PSA: Explaining “You Can’t Call Yourself A True Car Enthusiast (Gearhead) Unless You’ve Owned An Alfa Romeo

Hemmings had a post on Facebook overnight that drew some amusing comments.

Here’s the post:


And here are a few of the comments:

  • One good reason (Of Many) not to watch “Top Gear”.
  • That’s why I don’t watch their show. SNOBS!
  • Overrated, just like that idiot.
  • You’re not a real gear head unless you’ve built a classic big block Chevy for a 1968 Camaro
  • Sorry. Just more English nonsense.
  • Top_Gear_Alfas_1

  • Obviously they are on the Payroll at Alfa Romeo..
  • Right: Top Gear executing their marketing duties as per their employment agreement with Alfa 🙂

  • They haven’t sold them in the US for quite some time…Guess the most car-crazy country on earth isn’t full of gearheads.
  • An , Alfa? Ha , ha , drive Mopar! Morons…. Your , English , humor amuses us….
  • Hell no I don’t agree. I consider myself a gearhead and I’m never own anything but American cars an American motorcycles.
  • Ridiculous. I can see that coming from England, those folks have a long history of thinking that tinkering and repairing for 4 hours to drive 1 hour is normal.
  • Owning an Alpha makes you either gullible, naive or a masochist whatever to own one of these losers is not something to be proud of.
  • What a stupid statement. …I think my 32 Ford Roadster qualifies me…
  • Seems a little snobbish to me.
  • Top Gear staff snobbish? I think if you look in the dictionary, their picture illustrates the definition.
  • I had one. Didn’t make me a gear head, made me hate AR. Overrated POS.

The comment that comes closest to understanding the meaning of the Top Gear statement is this one:

  • 76 Alfetta 2000. Spent fortunes on the damn driveshaft knuckles more than once. Great driver when it wasn’t broken.

Yep. I think he gets it.



So let me break it down for you.

The first thing to remember before you get all emotional, bull-headed or defensive is that it’s just a saying made up by Jeremy Clarkson. Nothing more, nothing less. Like most of the things Clarkson says, it’s quotable, provocative and it’s good theatre. You’re not less of a gearhead if you’ve never owned an Alfa.

Having said that, however, there IS an element of truth to it. It’s not definitive, but it’s a very good illustration.


The essence of the theory is that there are few brands in the world that can deliver such extreme pleasure and such dire frustration, often on the same day. Alfa’s not the only brand that offers the basics of this experience, of course. But it’s probably the most storied brand to do so, with the best looking cars and the most romantic automotive history.

Classic Alfa Romeos come as close as any car can to having an automotive soul. It’s so easy to fall in love with an Alfa. And yet like any human that you’re in love with, an Alfa can infuriate you with its flaws.

AlfaGTVAn Alfa can be mouth-watering in its beauty but eye-watering as you watch that beauty fade to rust. The interior will charm you with its sporting attitude and then slowly crack, fade and fall off. The crescendo from the exhaust will exhilarate as you climb through a twisty mountain pass, only to resolve into the crackle and pop of a car cooling by the side of the road after it’s overheated. You’ll love engaging that sweet 5-speed gearbox – until the second-gear synchros die on you.

Of course, every car has it’s highs and lows. It’s just that an Alfa Romeo’s highs are SO high that it makes the lows feel absolutely cavernous.

The charm of an Alfa is all the more alluring because up until recently, they’ve all been quite accessible. Any car nut can afford an Alfa experience at some level. Sure, a few select models have risen in value at an almost silly pace in recent times, but most of them are still quite accessible, with a potential reward factor only found with stupidly priced supercars.

But you have to EARN the rewards, which is the point of Clarkson’s statement. You earn them with cash, sweat, tears, love, patience, time and loyalty. And it’s going through the fire of Alfa ownership – experiencing the highs and the hard work that goes with them – that Clarkson says makes you a true car enthusiast.

Most former and/or current Alfa owners will agree, but then of course we would. It makes us look a little holier than thou. The sensible ones will also see that it’s a thought that can apply to plenty of other brands, too.

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  1. I get it, too. I don’t have an Alfa. However, a 35 year old X1/9’s a pretty close-run thing in terms of the whole experience. I don’t drive the blessed thing because I have to. I want to. When it’s good it’s great. When it’s not, well …

    1. That’s it, Alistair.

      As I said, Alfa’s not the only brand that can give this experience. It’s just one of the brands that offers it in such generous proportions 🙂

  2. Mr Clarkson, you can not count yourself a true gearhead untill you’ve successfully worked and repaired things on a car you own yourself. For all the many hours I’ve seen you on TV you have still to complete this simple task. Good day Sir.

    (read the above with a slightly dry, ironic brittish accent) 😉

    1. Mat,

      Don’t confuse the TV character with the person. Mr Clarkson plays a ham-fisted oaf with great effect, but that doesn’t mean that he is one in real life.

