Best of the Best 2008: Coupes & GTs: Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione

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Oh, to be among the fortunate 500, those quick-witted souls (fewer than one-fifth of whom are Americans) sharp enough to acquire one of Alfa Romeo’s 8C Competizione coupes. This is the first Alfa to cross the Atlantic in a decade, and the first with rear-wheel drive since 1992. And after the 500th car rolls off the line, it will be a part of history.

The auto’s name evokes the Italian marque’s triumphant road and racing cars of the 1930s, but the new 8C (as in otto cilindri) is not an exercise in nostalgia. It is a completely modern supercar, with all four wheels firmly planted in the 21st century.

Penned by Wolfgang Egger (who is now the head of design for Audi), the car’s shapely body is handcrafted from carbon fiber and fitted to a highly rigid, Maserati-derived steel chassis with aluminum double-wishbones at all four corners. A 4.7-liter V-8 with Ferrari provenance delivers 444 hp and 354 ft lbs of torque.

The cockpit is a medley of matte black carbon fiber, Italian hide, and brushed aluminum pieces machined from solid billet, thoroughly befitting the 8C’s $265,000 price tag. Luggage space is tight, but a fitted set of Schedoni calfskin bags makes the most of it.

Competizione is a bit of a misnomer; Alfa’s flagship is the quintessential sports car for the road. It is equally willing to play the tail-happy hooligan (60 mph arrives in 4.2 seconds, and top speed lies north of 180 mph) or the relaxed grand tourer. Pull the right paddle, and the rear-mounted, 6-speed, automated manual transaxle upshifts in a scant two-tenths of a second; pull the left, and a perfect blip of the throttle accompanies the downshift. Magic.

Eager buyers have long since laid claim to the entire 500-car run of the 8C Competizione, but Alfa Romeo is readying the airy 8C Spider. Its production also will be capped at 500. So, gentlemen, start your engines.

Alfa Romeo, www.alfaromeo.com

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