Life Cycle This plucky Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint travelled the world in pursuit of oil, adventure and history – discover a life story that spans Europe and Africa…
1957 – Michael Payne buys the Alfa-Romeo on impulse
In October 1957 Michael Payne, a young engineer working for Schlumberger Oil, visited the Paris Motor Show, where the new Giulietta Sprint on the Alfa Romeo stand caught his eye. Impressed, he contacted Michel Rouillon Alfa Romeo in Avenue Kleber and reserved a new Giulietta Sprint, registered 2428-TTB- 75. He collected it on October 29, and called it ‘Giulie’.
But Payne didn’t work exclusively in France. He lived a globetrotting life with Schlumberger and managed to buy the Alfa tax-free as an American export, paying in US dollars – $2695, the equivalent of just under £1000 back then. ‘The average house price in Britain at the time was £2330 and the average wage in the UK was £12 a week,’ Michael recalled in 2007.
Not long after buying Giulie, Payne drove up to Heemstede in the Netherlands to show his Dutch girlfriend, Marianne. It must have impressed her – not long afterwards, Michael and Marianne married, and they and Giulie remained together until his death finally parted them, after nearly 60 years.
1958 – Assignment in Libya
In 1958, after Michael drove Giulie down to a Schlumberger training session in France, he, Marianne, her two sons and Giulie relocated to Benghazi, Libya. The car was re-registered LB-8487 on 5 April, and used to visit oil rigs along the Mediterranean coast. That same year the couple embarked on the first of many epic driving holidays – ‘Giulie was shipped to Italy, and driven back through Europe to England via the Netherlands, then back through France to Marseilles, across to Tunis and via Tripoli to Benghazi’, he wrote.
The Libyan contract ended in October 1960 and Michael drove the Sprint back to England in convoy with Marianne’s 1959 Giulietta Ti saloon. ‘We stopped of in Parma, where a specialist fitted some higher-lift camshafts to Giulie, and replaced the Solex carburettor with a Weber.’ Just outside Parma, as Michael recalled in his diary, ‘we formed a convoy with an unknown lady in an Alfa Romeo 1900. For a couple of hours we unashamedly raced each other. First one and then the other leading on the twisty mountainous roads.’
Upon arrival in England, Michael paid import tax on the Sprint, and the car received the registration 131 GBP, which remains on it to this day. However, Giulie was going into storage – her saloon stablemate was prepared for another assignment, on the rougher roads of Nigeria, the location of Michael’s next Schlumberger assignment. Before returning to England in July 1962, Marianne sold the Giulietta Ti to a friend in Enugu.
1962 –West Sussex daily-driver
His Schlumberger foreign adventuring over – for the time being – Michael settled with Marianne and the children in Ferring, West Sussex. However, as the decade wore on it was becoming evident that Giulie needed revitalising. ‘Giulie was used for commuting, work, everyday trips and holidays, and after some years was looking decidedly shabby,’ wrote Michael.
Refreshment began with an engine rebuild courtesy of Vandervell Products (the metallurgy firm of Tony Vandervell, founder of the Vanwall marque) in 1968, which included Vandervell main bearings, although they were chosen for longevity rather than increased performance. Although Payne preferred to work on the car himself, another specialist who maintained the car during this period was Ken Rudd of Worthing, although he didn’t it any Ruddspeed modifications. 1971 – End of the road?
Although Giulie had been well-maintained, by 1971 – with 171,600 kilometers (106,630 miles) on the clock – there was no avoiding the fact that the 14-year-old car needed complete restoration. ‘When changing a wheel, the jacking point tore out of the bottom due to rust. Major restoration was needed!’ Michael explained. He disassembled it with the intention of doing the work himself in his spare time, but sadly that spare time, especially in the wake of the international oil crisis of the Seventies, was in very short supply. During these turbulent times for the industry, Michael and Marianne moved house three times, first to Orpington in Kent, then Sherston in Wiltshire, and then to Dauntsey in 1973.
