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May 2, 2010

News & Features

Alfa Romeo's U.S. comeback started early and beautifully for an elite few

Special to NWautos

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Eric Hawley owns one of seven Alfa Romeo 8C Competiziones in the Pacific Northwest. The sports car is the first Alfa to be imported into the U.S. in recent years. (Scott McCredie)

The recent buzz around Alfa Romeo has focused mostly on parent company Fiat's assertions that it will keep backing the struggling sports-car line, and that a return to the U.S. is imminent.

But for a few elite Northwesterners, the Italian car company has been back in the States for years -- and the cars they're driving are more Ferrari or Maserati than the Alfas you might remember from the '70s and '80s.

"It's truly the sexiest car on Earth," Eric Hawley says of his 2-year-old Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione, the first model of Alfa to be sold in the U.S. since the manufacturer stopped exporting cars here in 1995. "When I look at it I'm just sort of shocked that I own one."

The 8C -- with its gorgeously sculpted carbon fiber body, 450 hp engine capable of reaching 190 mph, and near-perfect weight balance -- was meant to kick-start Alfa's reintroduction to the U.S. market. That was supposed to happen in 2007 but has been postponed until the economy improves. Recent statements from Fiat say it will be 2012.

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(Associated Press)

The Giulietta
  • Alfa Romeo unveiled just one new vehicle for 2010 -- the Giulietta, a hatchback intended only for the European market. It's the first car to use Fiat's new "Compact" platform, one of the key pieces of technology that will be deployed to Chrysler as part of the alliance forged between it and Fiat last year. The Giulietta launches in Italy in May.
  • -- Associated Press

So the 8C, rather than a flagship vehicle that primed the public for the company's future assault on the U.S. market, is now an instant collector's item. Only 500 were produced, of which only 87 were exported to the U.S. If you didn't act quickly to reserve one of the $250,000 supercars, you were out of luck.

Seven of the vehicles were sold in Seattle, and they're spread throughout the Northwest. The chances of seeing one on the road are about as rare as having the cash to afford one.

Hawley was a "car nut" as a kid growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1960s, worshiping Ferraris and Cobras. By the time he was 20, he'd bought his first Alfa, a 1962 Giulietta Spider, for $25. It died four weeks later.

Fast-forward 20 years. After moving to Seattle in the mid-1980s and working for Microsoft for a decade, Hawley could afford the supercar of his dreams. In 2003, he read about the Alfa 8C, which appeared that year as a prototype. He fell in love with its looks and hounded the Seattle Ferrari dealership for years to put him on the short list to own one.

Hawley says he told the dealer: "If you ever have a chance to get an 8C, I want one. I don't care what it takes."

The Shaw Island resident doesn't use his 8C as his daily driver (his Ferrari gets that job). Yet he's managed to put 9,000 miles on the vehicle in a year and a half of ownership.

How can Hawley justify owning what he calls "a thinly disguised race car," whose suspension rides harshly, whose noise level outdoes the stereo and whose trunk is non-existent? And what about that three-quarter-mile gravel driveway in front of his house?

For starters, he likes to drive his cars on racetracks, where he can truly explore their performance limits. And he doesn't seem to care about the occasional dings and scratches.

"I don't want to collect cars," he says. "I want to use the cars. To me, the whole point of owning the car is to experience its mechanical expertise -- the wizardry -- and you have to put miles on it to do that. It just makes you smile when you do."

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