The Alfa Romeo 4C already is well-known in Europe, but its appearance at the New York auto show will mark the first time since 1992 that Alfa has shown a vehicle at a major U.S. show.
LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE

Waiting for Alfa. And waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

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Larry P. Vellequette covers Chrysler for Automotive News.
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If you show up decades late for your own surprise party, are guests still expected to cheer your arrival?

Maybe not for most. But it might be a different story if your name is Alfa Romeo.

This week, the Alfa Romeo 4C will appear at the New York auto show, marking the sporty two-seater’s North American debut.

There won’t be a formal news conference -- the 4C is already well-known in Europe -- but its appearance on the show floor will mark the first time since 1992 that Alfa Romeo has shown a vehicle at a major U.S. auto show.

Think about that number for a moment -- 1992 -- and all that’s happened in the intervening 22 years. Then consider that Alfa Romeo has spent those decades quixotically trying to survive without a presence in what has been the largest automotive market in the world for most of that time -- the United States. (China overtook the U.S. for the No. 1 spot in 2009.)

Yet this week, it will come back with a car that is simultaneously beautiful and silly. The 4C is a tour de force of Italian design, stunning to look at, but its near-total lack of storage space may be a compromise too far for many U.S. buyers.

Still, even that might not be a problem, because there are only going to be about 1,000 or 1,200 copies of the 4C for dealers in the United States to sell in any given year. Those will be divided between Maserati and Fiat showrooms -- not all of them, mind you, but only the best-performing ones.

If customers think it’s hard to find storage space in the 4C, wait until they try looking in the phone book for “best performing” Fiat or Maserati showrooms as they try and buy a car.

Alfa Romeo is a special brand that holds a revered place in the automotive universe. Its return to the United States after a generation’s absence is worth celebrating. But for the patient few who may have been waiting for the opportunity to buy an Alfa, the 4C’s shortcomings may mean their wait will last a bit longer.

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com.

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