General Motors recently announced that it has purchased 20% of Fiat Auto, and that Fiat has, in return, purchased 5% of GM. Buried in the body of an article in the Wall Street Journal was the following statement: "In the U.S., where Fiat hasn't played for years, the two are likely to team up. The first products consumers are likely to see will be Fiat's Alfa Romeo sports cars, sold through GM's U.S. dealer network."
A little more sleuthing uncovered that Fiat was considering offering the next-generation Alfa 156 sedans in the US, beginning in 2003. At this time, reintroducing Fiat or Lancia products is not being considered.
Is this good news for Alfisti? Just two years ago when Alfa Romeo was the featured marque at Concorso Italiano, Fiat executives present reaffirmed that there were no plans to bring Alfa back to the US. The possibility of having an official Alfa presence is stunning news, and no doubt, Alfa fanatics are cruising the Internet at this very moment to find out just what the current 156 looks like.
There's a downside to this equation. For the past decade, General Motors has proven to be extremely adept at throwing away market share. The proud company that once sold nearly 50 out of every 100 new cars in America is reduced to scrabbling to stay in the 30% market-share range. Increasingly, its sales pitches have emphasized price rather than product quality or innovations.
This leads us to wonder just how well Chevrolet or Buick or Pontiac dealers will understand Alfa Romeos, and how adept they will be at selling and servicing them. Recall the ill-fated marriage between Alfa and Chrysler, when Milanos and Alfa Spiders were packed cheek-by-jowl in showrooms with minivans and Ram trucks.
Alfa, for its part, has to build cars to a far better standard than ever before. The American market, spoiled by the excellence of the current product offerings by most other manufacturers, won't tolerate the myriad of glitches and problems that have typified all previous Alfa offerings, no matter how exotic the exhaust note the Italian thoroughbred might have.
Perhaps the General will see the light, and realize that it is actually a car company with a proud heritage (consider the vintage Chevelle 454s, Corvettes and Bel Airs we cover in this issue, all commanding six-figure or near sales prices) rather than a finance organization selling autos and trucks as a sideline. Perhaps Alfa Romeo management will suddenly find the corporate will to build cars to a world standard, rather than just good enough to satisfy its captive home market. If both things happen, Alfa has the potential for a remarkable renaissance in America. If neither happens, we can predict another unfortunate chapter of ill-built cars sold in an ill-conceived fashion by an ill-prepared vendor. Let's hope for the former.


European editor Joe Tomasetti has invited me to co-drive with him this May in a new vintage event, the "Modena Cento Ore Classic" (100 Hours of Modena). The event follows the Tour de France motif and is a "Giro d'Italia." The first race occurs on May 20 in the center of Modena, with hay bales lining the street. During the next four days, we will race on tracks in Misano, Imola, Varano (Parma), and Fiorano. In addition, there are two special sections/hillclimbs each day, plus high-speed timed transits between the stages. The event is limited to eighty cars.
Our mount will be Tomasetti's trusty Alfa Romeo GT Junior, now a "Senior" with an engine that has mysteriously gained displacement and horsepower. We're looking to improve on our finishes; in the '97 Tour Auto, our ride was cut short when the driveshaft donut on the Alfa exploded, sending Tomasetti to the hospital for shrapnel removal and thirty-six stitches in his left leg, which had been resting against the transmission tunnel. In the '98 Tour de France Automobile, on the last day of competition, we slid ignominiously from 1st to 3rd in class by, in the best Italian tradition, lollygagging too long at a cappucino stand during a transit section and missing our start for the final special stage.
Following the event, Ms. Banzer and I will stop in Brescia to watch the beginning of the Mille Miglia Storica, and cheer Tomasetti on in his Maserati 150S. Then its on to Monaco for the Brooks and Barrett-Jackson events.


For SCM subscribers only: Enclosed in this issue's polybag is our first-ever subscriber survey. We've gone through a lot of changes during the past few months, including switching to coated stock and doubling the number of our color pages. In the near future, we will need to expand the number of pages in the magazine. Due to the printing process we use, the page count goes up in increments of sixteen. With this new space for editorial and advertising coming available, we wanted to ask you, our valued readers, what areas you would like to see expanded. The survey is completely confidential, with no provision for name or address information. As our way of thanking you for taking the time to fill it out, we've included an "honor-system" coupon good for a color Showcase ad. Please take a moment to let us know how we're doing with SCM, and about your interests. We've come a long way together, and look forward to continuing to grow in the future.


It's a cat on the prowl gracing our cover this month, a Group 44 Jaguar XJR-5 driven by Bob Tullius at Le Mans in 1985. In this painting by well-known Argentinean artist Alfredo De la Maria, the GTP car is depicted approaching 200 mph as it thunders down the short Les Hunaudieres Straight. The V12-powered Jaguar finished 13th overall and first in its class. The car on the cover is now owned and campaigned in historic racing by Jim Rogers, and ran in the 90-minute Enduro at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in February of this year.
This image will be available as a print later this year, with an edition of 750, measuring 24 x 36 inches, on canvas at $375 each. A separate edition of 500 on paper will be $125 each. Phone 925/736-3444, fax 925/736-4375,

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