After the confines of the Lotus, the Porsche feels very generously proportioned, almost saloon car roomy – particularly in terms of width (it’s the widest here).
It’s comfortable, too, with cossetting seats, but stepping from the Elite the German doesn’t feel anything like as quick or focused.
It doesn’t hang around, though, and if you give it plenty of revs before shifting up (with a typically VW, long-throw gearchange) it will bowl along very nicely indeed.
Despite any misgivings about a rear engine and swing axles, I can find nothing intimidating about its handling balance – in the dry, at least.
The Alfa just edges the Porsche on performance
It also has an effortless ability that’s missing from the Lotus when it comes to undertaking long journeys.
I’ve travelled hundreds of miles in 356s, and can testify that they are supremely relaxing over such distances.
The layout means that there is little mechanical noise at speed, while the suspension works with admirable ability – albeit with that familiar bobbing around the nose.
At ten-tenths, the Lotus may be the quicker, but to paraphrase a slogan used by Porsche’s UK concessionaire in period, the 356 feels like the most effortless fast car in the world.
The Porsche 356B has a roomy and comfy interior
The Alfa, like the Porsche, is a surprisingly relaxing place to be.
From the outside it looks by far the biggest of our quartet (that’s largely an optical illusion), but once ensconced you struggle to assimilate just how much room is on offer.
You could almost squeeze a family of four inside, although the Giulietta was marketed in the UK as a two-seater (in left-hand-drive): a set of cushions to make the parcel shelf into occasional seating was a £12 optional extra.
Up front, you sit on chairs bolted flat to the floor, legs outstretched towards the floor-hinged pedals and grasping a huge two-spoke wheel.
In the Giulietta Sprint, note the angle of the gearlever
The cabin is supremely stylish and, of the four, provides the greatest sense of occasion – as well as some intriguing details.
Mysterious knobs on the fascia include one marked with what appears to be an exploding box, while another shows a flame emitting radio waves.
The car is, of course, a cut-down saloon rather than a purpose-built coupé, but it’s still a rewarding machine to punt along.
The long gearstick leaning back at a good 45º may not look too purposeful, but it is a joy to use – by far the nicest here – and even has five ratios.
Steel MGA or glassfibre Lotus Elite?
Although you can keenly stir the Giulietta along, it encourages a more laid-back style.
Above all, the Alfa feels grown up; it can live with its rivals and the drum brakes offer admirable retardation, but it feels somehow more suited to a gentler pace.
As with the Lotus, the cabin of the MG is definitely on the cosy side. The ambience is far more traditional, too, with its black Rexine dash, no-nonsense white-on-black instruments and shallow, upright windscreen.
The Bluemels wheel is mounted very much in the vintage idiom, enhancing the old-school flavour, but when you fire up that much-maligned engine, it’s not at all what you’re expecting.
You’ll find a sprung wheel inside the traditional MGA
Where BMC’s pushrod units were charming but unsophisticated sloggers, this is a jewel.
As the speed builds around our test track, the MG really starts to come into its own – even considering the lower-compression engine that has been fitted to the featured example in the name of reliability.
If the Alfa feels a touch lazy in this rarefied company, the MG is seriously fast and handles beautifully. As I embark upon lap after lap, I become increasingly ensnared by this magnificent little car.
It is the most inspiring thing that I’ve driven in a long time, which makes it all the more frustrating that its reliability problems were addressed too late to save it.
The MGA’s tiny boot necessitates a luggage rack