On each occasion Giulie moved with them in her disassembled state. However, Michael’s meticulous engineering brain ensured all would be well. As he took the car apart and stored it in boxes, he created entire files of extensive technical drawings and documents explaining what needed doing and how the car needed reassembling. Entire wiring, engine and brake-system diagrams, the equal of any workshop manual, were included in this file, which remains with the car today. The Eighties passed by and all the car received was a new set of tyres from T Stevens in 1986.
1990 – Tentative reawakenings
‘On retirement in 1990, I was faced with a decision – restore the car to something like its former state or scrap it for spares,’ wrote Michael. ‘There was of course no choice – Giulie had to go back on the road.’ He reupholstered the cloth seats, restored the interior trim, resilvered the rear-view mirror, and sandblasted the steel wheels before repainting them.
Things got more serious in February 1994, when Michael had the bodywork repainted, but it wasn’t until 1998, and Michael’s retirement, when the restoration picked up pace.
The engine was rebuilt with a new Kenlowe thermostat and Edin Walker oil seal in July 1998. In 1999, despite the earlier respray, the bodyshell was sandblasted, repainted and treated with Hammerite, and the rear axle reconditioned. New headlining, lamps, wing mirrors, washer jets and brakes were all acquired on June 20th 1999, and fitted in 2000.
2001 – On the road again
In March 2001, Giulie received her first MoT certificate in nearly 30 years. Reborn as a classic, the car’s life as a long-distance historic tourer began, with a major continental tour every year as Michael and Marianne rekindled those days of dashing across Europe to Libya and back. A visit to the annual general meeting of the Dutch Alfa Romeo Giulietta owners’ club in 2003 was followed by the SpaItalia Day for Italian classics in 2004, as well as the Giulietta’s 50th anniversary celebrations in Milan. As Michael used the car for touring he made modifications, which he described in great detail in Giuliettaletta, the magazine of the UK Giulietta Register. These included the installation of a heated rear windscreen, replacing the dynamo with an alternator, reorganising the haphazard original fusebox, and adding internal controls for the heater (the original system had to be switched on and adjusted under the bonnet). In every case, Michael ensured each modification was easily reversible should any subsequent owner wish to revert the Giulietta Sprint to its original specification.
2007 – Trip of a lifetime
Between September 7 and 26, 2007, Michael and his stepson Tjark took Giulie on the Jubilee Tour, an epic drive to the Alfa Romeo factory in Arese via France en route, and the Netherlands on the return journey. Michael kept a diary throughout.
Highlights include arriving late in Dover after ‘enjoying’ the local roads a little too much, getting lost while sightseeing on the first day in France, and driving from Lille to Orange in one day. As they neared the Italian border, the small French village petrol stations started declining their foreign credit cards, so they pressed on, low on fuel, to Italy and its more obliging Agip stations.
Upon arriving in Arese, the Alisti were given a tour of the Alfa Romeo Museo Storico by director Pasquale Olivieri, followed by lunch with four courses accompanied by wines from Alfa’s own vineyard. Michael was presented with a ‘superb bronze trophy’ for an outstanding contribution to Alfa.
‘Alfa spirit is everywhere and tangible at Arese,’ wrote Michael. ‘When I told [Arese archivist] Marco Fazio that [Dutch friends] the Winteens were arriving in an Alfa he said, “Good, otherwise they would not be allowed into the city walls.” This is not a joke – even the mayor of Arese, who owns the restaurant they patronise, has to park outside the gates if he comes in his Mercedes and walk 300 metres to the restaurant.’
During his day at Arese, Michael also acquired prints of Alfa’s original technical drawings of the Giulietta Sprint, and secured a source of official factory spares. On 16 September they visited the Ferrari factory at Maranello, but according to his diary Michael’s interests seemingly lay elsewhere. ‘Passed two Tatras, one the aerodynamic Tatraplan designed by Hans Ledwinka,’ he noted, detailing nothing of the tour!
