Alfa Romeo enthusiasts sent a message to Fiat S.p.A. last August at the annual Concorso Italiano in Carmel Valley, Calif.
The message, in the form of buttons pinned to their shirts, was: Bring Alfa back to the United States.
Apparently someone got the point. Two weeks ago, Fiat confirmed it would use a new partnership with General Motors to bring Alfa back to the States. That could start in 2003 with the next-generation Spider roadster, followed a year later by the next-generation 156 sedan, the company said.
But two questions remain: How will GM-Fiat distribute Alfas in the United States? And will Alfa's current front-wheel-drive vehicles satisfy America's self-named 'Alfisti,' who would love to see Alfa return to the rear-wheel-drive Guilia and Guilietta cars of its past?
Not a priority
GM says it hasn't had a chance to think about distribution. Through the GM-Fiat agreement, in which GM takes a 20 percent stake in Fiat, the two automakers are looking at a variety of options such as platform and powertrain sharing.
Selling Alfas in America is not a top priority for the time being, said GM spokesman Brian Akre.
Still, several Alfa enthusiasts and former dealers agree the most logical step for GM is to sell Alfa through its Saab dealer network.
'You would probably be best off in a Saab franchise,' said Neal Nakama, an automotive consultant with AutoSource Inc. in El Segundo, Calif. 'You want Alfa Romeo to maintain that specialty status.'
Agreed Craig Morningstar, a longtime Alfa employee and now a communications manager for Mercedes-Benz in California: 'That would be the place to do it.' Saab and Alfa 'attract a similar personality, a similar demographic,' he said.
Nakama refers to Saab and Alfa customers as 'quirky and unique.' In short, they are not the types of people who go to Cadillac or Chevrolet to buy a car.
Kurt Schirm, a Saab dealer in Maryland and co-owner of a former Saab-Alfa dealership, also believes Alfa would be a good fit for Saab, which currently has just two product lines. At the same time, however, Saab dealers do not want to invest in separate Alfa showrooms, Schirm said.
Members of the Alfa Romeo Owners Club-USA say they don't care who sells the cars. They are ready to buy - now.
'I currently own four Alfas and would love to add a new one to my little collection, as do many other Alfisti,' said Anthony Rimicci of Northridge, Calif. 'Hopefully, they will go back to rear-wheel drive, but I will still be pleased with the front-wheel drive.'
Said Bill Sims of Virginia Beach, Va: 'I would be thrilled for Alfa Romeo to return to the U.S., and I would definitely buy a 156 for my next daily driver.'