Wednesday, 5 May 2021


Iain Stewart's life-long petrol passion for the Alfa Romeo marque is chronicled here. We thank him so much for a story that took him from the Rootes Group in Reading to the altar in a church in Edgeware. 


As Jeremy Clarkson (amongst others) has said – ‘you can’t be a real petrol head until you have owned an Alfa Romeo.’ I know exactly what he means – but how?

I joined Alfa Romeo GB Ltd in December 1971 after a couple of unremarkable years in the retail motor trade with a Rootes Group Distributor based in Reading Berkshire. I realised that whilst selling new cars was fun, buying and selling used . was far less enjoyable.

So having tired of Hillmans, Humbers, Singers and even Sunbeams I sought pastures new. These names seem like museum pieces now and in many ways they were, their disappearance represented part of the beginning of the end of the once mighty British Car Industry.

But in 1971 I was an eager 22 year old seeking a new direction, it wasn’t easy and it took me a long time to find my way to Alfa Romeo. I can’t really remember at that time how aware I was of the legend that was Alfa Romeo but I soon realised that they were something special. 

Their name and pedigree was well know as was their fabulous Italian styling made particularly famous around that time when Dustin Hoffman drove an Alfa Romeo Junior Spider in The Graduate. 

I started by selling export cars to diplomats and to non-Brits who were eligible to avoid paying the dreaded and painful Purchase Tax, this was a forerunner of VAT but even less fair! I worked for the wonderful John Attenborough who was General Sales Manager of ARGB as well as the youngest brother of the far more famous John (Dickie) and David Attenborough (national treasure now). He was the spitting image of David and many thought them to be twins.

'Take a memo please Miss Moore, it begins, Will you marry me?'

This wonderful job included being the official demonstration driver at the UK HQ in sunny Cricklewood, North London, hardly equal to the hallowed home of Alfa in beautiful Milano but the M1 was close by and the level of plod attention was modest in those days so I was able to show off the cars to some of their ability whilst retaining most of my licence most of the time! Happy days indeed.

After a reshuffle at ARGB I moved to Sales Promotion and spent several years helping our dealers run promotions and events throughout the UK. This included all of the major Motor Shows which were at Earls Court up until 1976 when the UK event moved to the recently opened NEC at Birmingham.

For these major National Motor Shows throughout Europe our parent company in Italy would build a modular exhibition stand to be that could be adapted for use at the various shows. My job included liaising with them over building the stand and deciding which cars to display and we would try and find something special to highlight our history and glamour. They had the most fabulous museum in Milan but were reluctant to send over any of the historic cars from the collection mainly due to the fragility and rarity of some but mainly the cost and hassle! So we tried to find locally owned vehicles that we could display. 

That is when I first met Christopher Mann, a legend himself amongst the historic racing car world and possessor of one of the most memorable Alfas in existence. Since the 1960’s he had been the very proud owner of one of the remaining two Alfa Romeo RL Targa Florios. These Gran Prix racing cars were built between 1923 and 1924 to contest one of the all-time great long distance road racing events of all time. Christopher regularly raced the car at historic events with great success but mainly great enjoyment! I managed to get him to agree to put the car on our Earls Court Motor Show stand in 1975 (I think) and also took it to a few dealer events in the south of England. 

It was a fabulous car, stylish and even then some fifty years old. He showed me how to drive it as he was very keen to share the joy. It had a 3 litre six cylinder engine with a simple four speed crash gearbox (no synchromesh) that took some mastering but that was easy compared with the pedal arrangements! The clutch was on the left as usual but the accelerator was in the middle with the foot brake on the right! Every gear change required much thought until you got the hang of it! I loved driving it, the look, the feel and the noise were intoxicating, truly a magnificent car.

During 1979 I was lucky enough to be granted a bi-lingual secretary as I dealt with our HQ in Milan and that is when I first met Roberta Moore. Fast forward to 1980 and we were getting married and the subject of wedding cars came up. I was brave enough to ask Christopher Mann if I could possibly borrow the RL Targa Florio to do the honours and to my absolute surprise and joy he agreed! So on June 28th 1980 his car starred in yet another wonderful appearance this time gracing the streets of Edgware in Middlesex London. My best man, my brother Alastair Stewart (you know the ITN one) and I roared through the High Street on our way to the church, quite a sight in our top hat and tails.

After the ceremony, Roberta and I drove to the reception in further style, luckily for us we had practised her getting in and out of the car as it was after all a racing car so not well equipped with creature comforts. Mercifully, we managed to avoid spoiling her fabulous dress. Also, as it only had a tiny windscreen on the driver’s side she had to don goggles! A wonderful day helped by a wonderful car.

My ten years at Alfa came to an end in 1982 but I consider myself a very lucky young man to have experienced some of the most fabulous cars of their era. Models that are now all collector items, sadly I never had the foresight to keep one but they all live on in my memory and I think I can claim to be a true Alfa Male.   

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