Future classics

Future Classic: Alfa Romeo 4C

by Andrew Frankel
26 July 2022 4 min read
Future Classic: Alfa Romeo 4C
Photos: Alfa Romeo

A cautionary tale. The Alfa Romeo 4C was launched in ‘concept’ form at the Geneva Motor Show in 2011, and so taken was I by the idea of this ultra-light, carbon-tubbed, beautiful Alfa Romeo coupé, I asked for my name to be put on the waiting list for one. I told no one.

Then, as I walked around the show, friends and colleagues in increasing number came up to congratulate me on my purchase. When a press relations man from another car company did the same, I marched back to the Alfa stand and removed my name from said list. Otherwise I might have ended up owning a car that, when I drove it, turned out to be nothing like as good as it looked.

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So why, then, list it here as a future classic? Well there are several reasons, the first of which you can see for yourself. To my mind at least, the 4C is utterly gorgeous and getting even more beautiful with every passing year, something we could not have known at the time. Second, people buy classics for distinctly different reasons to those that make them buy new cars. The decision becomes far more emotional, far less governed by hard facts and long forgotten road test reports written by people like me.

The third reason, and we didn’t know this either, is that the 4C would turn out to be a very rare car, and perhaps we reviewers might have had something to do with that. But while numbers are hard to confirm, it seems that only a little over 9000 units were made including the Spider version. And if that sounds a lot, consider that this number comes from an eight year production period and is less than one third of the number of Porsche Boxsters and Caymans produced in just 12 months.

Need another? Well in theory at least the most compelling argument is that there is no shortage of places you can go where the suspension of your 4C can be fettled and the handling issues that somewhat spoiled the car at launch at worst ameliorated, at best eradicated. For the avoidance of doubt, I should say here I’ve not driven a 4C with revised suspension but if the fixes are even close to being as good as claimed, the one big reason for not buying one when new is eradicated.

And the rest of the car is cracking. The 1750cc engine is powerful, the double clutch gearbox snappy so long as it’s left in ‘dynamic’ mode, and if the whole is not quite as light as originally hoped it still had a dry weight of just 895kg (for the coupé), so call that a nice round tonne for a car ready to roll with a nearly-full tank.

Some idea of how hard Alfa tried to keep this car light is provided by the fact that not only is its tub made from carbon fibre, it recast the engine block in aluminium rather than iron to save 25kg. And when your passenger climbs aboard and tries to move their seat fore or aft, they will discover they can’t. Seat runners are heavy and for the driver only… and you start it up by twisting the key because buttons have mass too.

Yet it’s not uncivilised either. This is the car that was intended to spearhead Alfa Romeo’s return to North America after many years away, so despite that trim waistline, it has electric windows and central locking and most came with the no-cost option air conditioning too.

So it’s fast, light, beautiful and even adequately equipped. Add to that perfectly acceptable ride quality and refinement levels that split the difference between a Lotus Exige and an Alpine A110. For most people looking for this kind of car, that’s probably good enough.

But what of those handling issues we grumbled about at the time? Well, it’s not the steering, which I found to be well weighted despite lacking power assistance (more weight saved), perfectly geared, and accurate once the car was settled in a corner. What I didn’t like was the over-aggressive response of the car to the first turn of the wheel, which made it feel more nervous than it actually was. It’s fair to say it tramlined a fair bit too.

But should that be enough to write the 4C off in the minds of those looking for a gorgeous, fast coupé or roadster from one of the most revered names in motoring? I’d suggest not, especially given there are those who claim to have solved the issue. You’d need of course to satisfy yourself in this regard before taking the plunge, if such issues even bother you.

Alfa 4Cs have also proven remarkably good at holding onto their value over the years: not great when it comes to purchase price but terrific for those who like piece of mind. They were priced at £45,000 when new in the UK in 2013 and prices now range from a little under £40,000 for a leggy coupé to a little over £50,000 for a late, low miles Spider.

I’d almost be tempted myself, had I not once tried to buy one all those years ago. Once bitten…

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  • Martin Mileham says:

    Should have stuck with it. I did and the 2 year wait was worth it. PS; How many did they make in RHD?

  • PorscheFan71 says:

    The pundits were, as sheeple always are, wrong. The 4C was lightning in a bottle, and as more enthusiasts try them for themselves, specifically when Porsche-spec Michelin rubber is changed, it’s a no brainer. The real issue the model never joined the ranks of Elise, NSX, or other legendary upstarts that had the right Badge at the right time, is the bean counter side of the current industry, seeing major interruptions, challenges, missing Factory/model racing attempts, and too-bold a move to offer the still-exotic carbon chassis at such little prices. Now, as Alfa Romeo marches towards it’s chopping block, since, the BEV’s have revolted successfully, the 4C will loom large in the annals where the later “GTAm” saloons were more another “Special” that still struggled with the “EV problem”. Furthermore, the newest Alpine 110R or ND Miata – and other midengine, lightweight specialists – are relatively also shunned during this epilouge time frame of sports car swan song. The Cayman GT4 RS is sold out, but lightweight it simply isn’t – just a full tank and overweight passenger less than most muscle cars parked at the local cars and coffee.

    To not see this handbuilt, exotic, genuinely rare, carbon, 100% Italian restomod homage to 1960’s sports cars as an honest and real near future classic is to simply know nothing about driving cars over the eras. Even the most accidental connoisseur will see the 4C as special and great.

  • Steve Deeks says:

    I drove one last week for the first time – sorted steering and the 17/18 wheel combination. I absolutely adored it. In fact, it made me laugh out loud. Normally only bikes do that these days – but the little Alfa is the real deal. It may be the 246 Dino of our era x

  • Olly says:

    I just bought one as I got ever tired of over accomplished modern cars with no sense of occasion or depth to learn. I went from Yaris GR (yawn) to Alpine A110 (awesome but just too easy) and found my love with the 4c. Great noise, presence, sense of occasion, nervous…a tad, unstable…grantee but this is just castor and toe adjustments nothing more as the public want raw and focussed and then you give it they winge. I guess they took castor off to reduce steering weight and the toe is because of wishbone mounting blocks being soggy. Mine is utterly mesmerising to look at and it will take me plenty of time to learn it and trust it so it fits perfect. I simply cannot stand all the accomplished, lap time nonsense that is so irrelevant to us on the roads.

  • Stevenmarchesin@gmail.com says:

    Agree with Olly, Deeks, but say that PorscheFan71 gets it 100% correct; Michelin rubber is the game changer…. with a wheel alignment.
    I learned long ago that Alfas leave the factory merely ‘assembled’, without a wheel alignment.
    When I read the reviews canning the handling, I thought that must be why…when I drove mine as it was delivered, I knew it as fact….New Michelins and a wheel alignment perfected it. Chalk and cheese difference.
    Can believe people think they need to fit ‘spacer’ blocks and other mods to the suspension to ‘fix it’…a cottage industry for sheeple was created by the views of inexperienced journalists…..

  • John Cooper says:

    Had my 2015 4C Spider from new, it only took 6 months from order to delivery and, including all the options I ticked, cost me around £64000. It’s been kept stock apart from the Alfaworks steering set up plus having their ‘Helmholtz’ exhaust system fitted. On current values it has depreciated a mere 10% p.a.. What a car, it’s just a thrill every time I take it out on the road. It’s a raw sports car, I’ve never understood some of the stupid negative comments that some so-called journalists have made. I love it.

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