The Giulietta’s engine boiled at 1500m up on the 2113m-high Spliegel Pass on the way out of Como, but once back under control the tour took in Liechtenstein, Austria, France and the Netherlands (whereupon crossing the border Michael ‘saw a Volvo P1800 and an NSU Ro80!’) for a celebratory dinner with the Dutch enthusiasts of the Netherlands Alfa Register.
Sadly, in the following page of his diary, Michael made a stark admission – he had cancer, and his health was failing. Tragically, the 2007 Jubilee Tour was to be Michael’s last great drive in the Giulietta, and he died in 2008.
The Payne family kept the car at their home in Dauntsey in memory of him, but it saw little use other than a drive to the Alfa Centenary celebrations in Milan in 2010 in the hands of his stepson Hanno and stepdaughter Madeleine. ‘I feel our Dad would have been proud yet exasperated by us,’ wrote Madeleine. ‘Why had we not thoroughly prepared?’
A motorway closure in Calais forced an impromptu cross-country route across France, dropping in on Annecy’s Winter Olympics bid celebrations en route to Milan. Giulie was suffering though, having to be bump-started by passers-by while participating in the ‘Sempione Circuit’ convoy drive; and uncannily, she boiled over when ascending the Alps leaving Como for Switzerland once again.
2012 – James Wheeler buys Giulie
In 2012 the Payne family contacted James Wheeler, now a sales consultant at JD Classics and a Giulia Spider racer, via the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Register to see if he was interested in buying Giulie.
‘It was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse,’ he says. ‘The Alfa club knew I was interested in cars with history, and I knew the car so as soon as the Paynes said they wanted to sell, I had to say yes. It’s a fantastic car with a unique past, and they deliberately didn’t advertise it because they wanted it to go to someone who would appreciate it.
‘I had the bumpers rechromed at Derby Plating and I had the rear axle and gearbox rebuilt, but the engine runs like a dream – I haven’t had to touch that. The brakes just needed servicing.
‘I’ve done 19 club events with it so far. In 2013 I took it to a Dutch event called Spettacolo Sportivo, the first time it had been back to the Netherlands since Michael and Marianne dropped in back in 2008. I also had it trucked down to Milan for the Vernasca Silver Flag hillclimb at Piacenza, where it shared a lorry with Corrado Lopresto’s Aprile Spider and 6C. The haulage company met us with the car outside Milan Linate Airport and I drove it to Piacenza to compete in the hillclimb before driving back to England with my wife. ‘I realised, as we drove, that it was probably the fourth or fifth time the car had made that journey from Italy. Michael’s notes are so fastidious. He noted absolutely everything he did and everything he could’ve done better, hand-drawing things like cam-timing graphs and keeping a diary of all postrestoration maintenance. Owning this car isn’t just a great privilege, it’s a great responsibility too, thanks to the work of Michael Payne.’
‘On the road again, reborn as a classic, its new life as a longdistance historic tourer began’
‘After 14 years and 106,630 miles, there was no avoiding the fact it needed restoration.
Marianne admires brand-new Giulie on temporary French plates in 1957.
After a life crossing Europe, this Alfa now pounds the streets of London.
On the Tunisian coast roads en route to Benghazi, Libya, 1958.
Giulie with the only other vehicle Payne ever bought new – a Velocette LE.
On the streets of Fezzane, Niger, 1961 A brief pause in the Libyan desert, 1958 Giulie returns to Africa – off the boat in Tunis, 1958 Stopping outside Morano Calabro, not long after entering Italy ‘Giulie’ was bought in Paris immediately after the 1957 Motor Show.
Through the Alps into Switzerland, 2007
New owner Wheeler and Giulie now enjoy
European Alfa events Michael and Giulie on the Jubliee tour in 2007… Payne reaches Arese Marianne passes Giulie to Wheeler, 2012 …the culmination of a 50-year love affair