From the History Repeats Itself Department.

[ August 2018 ]

I’m going to lunch with a friend. And I’m smitten with his daily driver.

This was the mystery picture Derek knew immediately.

It’s a new, 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Q4. Think: Giulia SUV.

It’s white on the outside, and all red leather, black leather, ironwood, and brushed aluminum on the inside. It doesn’t have a manual gearbox—but it doesn’t have a CVT either. Nope. It’s got a 280-horsepower, 2.0L, turbocharged four banger under the hood paired with an 8-speed automatic.

Eight. Speeds.

He turns the “dna” knob to “dynamic” and punches it. The damn thing just goes. From a roll. With all-wheel drive. With the air conditioning on. Uphill.

It’s punchy. Nimble. And, oh, so stylish inside and out.

I like taking pictures of cars in the parking garage.

And that’s when it hits me.

MY current automotive weapon of choice is pushing 20 years old. It’s got a 200-horsepower, multi-point injected, 3.5L V6 bolted to a 4-speed, slushbox automatic. It’s a beast—but it’s relatively crude and agrarian.

Not that there’s ANYTHING wrong with that.

But it’s the realization I’m stuck in the 1990s—and the vehicles have evolved beyond me.

There was a time when carbureted muscle car owners turned their noses up at fuel injection. And there was a time when turbocharged sport compact owners laughed at those guys.

And now here I am—faced with the realization times and tech have changed. I know Fezzik, my trusty, getting-trustier-by-the-day, 1998 Mitsubishi Montero has its own strengths.

The author’s 1998 Mitsubishi Montero on a 2018 camping trip.
2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio in Trofeo White | image: FCA

The Stelvio, like most modern SUVs, isn’t made for off-tarmac adventures beyond a dirt parking lot at soccer practice—but I’d be lying through my teeth if I said I didn’t want one.

It’s everything I’ve always loved about Alfa Romeos. It’s gorgeous inside and out. It’s form following function—where form is a big part of the function. It’s a grocery getter and a crossover and a touring car and all the wonderful things you can’t really put into words that make Alfa Romeos so damned special.

And it’s a reminder—at least, to THIS gearhead, anyway—that there is much to love in the new models we don’t quite understand, so we should check ourselves before we wreck ourselves.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio in Trofeo White | image: FCA

Maybe it’s not so much the new models are delicate and overly-reliant on technology as it is they’re simply less forgiving of amateur, shade tree hackery at the ham-fisted hands of cheapskate, internet sycophants.

Maybe we can’t just throw a couple hundred bucks of white label, Made in China, performance parts at them and beat on them like the knuckle-dragging animals we used to be (okay, still are in many ways).

20 years ago, we all laughed at our parents for not being able to set the clock on the VCR. How many of us know how to know how to modify direct injected, drive-by-wire vehicles?

The Italian GSX

I just did a quick google. The Stelvio is a modern day Eclipse GSX. Check this out.

Timeless good looks, but we’re keeping it real, here.

1999 Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX, 5-speed. TOP OF THE LINE.

  • MSRP $26,550. That’s $40,160 in 2018 dollars.
  • 210 horsepower (2.0L L4-turbo)
  • 0-60: 7.0sec, ¼-mile: 14.8sec @ 91mph
  • Top speed: 130-140mph
  • 21/28mpg city/highway
  • Base weight: 3,270lb

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Q4, 8-speed automatic. BASE MODEL.

  • MSRP $43,290
  • 280 horsepower (2.0L L4-turbo)
  • 0-60: 5.4sec, ¼-mile: 14.0 @ 97.3mph
  • Top speed: 144mph
  • 22/29mpg city/highway
  • Base weight, 4,044lbs
They look great in red, too. | image: FCA

The base model Stelvio is everything the top-of-the-line GSX was and more.

It’s a bigger vehicle, making an additional 70 horsepower from the same sized engine, getting slightly better fuel economy, a second and a half faster to 60, and almost a full second second quicker through the quarter-mile—despite weighing almost 800 pounds more—for what is essentially the same price, adjusted for inflation.

And I’d bet a dollar more than a couple people reading this far in have thought, “Yeah, but fix it again, Tony,”—even though they didn’t know Alfa is owned by Fiat. (And even though they might be driving 20-year old Mitsubishis to boot.)

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio in Misano Blue, Rosso Competizione and Trofeo White at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas | image: FCA

We’re gearheads. We love motoring.

We love beautiful design. We love modern technology. We love high performance.

So why do we resist and disrespect the new hotness when it’s right in front of us?

For many of us, picking up the wrench was a matter of necessity. We either figured out how to fix it ourselves or we bummed rides—because we couldn’t afford to pay someone to do the work for us.

That self-reliance became a point of pride.

We discovered we could not only fix our own shit—we could improve it, too.

I wonder…

Did we just find something we loved so much we decided to forsake all others? Are we afraid to admit we know sweet fa about tuning new cars? Have we lost our desire to work on cars? Have we still not learned to modify our bank accounts and tune our budgets so we might afford the new hotness?

Who knows. Everyone’s on their own journeys.

But there will come a time when we find ourselves in a modern machine, feel that adolescent excitement bubbling up like it did all those years ago, and realize we’re still living in the past.

Which is an interesting feeling for gearheads like us.

Mitsubishi’s eEvolution concept represents the best of everything presented in this article. | image: Wikimedia

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  1. As usual you’ve captured my sentiments exactly, but without the stream of consciousness ranting I was about to spout. I think we’ve all fallen into the trap of berating the “new stuff” and wishing for the old days, but if I really think back, and not just with nostalgia’s rosy filters on, my Mukuni carb was the most complicated apparatus ever. Carb gurus couldn’t fix it, since it didn’t say Carter or Edelbrock on it, and after tracing sixteen miles of vacuum lines, I was over it.

    Today’s new stuff will be the old stuff someday that kids will be loving, modding, and comparing against their own “new models”. Maybe they’ll be better able to appreciate their modernity than we were.

    • Aw, shucks, Phil. Thanks for the kind words.

      I guess, for me, it all comes down to pattern recognition. If you zoom out to the edge of space, you can see a lot of this stuff—sometimes even in advance.

      Look at muscle cars. When did their values really take off? About the time the gearheads who were teenagers or in their early 20s when those machines were new or relatively easy to find on used car lots settling down as full-time grownups who, more or less, got their shit together. It’s almost like you can predict which cars are going to become valuable when they get start pushing 40 years old—because the people who couldn’t afford them new find they can put a couple nickels together and finally make the dream come true.

      In a less optimistic sense, you can see the same thing happen in terms of ignorance, fear, and hatred in general society. Ironically, it often stems from those who weren’t exposed to a variety of global ideas growing up. Kids who grow up in my-way-or-the-highway, authoritarian households adopt the same responses to anything different or foreign and take up ignorant, defensive positions automatically.

      And all the while, it seems like the older we get, the more we appreciate the unmolested, stock—reliable—machines to the ignorant, “because racecar” shit we used to pull in our youth. 😉

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