You meet all sorts of classic car owners. The kind who will drive a 1905 horseless carriage from Auckland to Wellington.
The kind who won’t drive their immaculate 1960s restoration because they think old cars are too valuable to risk.
And then there’s the likes of Keith Elliott, who races his.
His 1962 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Ti is not just for show; the car is a Hampton Downs veteran, and has a few bumps and scrapes to prove it.
Keith has owned it for 25 years. And it was battered when he bought it. One side was 2.5cm shorter at the front than the other.
He had had Alfa Suds before, “a lot of them,” and was looking for an old Alfa when he set out to buy some timber, and “I saw the tail end of this car, sticking out of a shed. I had a look at it and they agreed to sell”. It had a frozen clutch, and no brakes. “But I got it to run, and drove it home.
“The motor had run a bearing so I got someone to rebuild it. I got the brakes sorted, everything.”
It was worth the effort. The Giuletta was launched at the Turin Motor Show in 1955, with two-door coupes, four-door saloons, a wagon, a spider, Sprint and Sprint Speciale variants soon in production.
The 1959 facelift changed the type designation from 750 and 753 to 101 — hence that number on this car’s doors — and there was a last update in 1961, before the model was replaced by the Giulia during 1965.
All the Giuliettas used an Alfa twin-cam straight-four 1290cc engine with an aluminium alloy engine block, the Ti with a single downdraught twin-choke carburettor.
While this all meant this car could deliver 54kW to the rear wheels at 6300rpm, producing a top speed of 155km/h when it was new; initially Keith didn’t plan to test that claim.
“My wife used it as her car for a couple of years. It was more or less solid, but still pretty scruffy. Then it failed a WoF.”
And so began a tale so common among classic owners. “You pull one bit off it, it leads to another, and suddenly you’ve got a pile of bits.”
Worse still, when the paint came off the front, Keith found bad repairs on top of bad repairs. Fortunately he’d already bought another Giulietta Ti, from Timaru.
“It had been parked outside and a hedge had grown over it, but the front was good. So we took the front off and grafted it to the other one.” Then he had to deal to rust in the doors, the boot lid ...
As for the interior, he sourced more of the original fabric from Italy, and got to work.
At this stage he still hadn’t planned to race the Giulietta.
“There was nowhere to race it, until I joined the Vintage Car Club.”
Photo / Jacqui Madelin
He then took it to Roycroft Vintage Festival meetings, where it qualified as pre 60, as the model was first built before then.
That was when some upgrades were implemented – the twin sidedraught carbs, “a nice set of headers and a decent exhaust — all period — a nice set of cams. The only thing not original is the electronic distributor, I can’t be bothered messing about with points.”
And of course it got full harness seatbelts, in bright red.
The brakes not only remain standard, Keith says they still boast original brake linings, despite eight or 10 race meetings on this set, though the suspension has been lowered.
“I got a handling kit from the UK with lower, stiffer springs and Koni Shocks, they were around when the car was new and a lot of places do handling kits for these cars now.”
So it’s serious racing, then? He smiles, “Chocolate fish.”
The Giulietta is still used as a road car, of course. It’s been to the South Island several times, to Mt Cook and to Queenstown. It’s not used every week, but a couple of times a month, he says, and it’s reliable.
“It’s a good car on the open road, but not fun around town. The pedals are floor-mounted and the clutch travel is really short, it’s either in or out and you either stall it or wheelspin it. But it cruises happily on the open road.”
Indeed, it’s pulled 177km/h at Taupo. “And tops out at the end of the rev range in fourth,” with five gears now fitted, like a lot of old Alfas, everything interchanges.
“I like to see the cars used,” he says. And he likes to stick to the back roads. He’s certainly never worried about long-distance journeys.
“A lot of old cars, once you sort the problems, they’re good.”