A friend of mine recently described to me his father's experience in owning a 1991 Alfa Romeo Spider. "It spent more time at the shop than it did on the road. He sure loved that thing though." That's basically how every Alfa Romeo ownership story I've ever heard goes; they rarely work, but when they do it's worth the wait. Of course, if you live in the US you can't really own an Alfa.
Sure, they were sold in the US up until 1995, so in theory you could buy a used one. But all of them fell apart, so you can't. Alfa Romeo's corporate owner, Fiat, has plans to bring Alfa (now more reliable, we really hope) back to the US. This will happen in two different ways. The first will be in the form of a Giulietta-based car that will wear a Dodge Caliber badge. More importantly, we will see a return of the Alfa brand itself when the new Giulia is rolled out in 2012.
If you've never driven an Alfa it might not be all that obvious why this is so important to us. To understand Alfa Romeo it is important to understand the strength of their racing heritage. There are other companies which really just build road cars as an excuse to race, but Ferraris are quite a bit more expensive than Alfas. There is nothing else in this price range which has as much soul in it, and none of them are as pretty either. In fact, it was when he was racing Alfa Romeos that Enzo Ferrari first enjoyed racing success, and even when he first started his own team, they raced Alfas.
So perhaps it would be best to think of Alfa Romeo as the company where Ferrari learned how to appreciate making cars. That's saying quite a lot, but it all makes sense looking at the cars that came from the era when old Enzo was flogging them around the Targa Florio. It is scientific fact that it is impossible for anything in the world to be more beautiful than an Alfa 2900B; there have probably been studies, I just haven't looked them up. Enzo Ferrari wasn't the only competing automaker to admire Alfas either.
Even Henry Ford once famously said (during the last production year of the 2900B) "When I see an Alfa Romeo go by, I tip my hat." Sure, he was a racist megalomaniac, but it's safe to say he knew a thing or two about cars. It should be said that a great deal of Alfa Romeo sales in the US were owed to the 1967 film The Graduate. The Spider featured in that movie was so cool that even though it (accurately) stopped working at a critical moment in the plot, people still bought them.
For those who don't plan on buying an Alfa Romeo when they come back, this information can still be useful to you. If you attend any parties in 2012, try to find the Alfa owners there. They will be the most interesting people you'll talk to all night.