (since they provide traction and steering) but keeping the standard, or a wider but not as wide as the front, tyre at the rear. This will improve the balance of the car. As with all FIAT, Alfa Romeo and Lancia cars, used wheels are rarely a problem to find - 6x14" rims with 195/60-14 tyres seem to fit and function well.
4. other things.
Other modifications worth considering include fitment of a shift light (and rev limiter if there is not one as standard), higher power bulbs in the headlights (if you are going to go faster you need to see further) and installation of a quicker steering rack.
Mechanically the Alfa 33 is a reasonably robust vehicle as long as it is well serviced. Items which should be closely monitored are the timing belts, and their covers (dirt ingress can lead to failure, with unpleasant consequences) and (like most older Italian cars) everything electrical - especially earth connections !
It is worth using synthetic oil, and an oil additive (such as 'Slick 50') is also recommended.
Buying / Selling
Some tips to do before selling : (they may seem obvious, but most people don't do them and thus are in a weaker bargaining position)
Tidy inside the car thoroughly : hoover the floor, empty all pockets, ashtrays (wash), glove compartment etc..., wipe the trim with a damp cloth, give the cockpit a good airing to get rid of any odours ! Reset the trip meter to 00000 - it is a pleasant (subconcious) surprise.
If the car has been standing give it a good run - this will clear out the engine (reduce exhaust smoke), put a shine on the brake discs and loosen up any joints that may otherwise make some noises.
'Back to black' products are very effective at temporarily restoring bumpers and trim. This makes a big difference to any car. Do it a week before you expect people to view the car, otherwise it may be a bit too obvious !
Jetwash under the car, especially under the engine and in the wheelarches. The prospective buyer may be an enthusiast, and this makes it easier for them to see what they want to check.
Obviously wash the car and clean the windows !
If you are going to buy a car always check the following :
On 33's it is very neccessary to check the bodywork. Pay special attention to the wheelarches (inside if there is no plastic splash guard), suspension and engine mounts, sill, door pillars (check for sagging doors), scuttle panel and the floor (doors, bonnet and boot/hatch are also susceptible, but are more easily replaced). If a sunroof is fitted check around the edge for signs of rust.
Check that there are no mismatching panels, large areas of discolouration or signs of fresh paint. Compare the paint colour in the engine bay with that of the exterior.
Check for a damp carpet or the presence of mould - if the carpet is damp then the floor is almost certainly corroded.
Check the main electrical functions - wipers, windows, etc... try putting the main beam and wipers on at the same time. Check the headlight reflectors for rust.
Check for excessve wear in the rear suspension bushes.
Check the brake pedal does not go to the floor if pressed hard for a long time and check the gearchange for clean engagement.
The engine should be run up to temperature, check the exhaust for smoke, the condition of the breather (look for mayonnaise), the condition of the oil filler cap (again white deposits can indicate head gasket or other serious problems) and the colour of the coolant (preferably not brown!). If the car has an oil pressure guage this should not drop below 1 bar at idle, and should be around 3 to 4 bar at speed. Listen to the noise of the engine, then depress the clutch and engage first gear. Whatever noise has disappeared was coming form the gearbox, what remains is from the engine. Check the colour of the oil using the dipstick. A golden-brown is best, darker brown is ok, but thick and black should be avoided.
Check tyre wear, uneven patterns could imply a bent chassis.
Always take the car for a test drive. Check that the car tracks in a straight line with no steering input and remains in a straight line under braking. Find a large open area and complete several lock to lock turns (also in reverse), listening for any noises. Try the handbrake when moving - seized rear callipers will mean uneven braking or no braking.
A private Alfa 33 website
Another 33 website
An excellent Alfa 33 website including register
An excellent Alfa 33 Club site in the Netherdlands (in Dutch)
For books on Alfa Romeo see our Online Bookstore
There is also a list of all our picture galleries (including museums, motorshows and various events).
Wallpapers/Desktop Backgrounds of numerous Alfa Romeo's also available to download.
There are also various statistics regarding production and sales.