    2. Only after you have replaced the big ends on a Ford Prefect E93A without removing the engine do you qualify……!!

  3. If only I could get my hands on a GT Junior…and all that comes with that. Been hankering for 15 years, ever since I was given a drive around Warrandyte and Kangaroo Ground.

  4. It’s Hemmings clickbait, but that’s the business they are in, so no surprises. People forget that Top Gear is a British show that speaks to a British audience. Many of their themes translate well to American and other foreign audiences, but some don’t. How many people who haven’t lived in the UK understand Essex jokes, or council jokes?

    What’s more interesting is starting a new meme: “you can’t count yourself as a gearhead unless…”

    I’ll start:

    …you’ve owned a European, and American, and a Japanese car
    …you’ve driven a front wheel drive car fast
    …you’ve watched a Nascar race without being ironic (or your local big-engine/small-tyre series)
    …you’ve crossed a continent by road for fun

  5. I saw some WWII documentaries made by Clarkson and I think there’s a lot more to him than the character he plays, as you guys have mentioned. I’m pretty shocked that anyone would take what he said seriously, and more shocked if anyone thinks he was referring to any Alfa made after 1987 or so..! But I agree with the statement, even though I’ve yet to own one. We had a few Alfettas and GTVs when I was a kid – Great noise and oh how they could rust… I did own a Citroen though and believe I should earn some points for that.

    OT: eh, what’s going on at SU?!

    1. SU: What’s happening is the end result of giving Jorgen Trued an author’s account – crappy self-righteous posts about others being named and shamed as “criminals” (for parking!) while he’s the model of a company saviour. I counselled Tim against continued involvement with him when I sold the site but Jorgen must have worn him down. Jorgen is an ass and I’m sorry I ever allowed SU to get involved with him by sponsoring his rally team.

      1. Exactly – what if that person had been ill? I think I have to consign my interest in the site to the trashcan. It’s a shame and it must be a thousand times more annoying for you to see what has become of it. On the plus side, I see a lot of Saabs out my way – and I’m hugely enjoying my 9-5. To borrow a term from the movie, ‘Ronin,’ it has a great bit of ‘shove’ when moving from 100 to 120 km/h! Can heartily recommend it!

      2. Swade, I wish you had retained brand ownership of SaabsUnited so that you can do the what Saab AB did to NEVS.

        It is not just Jorgen, but Tim really comes off as an asshole too. I was just reading how he writes to Angelo V on the latest thread and it is embarrassing. Angelo may have controverdial opinions, but at least he is civil. Tim comes off as a very arrogant and obnoxious person. What’s funny is I’ve heard from flight attendant friends that the attitude is par for the course when it comes to airline pilots.

        You didn’t include any clauses in the sale, right? I think I’m done with that website. It was really wonderful when you started it. I suppose it mirrors Saabs life quite well.

        1. I don’t like getting into quarrels online. I’m OK to make an exception for Jorgen; he’s just an ass.

          Tim’s actually a good bloke and he’ll make jokes about a pilot’s arrogance himself. But I read that article and comments this morning and let’s just say I don’t think he’s covering himself in glory in that thread. Far from it.

          1. That is exactly it; quarreling online is already nonsensical — but when it’s the SU crew doing it with their readers it just looks really ridiculous. In the case of that particular article, it isn’t even so much quarreling as it is belittlement…

            I’ve given Tim the benefit time and time again. I do sincerely wish he’d evaluate the tone of his messages before hitting the post button. I guess it is what it is, but at the moment they’ve lost another long-time member of the SU community…

  6. The number of people who take Clarkson’s piffle literally always astonishes me. However, I half-agree with him and I also get it. I think the same concept can be applied to other cars that you enjoy despite their imperfections, because the rest of the package more than makes up for them. Like a Viggen. Or a 99 turbo. Or a 400bhp Stage 6 9-5 Aero that constantly breaks (ahem…my personal “Alfa”… *blush*)

    It’s about cars that inspire passion, and Alfa does so for many. As did (does) Saab…in fact the two marques are remarkably similar despite their very evident differences. Proper sporting heritage (much longer for Alfa than Saab), cars built with purpose, focused on the driver…and which reward ownership. Most of the time.

  7. As an American, I’m rather ashamed of many of the comments (and I can tell they are from Americans) that I read above, such as,

    “Owning an Alpha makes you either gullible, naive or a masochist whatever to own one of these losers is not something to be proud of.”

    I currently own an Alfa Romeo 75/Milano (along with a SAAB and various other European vehicles) in the US. I’ve just never have been able to understand the vitriol that many of us Americans need to spew. It really comes of as being hyper insecure and angry.

    Top Gear is entertainment, Jeremy Clarkson has a thing for Alfa Romeos. He is adding drama of course, but I think anyone who truly loves the automobile can get on with what he’s saying. It doesn’t mean other brands are garbage; let’s just appreciate some of these brands that have added much to our passion. It’s hard to argue that the Italians haven’t pulled their fair weight in this regard.

    I may be gullible, naive and a bit of a masochist, but when I drive that 75 I can tell you it ain’t no loser. The car is literally therapy in motion.