It’s early AM and the 4C and I are heading North. I'm leaving Boulder (elev. 5444ft.) behind, with the continental divide via Trail Ridge Road as my target today. America’s highest continuous paved highway has a reputation as an enjoyable road, and I want to drive it without encountering too many overloaded cars and motorhomes. The sun is barely up and the first 15 mile leg of the journey is tempered by a sheriff’s car up ahead. Glad to have spotted him early, I settle in to follow him at a steady pace.
The road forks and my police escort is no more. Ahead of the small town of Lyons the road curves and beckons, but it’s early and I’m not caffeinated yet, so I continue to cruise. To be honest, it’s nice to be driving a modern era Alfa Romeo for once. After spending the last 20 years bouncing from various classic Alfas, I’m well conditioned to the idiosyncrasies of the cars. Today though, I'm motoring along with zero drama in “Normal” mode, waiting on the upshifts here and there just to hear the tune of the engine at higher revs. It’s taciturn for the most part, but the ultralight chassis and quick spooling midrange boost of the motor ensure that you can feel the 4C's willingness to switch character at any turn.
The sleepy town of Estes Park (elev. 7566 ft.) comes up quickly. Already bathed in light, the sun is hitting early on one of the longest days of June, and I wonder if I've left it too late to encounter snow at the top, as the morning sun already feels hot. I slow my pace through town as I catch a couple of old timers in trucks and other workers en route to the daily grind. Known for its rock climbing areas and tourist shops that line the streets on the way to the Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes is also famous for the Stanley Hotel depicted in The Shining.
A couple miles past town the park entrance (elev. 8171 ft.) gates are open with no guards… catch you guys next time around. No matter how many times I've driven through the park, the first few miles slow me down as I try and take it all in visually. Free road stretches ahead of me but my eyes are too busy absorbing the enveloping mountainsides and enormous vistas. I’m not here to set a speed record in the National Park, and at one point I find myself thinking that taking the family through this scenic route in a vintage VW Vanagon would be a fine way to spend the day.
A few turns later any thoughts of old German buses evaporate. The 4C is now seamlessly linking corner after corner, and it has my full attention - sucking up the steeps and undulations with zero effort. I’ve driven the road in so many less endowed cars that it’s pure pleasure to be at the wheel of a more focused machine. No need to push, just listening to the car's soundtrack bounce off the rocks walls and flexing the suspension is good enough. I've been gaining altitude quickly on the empty road, and decide to pause to enjoy view down into the valley of Horseshoe Park, the meander of the Fall River glistening far below.
A few more big inclines and curves and I’ve hit the tundra. (elev. 11440 ft.). It’s clearly been a really good spring for snowpack, cleared two weeks prior for the season, some big snow cuts from the plows still remain. They first cut the path in 1929 and finished in 1932, and they did a great job mixing soft sweepers with tighter turns, almost like they built it with more modern cars in mind. I doubt they’d do it the same way today. Early on, they tried keeping it open year-round, but the winds can drift the snow back over the road just as fast as it’s plowed, so now it's always closed each winter. I pull off to photograph a 360 view and then off to the top and other side. Once past the visitors center at the top I stop for the first time to really get out and stretch. (elev. 11637ft.) The view now is toward the Kawuneeche Valley and the headwaters of the Colorado River, with Wyoming in the far. The clean air pulls me into thoughts of how more of the country used to be this way.
From this point, it's only a few miles to Milner Pass, where the Continental divide crosses the roadway. With the max elevation of the road being 12183 ft, I had thought the 4C would be straining more, but the turbo setup is fantastic with the way it boosts and the 4C never felt lacking for power. Beyond that, it's a bonus feeling to get back in the car without ever thinking twice about the water or oil temp, or the myriad of things that might nag you in an older Alfa. I know some would argue that’s the fun of classics - and I do understand that - but having plenty of experience driving classics, this is a nice change of pace.
Running Alfa9supply, I get enquiries from 4C owners asking what we recommend people upgrade to get the most out of their cars. Sure, I sell some handmade exhausts to the aurally obsessed, but most of the time I simply end up simply shipping out custom sets of wheels wrapped in sticky Pirelli 'Trofeo R' rubber if they aim to track the car regularly. I’ve run this 4C at our local racetrack and it’s risen to the task greatly right out of the box. This drive though has cemented it in my mind as far more than track toy. The Trail Ridge Road has shown me how versatile the 4C can be, and how effortlessly it covers ground. Alfa Romeo's engineers have found a sublime balance in being quick and confident, yet very playful too. The lightness gives the car so much flexibility, and an addictive ability to adjust speed and steering angles without ever feeling ungainly. I can only hope that the same team has worked on the new Giulia and injected it with some of those great qualities.