33 comment form
A real pleasure to drive and to look at, not expensive at all, practical! Be careful when shifting gears though. You like driving and you have a limited budget? This is your car! (Peter L, Belgium)
1990 Alfa 33 1.7 green cloverleaf £375, worth every penny plenty of problems but so much fun fantastic motor good safe handling lowering helps getting the power down in slow corners. would I but another 33?? Pounds per smiles. I would have to say yes lets make it a 16 Valver this time please (Phil S, UK)
It's a great car, our relation is more powerful than a relation with a women...I love her. (Seb)
I own a 1989 1.7 QV which has done 170.000Km and is running fine, no problems ( not even electrical problems ), great pure fun to drive. I'll keep it for as long as I can! (Luis S, Portugal)
Of the many Alfas I own and have owned this (`87 TI 1.5)is the worst Alfa I`ve owned. Although based on the Alfasud, it is not an Alfasud`s a****** but it is nonetheless a practical,economical car that is simple to fix and service and is powered by that superb boxer motor, and even a poor Alfa to an Alfa enthusiast is better than a Nissan, or Toyota etc which is the choice in NZ. One of the worst Alfas produced (in my opinion). (Richard J, New Zealand)
I own 1992 Alfa 33 1.7 iE - real pleasure to drive,the one of most beautiful car in the world, you can keep your M3s(Vladi, Bulgaria)
An awesome machine, my Q4!! It has a wonderful orginal sports look and Golf & 150 HP Megane Coupé killing performance!!
I Have an Alfa Romeo 1.7 16v Boxer Quadrifoglio,1990, and i love it.Very powerful,excellent top speed,incredible aceleration,nice handling,with a beutiful sound of the engine when i press the throtle.It´s my car,and i love it. (Henrique, Portugal)
I own a 33 QV since 1987. There is only one word to describe this car: reliability! It's a great fun to drive (perfect road-holding and magical engine-sound). Pleasant at every little aspect, and I'll keep it running as long as I can. (JL, Spain)
I've had a third model 1.5 33 with twin carburetors and 105 hp. It was fantastic to drive and had superb handling. Had to sell it.... ;( But i will buy a P4 some of these days! This machine gave me more fun than my BMW 320 Ci nowadays! Believe me! (Ricardo, Portugal)
I had a '92 33 1.7 16V Boxer QV. It was my first car! And I loved! It was very loud, everything rattled! (2nd gear - kchchch! ouch!) But it made so much fun to drive it! The engine can shout like a beast and the acceleration is great! (I ate much of VW Golfs!) Now I have a 156 and there's no way to compare it with the 33! But sometimes I miss my "Golf-Killer"! Maybe I'll buy one again someday. Just for the pleasure!
Heya, I had a 33 boxer 16v a few months ago,but a friend smashed it..so I bought a BMW 325i E30, quite nice..but guess what, I'm making a swap, a red Alfa 33 boxer 16v, with my bimmer. I missed the Alfa so much,I swapped it without any payment or anything (the BMW is worth a little more than the Alfa, moneywise ONLY..)All my friends that tried driving it said:"sh**,where can I get one of those?"or"I'm thinking of bying one now...".First of all,the driving position..in the bimmer, you're comfortable, feeling relaxed..but that's not what I'm looking for,my driving is nothing that looks like nice and relaxing.The Alfa has this unique, sporty driving position, where at least you don't fall asleep while driving at night!!;)Then,second of all,the fuel consumption..don't think anybody needs details! Thirds,repair- and maintenance costs..Then, the handling of the 33 is much better (sportwise) than the 325,you won't really need strut bars in a 33, but in the bimmer,it was almost a must! And don't try to but a big stereo in a bimmer,it's really a bad car for that: aluminium plate on the back of the backseat,trunk inderectly connected to the cabine,plus the sides of the trunk are so long,that they become too soft when bass is pumping..The sound of the 16v boxer engine is a lot nicer than the 325 six! The 325 is one of the most boring sounds ever heard!At last,even though the Alfa doesn't have the reputation of a solid "stainless" car,I must say,it's a rock compared to the bimmer.I had several problems in 3 months with the bimmer,where the Alfa didn't have a single problem for a year.Besides,the 325 isn't really quicker than the 33,which surprised me a lot(170hp vs 132hp)..but I guess it was because of the weight difference plus a quite heavy flywheel on the bimmer.The only difference was far higher power under 4000 rpm in the 325, and a total lack of it in the 33 ;( Let's see what we can do about that, what about a compressor?? (Torsten, Luxembourg)
I have got an Alfa 1.7 IE 1990 since only two months but this car is a pleasure to drive. Comfortable,terrific engine with an incedible sound.You will of course get more fun to drive on long distances(in town it's very boring).Be ware on wet,due to its power it( I have not experimented yet )can spin very easily.Have fun!
hi to all 33 fans! ive got a 90 16v qv (same as white one pictured) and i love it top engine top handling supa looks ! still the best alfa!! (Rod, Australia)
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