The Alfa Romeo Junior Zagato is now back from Nasko’s Imports.
I decided to ignore the factory specs that concours judges adhere to and make it a better for my style of driving.
Nasko installed a 4.1 rear end in place of the 4.5 it came with. Not only will this give us a more relaxed engine speed on the freeway, it has the added benefit of being a limited-slip differential.
A 1971 model, the Z is now 48 years old. Two of the primary ways our automobile world has changed in the last half century is the greater number of freeways there are, and the higher cruising speeds we maintain on them.
While a posted speed limit may be 65 mph, it’s not unusual for the cars to be moving in packs at 80 mph and faster.
Our Z was born with a 1,300-cc engine that put out 103 hp. To aid in its acceleration, the 5th gear is a “close ratio” of .86:1. Typically, Alfa 5-speeds have a more-relaxed .79:1 5th gear. This was with a stock 4.5:1 rear axle ratio.
During the last trip I took in the Zagato, a 200-mile round trip to the Oregon Coast last December, the car felt “buzzy” to me on the freeway, with revs a few hundred higher at cruising speed than was comfortable — for me.
I felt the difference because both my Giulia Super and my GTV have larger engines installed (a 1,750cc in the GTV and a 2-liter in the Super). I also replaced their stock 4.5 rear axles with 4.1 units.
4.1 ratio rear axles came standard on Alfa Spiders and GTVs from the early ‘80s on, so they are not hard to find. Local Alfista John Anderson had one for sale. I purchased it and had Nasko rebuild it. He replaced all the bearings and seals.
A previous owner of the Z had replaced the original 1.3 engine with a 1,750-cc unit from a 1969-71 Alfa. In stock form, this puts out 120 hp (almost 20% more than the stock powerplant). All 1750 Alfa GTVs and Spiders were fitted with 4.1 rear axles.
I haven’t driven the car yet, but based on my experience with my GTV and Super, I expect it to be significantly more comfortable on the freeway.
Why go to all this trouble?
I like to drive my cars, from 300-mile weekend trips to SCM 1,000-mile tours to the annual 800-mile Caravan to Concorso.
These are long trips by 1971 European standards. Having a more relaxed engine at cruising speeds simply makes these trips more enjoyable.
Am I creating “resto-mod Alfas” by changing the engines and rear-axle ratios? Perhaps.
But just as a resto-mod 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air, with modern drivetrain, suspension and brakes is actually much more pleasant to drive, I find that my Alfas with upgraded engines and rear axle ratios add to my pleasure in using them.
I note that all of these changes are “reversible” – I could always go back to a stock configuration. But I can’t imagine why I ever would.
I am aware that from a purist’s standpoint, I am committing automotive sacrilege. On the other hand, by enhancing my driving experience, I’m more likely to use these old Alfas rather than have them languish in the garage.
What are your thoughts? Keep the modifications or return them to stock?