"If they called last year's Alfa 'nearly perfect', wait till they handle our new 2000."
You rarely see them on the road, but quite surprisingly Alfa Romeo cars are deeply rooted in Cuba's collective memory. Many senior citizens still remember them, because since the early 1970s, Alfa Berlinas were the typical police cars before they eventually got replaced by Russian Ladas. "They easily could outrun everything else. And the sound, maravilloso!", remembers a witness of that period.
The first batch of Alfa 1750 was delivered to Cuba in 1968. Our pictured Alfa 2000 is an updated version, introduced in 1971. It sported a bigger engine and a revised front grille with four headlights of equal size instead of the bigger outer lights of the Alfa 1750. Besides being used as police cars, these Alfas were for many years exclusively the ride of high-ranking government officials. As usual in socialist times, the demand by far exceeded the supply, and thus the Alfa quickly became THE status symbol of the functionaries at the top of the food chain.
The man responsible for the appearance of these stylish Italian cars on the island was Leo Cittone, sales director of the biggest Italian trade company, Cogis S.p.A.. Cogis was the first European enterprise who helped breaking the U.S. trade embargo by facilitating the export of Cuban sugar through elaborate deals via the port of Genua in 1962. Over these deals, Cittone and Fidel Castro became close friends, and subsequently the Italian became a privileged business partner, establishing his own Italo-Cuban trade company, Comei S.p.A., in the late 1970s. Incidentally, this friendship had far reaching effects to the society: the fact that Pizza and Spaghetti today are a common Cuban meal, dates back to a wave of "italianitis" in the mid-1960s, when hundreds of restaurants suddenly were converted into pizzerias by government decree. Coincidence? Unlikely. Olivetti typewriters became commonplace and today the Cuban police still rides Moto Guzzi bikes, thanks to the Italian connection.
But back to the Alfa Romeo. The Bertone design might look quite unspectacular, but underneath the bonnet sat a veritable cuore sportivo: the 1,962cc twin cam inline four-cylinder engine was good for 150hp and accelerated the Alfa from zero to 100km/h (60mph) in 9.5 seconds, up to a top speed of 190km/h (118mph). Back then this was sports car stuff and certainly more than enough zest for Cuban roads. Even more striking: the sensitive way the Alfa handled. The combination of remarkable performance and well-tuned suspension made the Alfa Berlina one of the most compelling drives of its time. Accordingly, the copywriters of this 1972 ad boldly emphasized on Alfa's strengths:
"Experts keep saying nice things about Alfas. Autoweek, the nation's racing bible, summed up our 1750 Veloce as 'nearly perfect'. How will they describe the new 2000 series? We've added more horses and boosted the torque for extra zip in the middle range (where you need it most).
There's no extra charge for handling — the famous road-holding and cornering that set an Alfa apart. And now you can even have an advanced limited-slip differential.
If you drive to a different drum, you want your car to be an exciting, spirited extension of yourself. And that's exactly why so many pro's praise Alfas. If the new 2000 isn't the perfect car, we're certainly getting closer."